This story first appeared in the zine, Closer than a Brother (1998). This zine and many other fine S&H zines can be obtained from Agent with Style at: www.agentwithstyle.com. Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
The Other Side
K Hanna Korossy with Maria Farina
It was still mid-afternoon, but many had begged off work early because of the heat, Starsky included. Hutch had snorted with fond exasperation at the brunet's departure, knowing full well that it was heat of a different kind that was motivating his partner's haste to leave, but there was little Hutch refused his partner, no matter how much he fussed about it. And so he was stuck doing several reports by himself in the empty squadroom. He watched the clock inch with excruciating slowness one notch closer to four o'clock, then sighed and returned to his work.
The sigh was echoed across the room and Hutch was suddenly reminded that the squadroom was not completely empty. Sympathetically, he gazed over at the newly-arrived Grover. "No leads yet, huh, Charlie?"
The other man gave a frustrated shake of the head. "You'd think out of the hundred plus 'hot tips' we've gotten, something woulda turned, but no luck yet. I'm about ready to give it up."
It was always a risk of creating more trouble than help, setting up a tip line and asking the public's help with a crime streak, but the recent steady stream of disappearances of stolen goods and Robbery's complete lack of progress in finding the fence had given way to desperate measures. There was usually at least one golden nugget among all the dud calls. The work was in finding it.
"Anything I can do?" The words were out before Hutch thought about it.
"I don't know," the older man shook his head again. "It's a mess." He sifted through the some papers, his face suddenly brightening. "Actually, you could do something. You live in Venice, don'tcha?" he looked up at Hutch.
"Yeah," Hutch was only half-listening as he scrawled his signature at the bottom of the report.
"Well, there's a place here that someone called in about, said it was 'suspicious'." Charlie's voice gave no doubt as to how much he believed that. "It's an old warehouse near Venice. Think you could give it a quick look on your way home? I don't think it's anything, but still havta check it out."
Hutch reached out for the slip of paper. "Sure, Charlie," he agreed amiably. "I'll do it on my way home today." He returned his attention to the papers on his desk, suddenly realizing how sick he was of that task. "Speaking of which," he pushed himself up and reached for his jacket, "I think I'll be going now. Can't get much done in this heat, anyway." He waved halfheartedly to the detective as he left. "See ya, Charlie."
"Bye, Hutch. Thanks. " The other had already returned to his work.
The address was not his favorite part of town, but he'd be leaving before dark and Hutch knew Charlie was right about the likelihood of it being a wild goose chase. "Suspicious" was likely to mean everything from a tramp sleeping in the doorway to kids getting inside and making noise. Still, every report had to be taken seriously, and it was the least Hutch could do to help.
He didn't miss hitting the streets anymore, Hutch thought as he drove, the action or the danger. It had surprised him a little at first, and even more so that Starsky apparently didn't, either. But involving, complex detective work had its own satisfaction, and they'd both slowly gotten comfortable with a new way of life that included footwork only as part of their investigations. He still caught the gleam in Starsky's eye sometimes, particularly when a call came in while they were in the car, but it was a decision they'd freely made, and the absence of the daily fear and stress had soon compensated for the more sedate lifestyle. He knew neither of them wanted to go back to the past anymore. They'd already paid more than enough to get where they were.
Nevertheless, the caution he instinctively took as he pulled up into an alley and quietly got out of his car felt good, like a long-unused but not-forgotten skill coming back. Hutch locked the LTD behind him and moved out to the front of the warehouse, trying to peer in through the stained and broken windows. All he saw was darkness. Next, he gave the door a quick pull, unsurprised when it didn't budge. Looks like it's been boarded up for years, he mused. But he still had to do it right. Sighing, he went around to the side of the building to try to gain access to the inside.
As he approached the side door, he was startled to see a glimmer of light through one of the patched windows. It looked deep inside the building, hidden from casual passersby. Hutch felt his heart speed up slightly as adrenalin entered his blood, a long-unfelt rush of danger and preparation coursing through him. There was no reason to assume the worst... but it didn't hurt to be prepared. Silently, he drew his gun as he got close to the door.
Leaning against the cold metal, a low murmur met his ears, though whether of mechanical or human source, he couldn't make out. Cautiously, he laid a hand on the doorknob.
"Hey!" came the sharp yell behind him, an angry voice calling in warning. Hutch tensed as he turned to meet the voice, both his hands rising in surrender. He caught sight of a kid by the corner of the building, not much older than twenty, pointing a gun at him nervously, then saw his eyes widen at the sight of Hutch's Magnum.
The gunshot seemed awfully loud to Hutch's ears, more so than any he'd ever heard before, he thought. And then he thought nothing more.
Starsky was in a foul mood as he got to the office. If he cared to be honest with himself, he would've admitted that the last year had spoiled him; he'd gotten used to breakfasts in bed at his request, a partner who drove him to work in the morning, often hung out with him in the evening, always companionable while somehow managing not to smother. Hutch's constant care and presence in the first months of recuperation after the shooting had been as welcome as it had been necessary. But as he'd mended and Hutch had backed off and given him his freedom, Starsky had found to his surprise that, once he had a choice in the matter, he didn't mind a little babying. To some extent. And when Hutch himself didn't need taking care of.
Which was why he'd fully expected his partner to show up on his doorstep that morning, dumping him out of bed and grousing at him to get ready, just as he had for the past several months. And why it was all-the-more annoying that he hadn't, causing Starsky to be late for work. Probably got home late from some date the night before and he's running behind. Starsky knew he had no right to complain, except maybe for being rideless without warning, but then, he'd never let logic deter him from a good argument before. And he was looking forward to a doozy that morning.
"Anyone seen Hutch?" he asked the squadroom at large, heading for the coffeepot. A chorus of nos and shakes of the head just disgusted him further. "Don't tell me the original Morning Person's running behind," he muttered to himself.
The loud voice right behind him made him jump, almost spilling his coffee. Startled, Starsky turned, then smiled sheepishly at the large black man. "Sorry, Cap'n, just talkin' to myself."
Dobey's brows drew together. "Maybe you could pull yourself away for a moment to tell me where you and your partner have been for the last half hour."
Starsky scowled; great, now he'd get yelled at for Hutch, too. "Hutch was s'posed to pick me up this morning but never showed. That old squash o' his probably fell apart on the road somewhere." That excuse made the most sense of any he'd come up with that morning, and he generously decided that if it was the truth, perhaps he'd give his partner a break that morning, after all. No one deserved dealing with both that car and a lecture in the same day.
Dobey grunted. "Think they can come in here anytime they please, just..." his voice fell to inaudibility as he entered his office and slammed the door behind him.
Starsky grinned as he finished getting his coffee and sat down at his desk to attack the pile of paper there.
He hurt. That was all he could process, but the wheres or whys escaped him. Just hot, cutting pain, drowning him so he couldn't swim and couldn't breathe. Breathless. It reminded him of something, too far and painful to be grasped. Couldn't be grasped. An emptiness...
"...gotta get outta...if he...others..."
"No! ...will leave...any others...already be dead..."
Others... Starsky? Killed? Starsky dead... Starsky's dead. Dying. Starsky's dying...
The pain became unbearable and his fevered mind slipped away from it, back into the nightmares of the darkness.
I don't think I've seen him bouncing since the shooting. Dobey's absent musing was cut off as the figure he was watching abruptly stilled, then flopped into a chair, only to rise a moment later in pent-up restlessness.
"Cap'n, no one's seen him, no one's heard from him since yesterday. His place is neat; I don't think he spent the night there. His toothbrush was dry!"
"You want me to put out a missing persons because of a dry toothbrush?" Dobey asked calmly, raising his chin from the hand it was cupped in.
Starsky stopped pacing right in front of the desk. "Cap'n, it's two o'clock. He's six hours late. How many times have you known Hutch to be that late without calling in?"
Many times--but not when he wasn't with Starsky, Dobey conceded silently. In fact, he could only think of two occasions... He chewed his lip for a moment, looking up at Starsky's anxious expression. "You want me to put out a missing officer?" he asked quietly.
"Yes." There was a quiet determination behind the word. Starsky knew exactly what he was asking and what it meant.
Dobey reached for the phone.
A wasted hour later, Starsky couldn't remain at the office any longer. No word, no nothing, and despite not having a clue where to start, he had to go out and look.
Striding through the front door, he almost ran over the man who was just coming inside. "Sorry," he mumbled, not looking up as he pushed past.
"Starsky!" the man called back to him, making him draw up and impatiently turn around. Detective Grover approached him with a grin, apparently oblivious to the storm of emotions inside the other. "Hey, do you know if Hutch checked out that warehouse for me yesterday like he promised he would?"
Starsky stared at him blankly for a moment before his eyes ignited. In a step, he covered the distance between them. "What?" His lips were pressed flat and his brows drew together.
Grover frowned, not understanding the reaction. "Hutch. He promised yesterday to check out a tip I got about a suspicious warehouse. It was on his way home from work..."
A savage light flared briefly in the marine blue eyes. "He went by himself?"
The man was stammering now. "I-I think so. Didn't he tell you?"
"No one's seen him since yesterday," Starsky answered. "Do you have an address?"
Grover frowned. "I gave it to him; I'll have to check my notes..."
"Do it now," Starsky ordered, already pulling Grover along with him to the squadroom. The other didn't argue, following meekly, then hurrying to his desk to dig through a thick file while Starsky impatiently watched over his shoulder.
"This is it," he finally pulled out a piece of paper with relief.
Starsky grabbed it and read quickly, pausing to picture the location. Nodding, he put it back down on the desk and turned to go. In all probability it was nothing, but... "Oh, Charlie," he wheeled around and returned to the desk, his voice dropping. "Give me... two hours. If you don't hear from me before then, go give this to Dobey, okay? Two hours," he repeated, "got it?" It would give him enough time to get over there, check things out, and call in if it was a false alarm. No use jumping the gun.
Grover nodded dumbly.
"Good," Starsky patted his arm in absent appreciation and apology, then nearly ran out of the squadroom.
Charlie Grover sank back in the chair and, turning his desk clock so he could clearly see it, tried to concentrate on the work before him.
It was ironic, Starsky couldn't help but think as he cut quickly through town: neither of them had gotten even a bruise in the months since they'd gone back to work after Starsky's return. Their new duties had taken some getting used to, but Starsky had quickly felt surprisingly content with the way things had become. He was still a cop, still helping people, investigating, doing detective work, but the day-to-day fear he'd nearly learned to live with was gone, and it made him feel like a kid again. It had done wonders for Hutch, too, obvious in the warm blue eyes which had become clear and peaceful again. It would have been worth it all just to see Hutch truly happy again.
And now, because of a stupid hot tip... Starsky chewed his lip. He refused to think that way. This couldn't be the end of all they'd worked for, the twisted joke after they'd managed to survive so much. God never burdens a man beyond what he can bear, Mrs. Walter's words repeated through his head. And he knew he couldn't bear Hutch dying. Not ever, but especially not now.
He turned into the warehouse's block, then looked for a place to park where the car would be out of sight. Spotting a small alley right next to the warehouse, he pulled up to its mouth and turned in. Right behind a rusted-out LTD. Starsky's mouth went dry. He didn't need to go look at it to confirm its owner, but he hurried to get out anyway, needing to make sure there were no signs of force or blood or... a body. A closer look revealed nothing. He leaned against the car momentarily in sudden relief.
"Hold it right there!"
The voice came without warning from the mouth of the alley, not even giving him enough time to draw his gun. Starsky slowly lifted his arms, feeling oddly detached, wondering if perhaps he'd find out now what had happened to his partner. He began to slowly turn.
"I said, don't move!"
Starsky froze. The voice sounded agitated, jittery, and he had no intention of spooking it. Upon reflection, the speaker didn't sound very old, either, perhaps no more than twenty. Starsky waited tensely.
There was sound of movement behind him, then another voice, deeper, older, spoke. "We'll tie him up."
"But..." the first began to protest.
"I'll tie his hands and you gag him, then we'll put him with the other one," the older voice calmly said. Starsky's hope latched on to 'the other one,' his relief at the man's sensibility almost secondary. "No sense in digging ourselves deeper."
A pause, then more movement and suddenly his hands were jerked down behind his back. No more force than necessary was used and a rope was tied around his wrists with professional speed and solidity, but Starsky refused to admit grudging respect for his more mature captor, not without knowing what they'd done to Hutch. He did silently curse the kid, though, as he'd dubbed the other, when a gag was painfully stuffed in his mouth and jerked tight, nearly dislocating his jaw. He also felt his gun lifted away but let it go without resistance, wary both of the unseen gun and losing his chance to find Hutch.
Then he was turned and, still without having caught sight of either of his captors, shoved into motion. He obediently went, through a side door into the warehouse and down to a maze of corridors in its basement. Finally, they reached a door, which a hand reached from behind him to open, and he was pushed in ahead.
Starsky's eyes widened, then narrowed at what he saw as he entered the room, going a dangerous shade of midnight blue. The brief glimpse he'd caught before he was moved past an obscuring pile of boxes already revealed his partner's body sprawled on the floor, bound hand and foot. And a lot of blood. But he hadn't been able to see movement or breathing. Pure, unchanneled anger washed through Starsky and he tried to twist back toward his captor, but the man held him firmly. He shoved Starsky down to the floor, roughly tying his hands behind him to the leg of a heavy wooden desk--Starsky only now noticed that the room was some kind of storeroom, full of random bits of furniture and boxes--and leaving his feet unbound, perhaps in order to stay out of Starsky's line of vision. Starsky's gag was checked, then, satisfied, the man backed off, still out of sight, and left the brunet alone without saying another word. The door clicked shut after him.
Starsky struggled against the bonds, desperate to free himself and get over to Hutch, to at least find out if he was alive, but the ropes didn't budge. His main question at least was answered a moment later when he heard a groan from the other side of the room. Only Hutch's feet were in sight, but he felt a rush of hope as he saw them stir. Please, Hutch, say something! C'mon, show me you're okay.
The other mumbled something Starsky couldn't make out, but it sounded feverish and nonsensical. Delirium. Oh, God, help. He's been here like this for a whole day? Starsky thrashed around harder, uselessly. Please, hang in there, partner, he silently begged. After the past year of rollercoaster ups and downs with Hutch his only constant, Starsky didn't think he'd survive losing the other now.
"...gonna die. Gonna die, Hug."
The muttered voice barely carried, but Starsky heard it. You're not gonna die, he thought furiously. Not gonna let ya. But why Huggy? He suddenly stilled, confused, trying to make out the pained rambling that continued from so far away.
"...can't do anything...gonna die. Gotta be.. something I can..."
Starsky wasn't sure if it was nonsense or something real Hutch was struggling with, but the determination in the last phrase made him smile inside. You bet there is, partner. Wait for me. He started to work methodically on the tight knots of the rope.
"...Don't...understand... Why? Don't..."
Starsky silently echoed that. Why? After Gunther, so much had changed. They'd try to go back to the way things were, but they couldn't keep doing the old routine, burning the candle at both ends. Starsky had fled, terrified, only to return because Hutch needed him. And finally then, together, they'd made decisions, changed their lives around, started working like there was a tomorrow and they both wanted the other to be around to see it. It had taken getting used to, but it worked because they were still a team. Are still a team. Starsky swallowed hard as the hoarse voice reached him again.
"Starsky's gonna die...don' know what to do..."
Starsky shivered, more at the utter lostness of the voice than the words themselves. Gonna die... Huggy.... His eyes widened in horror as the temperature in the room seemed to drop. It suddenly made sense. Hutch's was a very real hell--Starsky's shooting. The suffering in the words before wasn't physical, it was emotional, a heart being torn in two. Starsky had felt it before a few times: his father and Terry's death, and when he once was sure he'd lost his partner. It was suddenly hard for Starsky to breathe in the suffocating, small room, hearing his partner go through that unbearable pain, so alone, only a few feet away.
He began to panic and fought the ropes, ignoring the burns they left across his wrists, the need to comfort overwhelming. Hutch, please, I'm not dead. Just hang in there for me, please.
But there was nothing he could do.
The already thin voice fell to a whisper he could barely hear. "Starsk, don't leave... without you, there's no me."
This was no delirious mumbling, just a barely-breathed sentence that said it all. Starsky choked, not noticing the tears that gathered in his eyes. Did he really say that? It would've had to have been for his unhearing ears alone; Hutch would never say anything like that around anyone else. Starsky couldn't remember it, but then, he didn't remember a lot from that first week. At least, not consciously.
"...already have a partner. Don't need..."
The defiant statement startled Starsky. What? Who was trying... Dobey. Oh, Cap'n, didn't you know any better? Starsky smiled ruefully. He could just imagine that scene. Dobey hadn't been able to stick anyone with Starsky very long when Hutch was out, either, and hadn't even tried to during the times they weren't sure Hutch would make it. Those were incoherent hours when emotion ruled and the hardest thing imaginable was waiting for the next day. And "new partner" were dirty, cruel words. But then, those times usually only lasted a few hours. Just when he'd think he was going to lose his sanity, that nothing would ever make sense or work again, the doctor would come and right his world. Except, for Hutch, the doctor had only brought uncertainties and the probability of desolation. Starsky turned violently away from his own memories of suffocation when he'd thought his partner had died. And the thought of Hutch going through that for the second time alone when Starsky was around to help... Frantically, he tried to heave back and lift the desk he was tied to, but it wouldn't budge.
"...gonna die... ain't nothin' they can do..." The childish quality of the voice made Starsky flinch. Where was the strong will of before? "...haven't got me yet..."
Starsky almost smiled again at the defensive tone. Darn right, they haven't. Did Huggy tell you that, too? His partner sounded like a five-year old David facing off against Goliath with only his belief--no, only fear--as his sole weapon. Fear not of his enemy, but for another fight going on in a quiet hospital room. Starsky went back to working on the ropes as he felt a trickle of blood down his hand.
"Tell me something I don't know!"
The violent anger shocked him into momentary stillness. This wasn't challenge as with Dobey, it was the devastating rage he rarely saw his partner show. But when Hutch did, it was terrifying. Only his protective side could get that utterly, coldly furious, when it was impossible not to see and hear that he'd let nothing stand in his way. Starsky shivered. Are you like that without me? Because of me? Starsky wasn't sure he wanted to know.
The words continued, low, diamond-hard. Starsky couldn't hear them, but the barely controlled fury behind it was chillingly clear. Did you ever let it out, Hutch? he found himself wondering. What happened to the explosion? It certainly wasn't in evidence during the months of gentle, tender care that he'd gotten until he was back on his feet. Oh, God, please tell me he didn't... No, surely someone would have let it slip before if Hutch had gone too far. Instead, all Starsky had heard about was the efficiency, the good detective work, the incredible feat his partner had pulled. No one ever mentioned that Hutch had been willing to kill to do it or that he managed to put the whole case together while falling apart inside.
"...my partner's dying..."
That much carried, utterly devoid of hope or any emotion whatsoever. Starsky's head bowed. He'd only heard Hutch sound like that once before, when Van had been killed and Hutch had called his partner for help. He'd lost his emotional footing then, been unable to function without someone to coax him out, to hold him when he cried, to listen to him. Hutch needed that, and Starsky had been there for him then. This time, he'd had no one.
They were all things Starsky knew he should have seen and thought of before. But he'd been so occupied at first with just getting better, and the many times they did talk, it had been working out the past or figuring out the future. Neither had seemed anxious to discuss the shooting beyond the initial relief, and Starsky finally thought the matter buried. Then they were back on duty and Hutch seemed almost transformed, again the joyous, content, rejuvenated friend Starsky had grown to love back at the Academy. They'd had a fresh start and they took it, not looking back.
Had this been the cost?
"...gotta get back...gotta... Dobey said... he's alone... gonna die without me..."
He'd almost forgotten to listen for the soft, broken voice. Broken voice, broken heart. His eyes burned again. I wasn't alone, partner. You were dyin' with me.
"Gunther. What am I gonna... pushin' the odds..."
The voice was getting smaller and sounded so scared. It had nowhere else to turn, and Starsky went back to work with renewed vigor on the ropes he'd been fingering so far. He wanted nothing more than to enfold that battered soul in his arms and take away the emptiness.
"You want to kill me? Try it."
Starsky tried to follow the feverish dream Hutch was living, but the sudden changes threw him. The dead tone of earlier had restraint in it now, an anger that he seemed just too tired to show. Gunther, near the end, he realized. Perhaps the nightmare would be over soon. Starsky felt his hopes rise. He wasn't sure, but he also thought maybe the ropes were giving a little as his sore fingers redoubled their efforts.
"He died. I got Gunther 'n he still died...didn't get down... 'm supposed t'protect him..."
Starsky heard tears now, absent before when Hutch had vowed action. This had to have been after Gunther's capture, when the blond could finally let himself break. Was someone there for you to pick up the pieces? Starsky quashed the panic, still working on the loosening ropes.
"...all my fault... didn't tell him..." Hutch was crying, the bewilderment giving way to long-collected and buried pain. Starsky's heart was breaking as he listened to the misery. Didn't tell me what? Babe, please don't cry...
A rope slipped and he jerked in surprise, then attacked it again. It had been the hard part of the knot, and the rest began to follow, slowly undone, sliding apart more easily with the lubrication of blood. There were no more words from the hidden other side of the room, just the sobs Starsky could feel in his own chest.
The rope was off. Starsky pulled off the gag in one savage jerk, heaving it across the room. Then he was free.
He was across the room in a second.
Hutch's cheeks were wet from crying, his forehead and hair from perspiration, and his eyes remained tight shut. He was bent double as he choked out the tears, but Starsky could see the mussed shirt was dark with dried blood on the left side. There didn't seem to be any bright red fresh bleeding. He wasted no time carefully untying the blond, then, ever-so-gently, not wanting to hurt but more concerned for the moment with emotional comfort, he sat down beside his partner and gathered him in protectively. Hutch was still crying softly, water leaking out under the blond eyelashes. That was Starsky's first priority.
"Hutch," he said, voice rougher than he wanted. He paused, cleared his throat, not knowing what to say now that he could speak. "Hutch, I'm here. It's Starsky. I'm okay, I'm right here with you. I'm okay, and you're gonna be fine. I got ya now..."
The skin was warm to touch but not too feverish; the pain and stress had to have caused the delirium. Nor did it didn't seem inclined to let go. Hutch didn't hear him, wasn't aware of anything but his nightmare.
Starsky was desperate to help. He cupped the blond head in one hand, pressing it close against his beating heart. They had fallen asleep like that more than once during his convalescence, almost a needed reassurance for his partner that Starsky was, indeed, alive. "Hutch," he murmured, "please don't. I'm okay. I'm here."
The heaving slowed, a frown creasing the pale face. "...gonna die..."
"No!" Starsky said fiercely. "I'm not gonna die and neither are you. Stay with me, partner, I'm right here." He picked up one of the large, fine-boned hands in his own. "Can y'feel me? I'm right here. I'm fine, we're both gonna be fine." For the first time, he wondered about Dobey. It had to have been two hours by now. C'mon, Cap'n, you know where we are, why aren't ya sendin' the cavalry?
The hand slowly curled around his, then faint blue eyes struggled to open and look at him. "St-"
Starsky stroked the wet cheek, the soft blond hair. "I'm right here, right here with you. I've gotcha and I'm not gonna let ya go, I promise."
"Starsky." The blue disappeared again and new tears rolled down the sallow face while he grabbed hold of Starsky and held on.
"Aw, Hutch, don't cry," Starsky begged, pulling the other closer to him, nearly curling around his friend to wrap him more fully in a shelter of protection and the security of his presence. Hutch was trembling against him, whether from pain or emotion or, as Starsky suspected, both, he wasn't sure. Hutch just clung to him, nestling closer, seeking solace, and Starsky gave it to him, stroking his hair again, whispering, "It's all right, I'll take care of ya. Nothing to be scared of now; we're together." He clung back as pain made Hutch stiffen, cradled him when it eased up.
The tears continued, and Starsky let them do their cleansing. It wasn't ragged grief anymore, just emptying. He rubbed up and down the shaking back, heedless of his own blurred vision.
"...th-thought you died." Starsky only heard the breathed words because he was so close.
"Shh, I know. I didn't die, Hutch, I'm fine. I made it because of you." He had no way of explaining that, but he was absolutely certain it was true. "Now I'm gonna take care of you. Relax, partner, you're not alone now--let me take care of everything." Starsky sifted his hand through the golden hair, gently raking the soft strands between his fingers. The mustache was gone, but the hair had remained longer, a compromise. The tears began to slow with exhaustion and release, but Hutch was buried in his arms like he never planned to move again.
Sirens began to sound in the distance. The corner of Starsky's mouth lifted. "Gonna be okay, blintz, I promise," he soothed, "Trust me?"
It was an old game, an old question. He couldn't see Hutch's face pressed into his shirt, but he could hear the sigh of contentment, the smile in the voice at the familiarity. "Always," the blond whispered.
Starsky smiled back at the top of the straw-colored head. "Good. You'll see, everything's gonna be fine. I'm here now. Okay?" he asked insistently.
Hutch burrowed himself further in Starsky's shirt, tensing for a moment, then letting his desperate grip loosen but unwilling to lose the closeness. "'Kay." The voice held a note of complete childlike faith, unusual for solid, stoic Sgt. Det. Ken Hutchinson. But not for Starsky's Hutch. Those many layers was one of the things that most fascinated Starsky when they first met and that he still treasured about his partner, particularly as some of those layers were for Starsky alone to see.
The long body in his arms became heavier and still, finally finding rest in the peace of his partner's presence. The sirens were getting close, and Starsky could hear at least one ambulance among them--bless ya, Cap'n--but he used the moment to make a quick check of his own. Gently easing the bloody shirt away, he cringed when he saw the ugly wound in Hutch's side, just below the ribs. That's gutshot--pain must've been awful, he thought grimly. It had stopped bleeding, though, and with timely help should be okay...
The door suddenly burst in and a teenager Starsky guessed was the kid rushed in with Starsky's own gun in hand. The detective stared at him in dismay; he had thought that the two had left shortly after he got there, or, at worst, that he could deal with the older man if he needed to. The last thing he needed now was a scared kid with a gun.
The kid didn't seem to notice or care that they were both untied. "You," he gestured, "get up. You're helpin' me get outta here."
Starsky flipped mentally through options, grasping for any way he wouldn't have to leave Hutch. But with a gun pointed at him, he had little choice. Slowly and gently, he disengaged himself from Hutch's grasp and laid him back onto the floor, quickly pulling off his own jacket to spread over the other and tuck a corner under his head, keeping it off the cold cement floor.
"Hurry up, " the boy grumbled impatiently.
Starsky ignored him, leaning close to his stirring partner. "Sleep, Hutch," he crooned, brushing back damp yellow hair once more. "Don't wake up."
The other calmed and Starsky got up, turning back toward his captor. "Where to?" he asked warily.
"Come on," the kid jerked the gun toward the door. "You first." The voice was mocking.
They were almost at the door when a cry came from behind them. It was just enough to distract the kid for a moment, and Starsky whirled around, knocking the gun from the inexperienced hand. The kid recovered himself, striking back blindly at Starsky, a blow the brunet effortlessly dodged. The kid was panicky, but Starsky had something more important to fight for. No contest.
The detective paused only a moment to quickly bind his former captor's wrists behind him with some discarded rope and scoop up his gun, then hurried back to his partner. Hutch was sluggishly moving, searching. "Starsk?"
There wasn't time for gentleness; Starsky had no idea how many other unfriendlies were in the building and he had only one gun and an injured partner. They had to hide. He stuck the weapon in his jeans and drew Hutch up into his arms again, wincing as the other gasped at the jostling, then hurried to the now-open door as fast as he could with his burden. Starsky fumbled to open the first door he came across and found a small, empty closet. Satisfied, he awkwardly climbed into it, pulling the door shut behind him. There didn't seem to be any way to lock it from the inside, but there wasn't too much chance that, while being raided, someone would come look into an empty closet. At least, Starsky hoped not.
It was nearly pitch black as he laid his gun down and settled Hutch against him by feel, trying to be as gentle as he could. The blond was out of his lethargy and in pain now, Starsky could hear it in the harsh breathing, feel it in the rigidity of the lean body, but he tried to make his partner as comfortable as possible, drawing the jacket around his shoulders and rubbing his back. The frantic beating of two hearts gradually slowed and Hutch's gasping eased, although he still held on to a fistful of Starsky's sleeve. "Starsk?" he called unsteadily.
"Shh, Hutch, you gotta be quiet for me now. I'm right here," Starsky whispered, pressing the blond head back down into his shoulder where it settled against his neck, the fine hair brushing against Starsky's chin.
"Don' leave." The words were whispered softly in obedience to Starsky's command, but they sounded desperate, needing to be asked.
Starsky shut his eyes. That concern was very real after the last who-knew-how-many hours of hellish solitude and memories. His voice was tender as he touched an invisible cheek. "I'm not leaving you again, babe, not ever. Now just rest. I'll be right here, I promise."
His friend obeyed, relaxing into his arms. Silently, they waited, Starsky tensely ready, Hutch floating in the comfort.
Gunshots, running, distant noises filtered into their hideout, and Starsky froze each time any noise seemed to get nearer, but the door remained shut. Hutch stirred once, mumbling something Starsky couldn't make out, but a touch and gentle shushing quieted him again.
Footsteps suddenly sounded in the hall, approaching quickly. Starsky stayed still, heart hammering as he heard doors opened and slammed, all the time getting closer. He laid his hand on his weapon, but he was definitely at the disadvantage trapped in the tiny closet with no mobility, Hutch weighing him down. He hugged his partner protectively closer; they wouldn't get one of them without the other, anyway, that was for sure.
Suddenly, the door jerked open, and Starsky was blinded by the sudden flood of light. His vision hadn't cleared yet when a familiar voice boomed out his name.
Relief almost made him gasp. "Cap'n? Am I glad to see you! Hutch needs help-"
"They're on their way," Dobey motioned behind him, then leaned halfway inside. "Are you okay?"
Other than a bad scare, a walk through the valley of death with his partner, and the choking fear he still felt for his friend's safety? "I'm fine, Cap'n." --if he is.
Starsky struggled to get out of the closet, and Dobey reached inside to help carefully lift Hutch out. The blond seemed oblivious now to any pain, but Starsky still eased him up as smoothly as possible. Together, they got the limp figure out just as the paramedics arrived, who helped lay him on the stretcher. And several minutes later, they were hurrying out of the building, Dobey filling Starsky in as they half-ran, Starsky's eyes firmly fixed on the gurney ahead of him.
"...cut it a little close, Starsky. They were just getting ready to leave when we got here, but they didn't have enough time to get away. There was only two of them, and we got both."
"Even the one I tied up in the storeroom?" Starsky asked absently.
Dobey's voice contained a smile. "How'd you think I knew where to look for you?" he asked.
Starsky gave him a fleeting grin before climbing into the back of the ambulance, then Dobey stood back to watch the car pull away.
He found Starsky an hour later in the waiting room of the hospital, quietly folded into a seat and picking at the gauze on his wrist. With a sigh, he walked up to his detective.
Starsky started at the voice, squinting up at Dobey. "Uh-uh." He managed a little bit of a grin. "Don't worry, Cap'n, he'll be okay."
Dobey looked at him in surprise. Usually, Starsky was a nervous wreck during hospital vigils, and from what the captain had seen, Hutch's injury was a serious enough one to warrant concern. He sat heavily in the chair next to Starsky. "How do you know?" he asked carefully.
Starsky shrugged. "Just do. He hung on a whole day waiting for me, he's not gonna let go now. Hutch's stronger than he looks." The cheerful words tapered off as if that thought prompted another. There was a pause, then Starsky glanced sideways at the black man. "Cap'n, what happened after I got shot?"
Dobey flinched. Unfortunately, that could have referred to several occasions, but there was no need to specify which time Starsky was asking about; it was never referred to as anything but the time he got shot. Dobey reflected a moment. "They tried a hit on you in the hospital, first, Starsky, and Hutchinson said he was going after them. In the hospital garage, they tried to get him, too, but..."
Starsky had heard this bedtime story before. "I know, and Hutch did some incredible detective work and caught Gunther, etc., etc. Cap'n," he stared intently at Dobey, "what happened to Hutch."
Dobey squirmed uncomfortably. He didn't know how much Hutch had told his partner about those first few days, but Huggy and the Captain had made an unspoken pact not to discuss it with the darker half of the team. It hadn't felt like their story to tell. But nobody counted on Starsky asking, and suddenly it made sense for him to know. Hutch probably wouldn't have even been able to tell him. Dobey's posture subtly shifted, all signs of boss to employee falling away as he spoke to his friend.
"He knew you were going to die, Starsky," he began quietly, watching the open face, "he was sure of it. I watched him go in to see you and he couldn't even touch you, he was so afraid. I've never seen him lose hope before, but even the doctor said you were dying." Dobey paused, quietly cleared his throat. "I think Hutch went after Gunther because it was the only thing he could do to try and help you, but he was falling apart, Starsky."
Starsky nodded, his eyes bright. He'd expected that much. There was more he wanted to know, though. He hesitated. "Cap'n, Hutch... he didn't do anything he shouldn't have, did he?" he asked worriedly.
Dobey's voice became sharp. "Like what, kill somebody? Did you see anything like that in the reports?"
Starsky's grin was wan. "Not everything makes it into the reports, Cap'n."
That was a fair answer, Dobey thought to his chagrin. He made a face, looked away from those inquisitive blue eyes. "No. But I was afraid he might. I think he almost shot the guy in the garage downstairs, and I wasn't sure about sending him after Gunther, but I couldn't stop him..."
Starsky nodded in satisfaction, pride mixed with relief in his face. He only had one more question. Very softly, he asked, "Cap'n, did..." He wasn't sure how to phrase it. "Did Hutch ever... you know, get it all out? When somethin' really gets to him, he usually needs someone..." He tripped himself, suddenly protective of his friend's secrets.
Thankfully, Dobey understood. "I think maybe you ought to talk to Huggy about that," he said equally quietly. Starsky's eyebrows rose, but he nodded slowly. Dobey paused, then gave him a gruff half-grin. "Starsky, Hutch may have lost hope, but he never gave up on you. A lot of people look at what he did with Gunther and say it was out of revenge, but that's not true. If he'd been going for revenge, Gunther would be six feet under now. I've never seen anyone in that much pain keep going before, but he was doing it for you."
Starsky's downturned face was out of his line of vision, but the captain saw the drop of water that fell onto the jeans and immediately disappeared on the dark fabric. Feeling he'd said enough, Dobey took a deep breath to steady himself and hesitantly placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. The comfort wasn't refused.
After several minutes, he finally launched into the details of the arrest, feeling Starsky's idle interest. It came as no surprise that the two fences had been brothers, the older one in charge of the operation and the inexperienced younger one his muscle, but the news that the kid confessed to shooting Hutch accidentally made Starsky glance up. He stared at Dobey a moment, eyes unreadable, then returned to studying the floor, still listening silently. The brothers didn't want to involve themselves in homicide so they'd tied up Hutch, and then Starsky when he'd arrived, wanting to just keep them out of the way until they could clear out that evening. It was a testament to their inexperience that they'd neither expected Starsky to have back-up nor considered that if Hutch died, they'd be charged with murder. Hence the kid's willingness to talk. Starsky's jaw was set by the time Dobey finished, but he said nothing, only nodded.
Silence fell once more.
A new arrival finally entered the room. "Starsky?"
The usually cheerful voice was somber as it summoned Starsky again out of his thoughts and he looked up to see Huggy standing before him. He grinned at the thin black man, motioning him to the seat on his other side.
"How is he?"
The million-dollar question. Starsky sighed. "No one's said yet. But he's gonna be fine." He could feel his two companions trade looks over his bent shoulders and smiled to himself, idly wondering if they'd accept his answer, chalking it up to his knowledge of Hutch, or if they thought he'd snapped. Before he had a chance to mull that one over, though, Dobey got up.
"I'm going to check in at the office and call Edith. Starsky, can I bring you some coffee?"
Starsky waved him off. "No, thanks." Dobey left.
Huggy settled in next to him, Starsky feeling his hesitation as he tried to find the right thing to say. Starsky beat him to it.
"Hug, tell me about Hutch after I got shot."
He didn't look at the barkeep but he could feel the brown eyes stare at him in surprise, trying to figure out what the question meant. "Come on, Starsky, you know all about Gunther..." Huggy began cajolingly.
Starsky looked over at him. "I know about the case. Tell me about Hutch."
His quiet intensity apparently told Huggy what Starsky wanted to know. The black man looked down at the floor. "I knew you two were a pair a' peas in a pod from the start, but I didn't know how close until I saw him then," he finally murmured. "He was so broken, I'm not sure how he kept movin'." Huggy looked at Starsky with a seriousness in his eyes that the detective had not seen before. "When he said you were gonna die, it was... like nothin' else mattered anymore. He was lost." There was no exaggeration in his voice. "But Starsky, after you woke up, everything was all right again. You could've burned his house down around him and the man would still have been laughin'." Huggy grinned soberly.
Starsky matched his expression, then straightened, bracing himself. "What about after?" he asked.
Huggy blinked. "After?"
"After I woke up. After he arrested Gunther. Did he... was he all right?" Starsky didn't mean to sound so desperate.
Huggy was avoiding his eyes. "He seemed okay, didn't he?"
Starsky shook his head with impatience. "Hug, I was so doped up then, you could've had Dobey in there in a blond wig and I wouldn't have known the difference, you know that." Not exactly the truth; he'd been very aware of Hutch's presence, even half-asleep, but not very conscious of his partner's state of mind. The silence continued. "Please," Starsky begged quietly, "I havta know."
Huggy sighed. That was true. "When he came back from San Francisco," the barkeep began reluctantly, "he went in t'see you. Next thing I knew, he was foldin' up."
Starsky frowned. "You mean he fainted?"
"Uh-uh. More like shock. The lights were on but no one was home, if you get my drift." Huggy shook his head. "Dobey and I got him out o'there, fast. I ended up takin' him to his place, and he crashed. After he got some sleep, he was fine."
"What do you mean, 'crashed'?" Starsky's face was taut.
"He just... fell apart." Huggy was clearly uncomfortable with the conversation but one look at Starsky and he couldn't stop. "Shakin' and cryin'. Took me a long time to get him calmed down. I think it all caught up to him, y'know? And he kept goin' on about how y'all never talked anymore, even though you wanted him to. I think he felt the worst about that."
Starsky wasn't looking at Huggy any longer, his mind on the many conversations he and Hutch had had during his recovery. It had been just one of the miracles of rebirth to Starsky, the two of them talking again like old times, the easy joy of their friendship returning just when he needed it the most. He'd chalked it up as a reaction to his brush with death, a common response after one of them got seriously hurt. But it hadn't gone away as he'd gotten better, only deepened. Starsky hadn't known about the crash that had made the rebuilding possible...
He cleared his throat, grateful for once that the tears remained at bay. He'd done enough of that for one day. "Thanks, Hug," he said sincerely, catching the brown eyes with a smile. "I needed to know."
Huggy nodded. He'd seen the changes between his two friends as Starsky recovered, and knew that Hutch's reaching bottom had had positive, lasting results, but he'd always thought Hutch had shared what had happened with his partner. Starsky was right, he had a right to know.
The doctor chose that moment to walk in. Starsky sprang to his feet, heart suddenly beating faster as he realized he wasn't quite as sure as he thought about Hutch's condition. The doctor's smile made him relax.
"Detective Starsky, your partner's doing just fine. There was some abdominal tearing, a little infection, but we were fortunate and the bullet didn't do as much damage as it could have. As it was, we just removed a short piece of his intestine. He's already in recovery, then we'll move him to a room, not intensive care. And he should be able to go home in a few days. Would you like to see him when he's settled?"
Would he? Hospitals usually considered cops one of their own, and partners were part of the deal. Not every doctor was as understanding, but Starsky was finding more and more of them who accommodated partners' need to be together. Some had even invoked him as part of their treatment. Starsky wasn't about to argue. He traded a happy glance with Huggy, then settled back with renewed patience to wait. Dobey was quickly filled in upon his return and, to Starsky's secret relief, the two black men finally said their good-byes, promising a visit later, leaving him to his thoughts.
Thirty minutes passed before the doctor
returned, frowning. "Detective Starsky, Sergeant Hutchinson's been
unusually restless since waking in recovery. I'm hoping you'll be able to calm
him down. If not, I'm afraid I might have to ask you to leave."
Starsky hesitantly nodded; he already had an idea what the problem was. With that, the doctor led him down a hall and into a room. It was a double, but Starsky was relieved to see the other bed empty. Ignoring it and the doctor's presence at the door, he crossed at once to the far bed and its occupant.
Hutch was stirring as he approached, trying to say something but too drugged to be coherent. Starsky at once trapped the free hand in one of his own, the other going to the back of the golden head. "Hey, partner," he whispered with audible relief, "Told ya I'd be back and here I am. I'm gonna stay now, just like I promised." He smoothed the longer strands back out of the patient's face and watched the glazed eyes open a little. He sighed inside. It always hurt to see those sensitive blue eyes drug-washed and hazy, but at least it was only temporary. Hutch was getting better. Starsky smiled. "Hutch, everything's okay now, you're in the hospital and I'm here with you. I need you to go to sleep now, okay? I won't leave."
Hutch stared at him for a long moment before slowly blinking. Then he was asleep. Just like that. Starsky didn't notice the doctor leave, wondering as he drew up a chair about his power over the other, able to calm with just his presence. He knew he shouldn't be surprised anymore, it had worked in reverse several times with him, too, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. But still, the inherent trust in their relationship was something that never ceased to amaze him.
He didn't let go of the hand he held as he sat down, his thoughts returning to the conversations with Dobey and Huggy and the revelations at the warehouse. He was still trying to deal with the shock of living Hutch's side of the nightmare he himself had mostly slept through. Hutch had already been running on empty--there hadn't been enough time after Kira to do more than start mending. And when Starsky was shot, lying still and nearly lifeless in Hutch's arms in the parking lot, and with the doctor's words ringing in Hutch's ears, the long strip of paper with the flatline on it... Hutch had accepted that Starsky would die. Accepted it, lived with it, been nearly crushed by it. All that had kept him sane was the nearly suicidal crusade against the invincible Gunther.
For the first time, Starsky understood. It had never sunk in before that Hutch had really been so utterly without hope, his soul dying along with Starsky. To be loved and needed like that by someone... And Hutch had still managed to single-handedly bring down one of the mightiest men in the country. Starsky wondered if the roles had been reversed, if he'd have been able to do all that, or restrain himself from killing Gunther. That's my partner, Starsky felt an irrational surge of pride.
He silently began to stroke the yellow hair again, watching the peaceful face for any sign of discomfort as he waited.
Starsky rarely sat still long enough to spend hours thinking. Life was too short, and he preferred leaving such mundane pursuits to his intellectual partner. But sleep eluded him despite the nurse's chiding that he ought to try, and there was no other place he'd rather have been than sitting next to that bed, holding the limp hand. Hutch's ordeal had disoriented and exhausted him, and Starsky was immovably set on staying with his partner until the blond was coherent enough to be okay by himself. Even now, he occasionally grew restless despite the drugged sleep, and it took Starsky's touch and voice to reassure him back to sleep. So Starsky sat and watched and thought.
In the long months of recovery after the shooting, Hutch had never left his side, either, nursing him, taking care of him, even learning how to do the therapy with him. It had been what both of them had needed, and it redoubled Starsky's efforts to get better. Once he started getting back on his feet, though, he willingly resigned himself to the fact that it had been a bad scare for Hutch and he'd have a harder time letting go and easing off. Starsky had even silently decided that if the blond wanted off the streets then, he'd agree. There was never any way he could make up to Hutch the ordeal of almost losing his partner except by making him feel safe afterwards.
To his surprise, though, Hutch began to give him space, allowed him to reassemble his individuality, was even willing to let Starsky call the shots and choose their course despite the possibility that it would mean going back to the risks before. Starsky shook his head. How could he do that after going through this? Did something change? Or does he just... love me that much? The courage and sacrifice it must've taken to back off, to swallow his fears and trust Starsky with both their futures, was staggering. It was an incredible gift, one Starsky wasn't sure he could have matched. He had already faced the demon of losing his partner before, but not because of the Job and so had never had to weigh the costs. Starsky sighed shakily. Just when he thought there were no surprises left, Hutch managed to do or say something that left Starsky more amazed than ever at this person he called his friend.
The hand in his own clenched convulsively and Starsky sat up, his attention returning fully to the bed. He was pleased to see the pale eyelashes twitch; Hutch hadn't really woken since Starsky's arrival and Starsky missed that warm blueness. He was rewarded now by the eyes slowly opening, not quite yet clear but not as cloudy as before.
"Hi," he greeted softly.
The eyes wandered for a moment, then found him and Starsky grinned widely at the feeble attempt at a smile. He already knew what his partner was thinking and jumped in to answer before the other strained himself.
"You're in the hospital and you're gonna be fine. Doc says you'll be outta here soon, good as new." He tightened his hold on the hand that was now grasping his.
Hutch blinked, swallowed with difficulty. It was obvious he was determined to say something, and Starsky fumbled one-handedly to pour a little water, freeing his hand for a moment to help his partner drink a sip. The blue eyes smiled at him with gratefulness, then Hutch whispered weakly, "Stay... with me?"
Starsky stared at him. Since when did they even have to ask? Hutch should've known that nothing could keep Starsky away... except... Now Starsky had trouble swallowing. He lifted the hand he'd recaptured to Hutch's eye level. "See that?" he gently asked. "I've been here all along, and I'm not leaving now. Never. We're both safe now, partner, I promise."
The emphatic choice of words didn't seem to surprise Hutch, who merely found enough energy to squeeze back before his eyes drifted shut and he slipped off into sleep again.
"Dumb blintz," Starsky chided in a choked whisper. "Where else would I be but with you?"
Starsky still tired more quickly since the shooting, sometimes even collapsing into the sleep of the dead after a particularly grueling case. This time, his body was asking but he wasn't ready yet to comply, needing to be alert enough to respond in case his partner needed him. Instead, he dozed intermittently, spending the rest of the time fielding visitors, nursing his patient during the brief times when Hutch was half-awake, and watching the face of his friend as though seeing it in a whole new way, understanding so much he hadn't before.
Starsky had wondered for a long time after they'd returned to active duty if that was the right choice. Several serious talks between the two of them, followed by a long discussion with Dobey, had given them an apparent compromise; still being out on the streets but only for investigation, at the low risk end of the spectrum. They no longer patrolled, didn't roust snitches or stalk bad guys, just investigated and did solid detective work. It involved more paperwork and it had taken some getting used to being more in the office than out. But Starsky had always enjoyed the mental challenge of putting together the puzzle of a case, and for the first time, it was as much of a challenge as the streetwork. Maybe he was growing up.
The biggest change, though, was between them. The fear had disappeared. Even at their best, when they were having the time of their lives being together out on the streets, Starsky had always been aware of the fear. He'd simply counted it the cost and dealt with it. But it hadn't been so easy for Hutch. Starsky had seen it eat away at his partner, the weight of what they saw each day and the steady, ever-present background fear that one day it would take away the one thing that made it all bearable: each other.
Maybe the shooting had been a blessing in disguise, Starsky mused. It was hard to look at it that way and he doubted Hutch would ever be able to. But despite all Starsky's concerns following the shooting, he had to admit, things had worked out for the better. It had been a very long time since he'd seen Hutch that contented and... free. And, in tune with his friend's feelings, Starsky had also found a new peace he'd not known before. Now, he finally understood Hutch's side and the changes he'd seen in the past year first in his partner, then mirrored in himself. And he no longer had any doubts.
He glanced up again and was surprised to
find the serious blue eyes watching. Hutch hadn't stirred or made a sound and
Starsky wondered how long his partner had been studying him. "Hutch? You
The eyes were exceptionally clear and studied him intently as if confirming every detail of his face. Starsky leaned closer, his expression softening with affection. "Hey, pal, welcome back. Wanna say something?"
The blond licked his lips. "Hi," he said softly, almost shyly.
Starsky smiled warmly at him. "Good to have you back. I was beginning to wonder if you were ever gonna wake up. How you feelin'?"
A faint wrinkle of the nose. "Lousy," was the mild answer, not sounding at all complaining.
"Proves you're alive," Starsky grinned. "Doc says another day or two and you're going to be 'released to my care', if you can stand it." Hutch stared at him, his mind obviously somewhere other than on the gentle byplay.
Starsky grew sober. "Hutch," he began, hesitating, looking at the floor tiles. "You were out of your head before, at the warehouse, and you did a lot of talking about... about Gunther and the shooting." He glanced up to find the blond head turned away. Starsky quickly rose and sat on the edge of the bed, gently turning the chin back to face him, upset at seeing the brightness in the other's eyes. Maybe he was pushing in bringing this up so soon, both of them too close to their emotions and too tired to keep them in check. But maybe that was a good thing. Starsky hurried on.
"Hutch, partner, listen to me. I should've known... I didn't realize what it was like for you. I'm sorry, I know it was... I know," he paused. "I really am sorry you had to go through that because of me." He wiped at the tears that escaped from the eyes that were captured by his, smiling fondly at them. "You're amazing, you know that?" he said softly. "You went through all that and even got Gunther, then shelved it all so you could be there for me." He brushed away more tears with a hand as tender as his voice. "You are not only the best cop I have ever known," his voice caught, "but also, next to my father, the best man, and I am so glad you're my friend."
Hutch's last restraint dissolved, and Starsky carefully slid an arm behind his friend's shoulders to ease him forward into his own arms, being careful of IV's and bandages. "It's okay, Hutch," he whispered. "No more hiding things and burying 'em and holding them in. We're gonna get you out of here and I'll take care of you, and when you're better, we're going to do some more talking. No more hurting," he rocked a little. "No more. We're gonna work it all out. And I'll be here for as long as you need, I promise. Okay?"
A tiny nod.
"Okay," Starsky said firmly. He kept holding on until he felt Hutch begin to pull himself back together, awkward with embarrassment. Starsky petted the blond hair with a fond smile. "By the way," he added, voice deadpan, "if you ever tell anyone what I said about you, I'll deny it."
Hutch's chest constricted into a sudden laugh which turned into a hiccup, and he moaned. Starsky pressed him closer for a second, then slowly disentangled them and got his partner settled back into the bed, drying his face with a tissue. "Can't have all the pretty ladies seein' you looking like that," he cheerfully remonstrated, prompting a tired, raised eyebrow. Starsky laughed. "Guess you're not dyin' if you're interested in that. Now if you're good and go back to sleep, I'll take ya home day after tomorrow."
Hutch's hand reached out for his, but the expression glowing in the azure eyes was love, not need. Starsky took the hand and clasped it.
It was another beginning.
Written in 1997