This story first appeared in the zine, Ouch! #2 (1998). This zine, and other fine S&H gen zines, can be obtained from Neon Rainbow Press: http://www.neonrainbowpress.com/ Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
The three men filed out of the room silently, their words still heavy in the air. Captain Dobey also stood to follow them, glancing uncertainly at the sole other occupant of the room, who sat motionless, not waiting, just being. The black man seemed to debate going over to the mute figure, even taking a hesitant step in that direction, when he noticed another impatiently waiting out in the hall. Relieved, he immediately turned back to the door and left the room, and, in a moment, the sound of his subdued voice filtering in from the hallway was the only thing left to hear in the quiet room.
All unnoticed by the lonely figure.
A half a minute passed, the voices died away, and Dobey's companion appeared in the doorway. For a moment he stood, taking in the other's reaction, the stooped shoulders, the unblinking, unseeing gaze directed at the floor. And sighed.
As he crossed the room, the quiet steps also appeared to go unnoticed, unusual for the normally alert detective he knew, inconceivable for his sensitive best friend. Another bad sign. He finally reached his partner and, after hesitating a moment, drew up a chair next to him.
The response was slow in coming, as if it took great effort. The bowed head lifted and shadowed eyes stared at him.
"What did they say?" Starsky asked softly.
The eyes lost contact with his, focusing past him. "...acted in the line of duty to preserve lives, including your own," Hutch quoted in emotionless monotone. As flat as his expression.
Starsky smiled a little, encouragingly. "That's great! See, told ya they'd see you had no choice-"
"- in killing a fellow police officer." Hutch's eyes closed wearily as he finished the thought.
Starsky's smile disappeared. "Corman was a dirty cop, Hutch. You had no choice."
A pause. The blond head lowered again, eyes fixed on the floor once more. "Yeah."
Starsky winced, then pulled himself up out of the chair and put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "C'mon, partner. Let's go home."
Hutch mechanically stood and let himself be led out the door. The chill of the empty hearing room trailed after them as they left.
Starsky sat on the sofa, magazine propped in front of him, completely ignoring it as his eyes silently followed the pacing figure in front of him, instead. They'd been at Starsky's place for several hours - plenty of time for Starsky to fix a disgustingly healthy dinner that his partner left untouched, for a long hot shower for Hutch that didn't seem to loosen him up any, and for Starsky to suggest several ideas, all immediately refused. He'd finally left his partner alone to work out some of the demons that had now transformed earlier shock into apparently limitless restless energy. Only, Hutch wasn't settling any, and Starsky was beginning to get seasick watching him.
"Hutch, would you please sit down!" he finally tossed away the magazine.
Startled, the pacer stopped, glancing up. "What?"
"Siddown, you're makin' me nervous," Starsky complained.
Hutch stared at him a long moment, then sank into a chair and wearily buried his face in his hands.
The brunet's face softened, and he got up to cross over to behind his partner, gently starting to knead the stiff shoulders. After a moment, he quietly spoke up. "Hutch-"
"Don't." Hutch pulled out of his grasp to begin pacing again. He stopped to face his partner. "Don't you get it, Starsk? I killed a cop. A brother officer." His voice was strained and harsh. "One of the good guys. One of us."
Starsky was getting more than a little worried about the sudden changes of mood. "Hutch-"
"So what does that make me? What good is the oath I took if that's all it means, huh? What good does it all do?" His eyes glimmered darkly, like a man who couldn't bear his own thoughts. "All those fellow cops we've staked our life on, they turned on us just like that," he snapped his fingers. "Is that all this means?" The unspoken next question was left hanging in the air for them both to hear - Is there anything left to believe in? Starsky stepped back as if slapped. Hutch's expression sank to complete misery and, smothered, he glanced around desperately, eyes lighting on the nearby door. "I need some air," he mumbled, then rushed out into the darkness, leaving behind his jacket and his gun. And his partner.
"Hutch!" Starsky shook off his shock and hurried after him to the door in time to see his friend disappear around the corner. He stood for a long minute, debating as to whether or not to follow, then finally, reluctantly, shut the door. Some things a person had to figure out by himself. And Hutch would come back to him when he was ready. He always did.
Hutch let momentum take him down the street, careening around corners without regard for direction or surroundings. It wasn't his neighborhood nor was it a better part of town, besides the fact that it was nearly midnight, but that neither registered nor mattered. He just wanted to get away.
Policework sometimes involved shootings and occasionally even killing. It was a distasteful and haunting part of the Job that he had accepted as necessary. It hurt, badly for a while. But he had worked through it before, with Starsky's help, and went on. That was what he did, what being a cop was sometimes about.
Or was it?
Starsky was right, Corman and Burke were dirty cops and needed to be stopped. But that didn't change several facts, such as that they were still cops, fellow officers Hutch had worked with, knew, trusted his and his partner's life with, joked around with, even looked up to. Or the fact that, to protect themselves, they had turned on him and Starsky, half the department following their lead. Or that, in defense of his own life, he'd had to kill one of those on whom he'd counted so many times before. And IA, once so hungry for his and Starsky's blood, only let him get off so easy because they had bigger fish to fry. Suddenly, nearly everything Hutch had believed in, had stood for, had sacrificed for, no longer meant what it did before.
Where did that leave him?
Voices suddenly broke through his blanket of thought - angry, shouting voices. Startled, he glanced around to realize he had no idea where he was except that it was no place to be alone at night. By instinct, he carefully advanced down the street and into the alley, moving toward the voices. He reached for his gun as he pressed against the wall of the building next to him, cursing himself upon realizing he'd left it back at Starsky's. He continued down the alley, slowly peering out as he reached the corner, still hidden in the shadows.
The alley opened into a wide back court, framed on all sides by rundown buildings and warehouses. Off to the far side, Hutch could see three men, two dressed in nicely-pressed suits calmly facing a third, badly-dressed, agitated man. It was his voice Hutch had heard shouting, but now the voices were lowered and he couldn't make out the words. He was just about to withdraw, not wanting to intrude, when the lead suited-man raised his arm, gun in hand, and pointed it at the other.
It happened too fast. Hutch had to fight the urge to do something, but with no gun and from his position, it was hopeless. There was hardly even time to consider that, though, before the gun went off, a quiet crack, and the third man crumpled. The detective watched helplessly as the other man in a suit, the bigger of the two men, began to gather up the body.
He had to go for help. Hutch started to pull back when he abruptly heard a step behind him and began to turn, cursing himself for letting someone sneak up on him.
He never made it.
The line between reality and dream blurred. From nightmare images of unreality came the feeling of motion, darkness, being trapped in a small, suffocating space. And pain. He tried to focus, but a sudden jostling slipped awareness once more out of his tenuous grasp.
According to Ian Fleming, waking from a blow to the head is always initially followed by intense nausea and usually vomiting. In all his experience, Hutch had yet to prove him wrong. The overwhelming reflex was the first thing he was aware of, and it momentarily blocked out everything else. His stomach was all but empty, though, and there was something stuffed in his mouth, filling it, so he shut his eyes and breathed deeply through his nose, trying to quell the urge. After a few minutes, it finally abated to a manageable level. Slowly, trying not to jar his head too much, he began to take stock of the situation.
He was unable to move his arms or legs, and quickly realized this was because they were tied tightly, professionally, his arms behind him. His mouth was also gagged, but those discomforts couldn't compete with the pounding in his head. His only relief was that, despite the aches and bruises, he didn't seem to be hurt anywhere else.
That digested, Hutch took stock of his environment, but there wasn't much to go on. He was on the floor in what appeared to be a small, shabby office, propped up against a desk. The room was barren with only a small window, adding to the stuffy feeling of claustrophobia. And there was a quiet murmur in the distance. Hutch sat perfectly still and tried to make it out.
"...thought you want...bring him.... cop...saw..." Hutch wasn't certain, but it sounded like the voice of the gunman in the alley.
Another harsher, louder voice cut in. "You idiots! You can't do anything right! He saw too much, keeping him around is just asking for trouble. Get rid of him, today, I don't care how. Drown him, shoot him, bury him, just get rid of him!"
The cruel coldness in the voice chilled Hutch more than the words. He had to fight panic from choking him, heart racing as he struggled against his bonds again, but they weren't budging. Frantic, he searched the room for something he could use to free himself. There was nothing around his feet, and it didn't seem as though he could move more than a few inches. He was beginning to despair when his fingers brushed against the bottom edge of the desk near his hands where the grey metal was warped and the rim bent out of shape, protruding a little. Hutch eagerly felt along it and moved the ropes to saw against the sharp edge.
Precious moments went by as he felt the ropes slowly giving way, expecting to hear footsteps at any second. Sweat dropped into his eyes and his head throbbed mercilessly, but he couldn't even feel when his hands slipped for a moment and he sliced his wrist instead, his mind concentrating solely on the task. He was getting desperate when the last fiber snapped and the ropes came free. There was no time to exult, though, as he stiffly leaned forward to tug at the ropes on his feet.
Footsteps sounded in the hall.
Hutch untangled the last loop of rope and scrambled up as quickly as neglected muscles would allow, pulling off the gag as he did. The footsteps were very close now and his head pounded fiercely; there was no way he could leave by the door and take on the person coming in after him. Which left one choice.
When the door jerked open, the room stood empty, the one window open as wide as it would go. There was a mumbled curse, then running footsteps back down the hallway.
Hutch climbed out from under the desk gratefully, waiting for a moment until there was silence, then slipped through the door.
The long, dim hallway disappeared into darkness at the end, and Hutch moved down it quietly, crouched down low to stay out of sight. Past several shut doors, finally he reached the end of the hallway and another closed door. He took a deep breath, then slowly opened it a few inches.
Daylight streamed in through the opening, and Hutch, emboldened, opened it further so that he could look out. Not much to see, just sidewalk and a nearby brick wall, but it was outside, freedom. He slipped out and started running.
He wasn't in L.A. Or if he was, it was a part he wasn't remotely familiar with, he soon realized. He came across a street he should've known and didn't, turning down it without second thought. There wasn't time to dwell on it now. Running footsteps sounded somewhere behind him, and fleeing chased away all rational thought.
Hutch had raced several blocks by the time adrenalin began to bottom out. His lungs burned with lack of air and his whole body ached. The footsteps were still behind him; he had to find a place to hide or give up, simple as that. They were in a rundown part of town with crumbling, abandoned buildings all around. Hutch dashed into the second one upon rounding the last corner, temporarily out of sight of his pursuers.
The building was filthy and smelled of decay and garbage, but was apparently empty. Hutch grabbed the banister, gasping, and stumbled up the first flight of stairs, pulling himself along. He got as far as the second floor; his body refused to go any further. Glancing around wildly for a place to hide, he tried one of the doors clustered around the landing. Locked. Hutch groaned softly, the threats of his captors still repeating in his mind. Terror gave renewed strength; he jerked open the second door and almost fell into the room with his momentum.
The room was as dingy as the building, showing the signs of many long-ago dwellers. There were several pieces of broken-up, cheap furniture scattered about, and a slashed mattress propped up against the far wall. Success. Hutch shut the door behind him and managed to lock it, then unsteadily made his way to the mattress, squeezing behind it to curl up against the wall. Then, he waited.
It took a while, and he was just beginning to un-tense a little when he heard the main door rattle downstairs. He held his breath as pounding resounded from the bottom floor then, after a brief pause, began to come up the stairs. Hutch closed his eyes, trying to clear his head enough to prepare to defend himself. There only seemed to be one person, perhaps there was a chance...
The steps reached the landing and a door rattled, apparently locked. The man went on to another, and Hutch could hear the door opening. There was an annoyed grunt, then the steps got closer and his door was tried.
The lock held.
Another grunt, and Hutch felt faint with relief when, a few seconds later, the footsteps moved off. He listened to the futile search of the last few apartments, followed by a check of the one floor above him, before, cursing, the man ran back downstairs again.
Hutch didn't dare move for a long time, teeth clamped down hard and arms locked around a body that refused to stop shaking. The pounding in his head worsened until he couldn't fight it anymore and crawled out into a corner of the room to gag on the little his stomach churned up. Then, he slumped against the wall and tried to figure out what to do next, absently winding his handkerchief around his still-bleeding wrist. He was in trouble, no question of that. In a strange city, chased by unknown assailants, hurt and alone, no partner or gun. The last revived flickering hope. Perhaps there was still a chance he could contact Starsky.
He struggled to lever himself up and blinked out of the window into the early morning sunshine. The first thing he saw was two men in suits across the street, one standing at the opposite corner, the other approaching him. Hutch ducked down, watching from the corner of the window. The two men met and conferred, then the first one faded into the shadows of the building next to him while the second moved off, presumably to another post. In the watcher's line of sight, two blocks down, Hutch could see a phone booth, hopelessly out of reach.
He slid back down the wall dispiritedly. Well, there was no way he could attempt anything in the light; he'd have to wait until dark and take his chances. In the meantime, despite the precariousness of the situation, there was no resisting the fatigue anymore and he slipped into a half-doze.
The honk of a truck's horn jarred him out of light sleep. The room was getting darker, and peering out of the window, Hutch could see the sun going down. Soon, now. His head was a little clearer, although he still felt drained. For the first time, he thought to check his pockets, not surprised to find his ID and wallet gone. Another pocket only yielded a handful of change. All he had left.
Hutch waited until a half-an-hour past sunset before finally struggling to his feet. Aside from a bad headache and the exhaustion that seemed to weigh him down, he felt remarkably well. He gingerly crossed the room and looked quietly out the door before going out and making his way down the steps.
Hutch sidled up to the front door of the building and peered out, but he could just make out the man still standing half-hidden outside, keeping watch down the street. Hutch sighed. Well, things couldn't be too easy. He circled behind the crumbling stairs to look for a back door.
It took some effort to clear the garbage blocking it, and Hutch could barely breathe from the smell by the time he finally uncovered the small door and pried it open, wincing at the loud creak it made. But the alley remained quiet and empty as far as he could see. After a moment of cautious waiting, he finally slipped out into the darkness.
It took a moment to get his bearings, then he headed off toward the phone booth, slinking along the walls, all senses on alert. Two blocks away seemed like forever in the dark, but the alleys were mercifully clear of anyone but a few sleeping drunks and vagrants. He was quite sure now this wasn't L.A., but the largely deserted warehouse district he seemed to be in was universally familiar. Hutch silently avoided the few street people and paused at a corner to rest. All he could hear were the usual distant night noises of the city. Taking a breath, he rounded the corner.
And almost ran into the man standing on the other side.
Neither of them expected the other, but Hutch, already tense with anticipation, was the first to recover, slamming a fist into the other's face. The man in the suit rocked back against the wall but rebounded almost at once, launching himself at Hutch, who sidestepped the attack and wheeled just in time to see the darker man pull out a wicked-looking knife.
This was the kind of situation Hutch was trained for. His mind sharpened and he was ready when the man attacked, deflecting the knife-wielding arm with one hand while grappling against the other arm that reached for his throat. The struggle continued silently as they both fell and rolled.
Police training usually prepared one to subdue assailants twice one's size in hand-to-hand combat, and Hutch had often had cause to use it. But that also assumed that the cop was in good health and able to hold his own. Injury, little sleep, and no food had taken their toll. After a minute of fighting, he could feel his strength ebbing and that he was losing the fight even as the knife tracked downward, closer. With a last desperate shove, he pulled himself away and attempted to regroup his defense. He didn't have the time. Off-balance, the knife meant for his stomach slid into his thigh, instead.
Hutch stared at the wound with detachment, initial shock numbing the pain. It was the sight of blood soaking his slacks that fueled him to suddenly, furiously lunge at the man in the suit before the other could prepare himself, propelling him back hard into the wall. The man folded over with a groan.
Panting, Hutch lurched back and stared first at the unconscious man, then at the blood dripping onto the ground next to the stained knife. Rationality fled. Bracing himself against the wall, he hobbled down the alley instinctively to seek shelter.
Somehow, Hutch ended up in another abandoned basement, he wasn't sure how or where or how much later. The numbness began to wear off shortly after, returning conscious thought and a deluge of pain that made clear thinking difficult. He managed to get his t-shirt off and torn into wide strips; that was the easy part. Tying it on tightly to apply pressure made him nearly pass out several times, but he hung on determinedly. To lose consciousness now was risking bleeding to death or discovery, which would've been equally fatal.
Jaw clamped and tears mingled with sweat, he bandaged the leg as tightly as he could, then limply sank back against the wall. It was getting harder and harder to stay hopeful. Any phone seemed impossibly far away now, and Starsky...
Hutch swallowed. One way or another, he would make it. Starsky would never forgive him if he gave up. But there was no question of waiting at least until daybreak. He had no strength at the moment, and the night held too many surprises. He just had to wait it out until then.
His leg hurt mercilessly. The bandage soaked through and Hutch clumsily put another on over it, already feeling the sluggishness and fatigue from loss of blood. That seemed to do the trick, but the wound still burned and ached, every movement sending a new shudder of pain and nausea through him. More than ever, he wished that at least he wasn't alone, lost in a strange city, unable to even hope that his partner would show up. That loss was the most frightening of all. Somewhere along the way, Starsky's presence, his reliability and loyalty, had become as natural and important to Hutch as the air he breathed. Without it, he felt more lost than he could ever have imagined. He cringed to think again of his partner's expression at Hutch's despairing question. Is that all this means? Whatever his disillusionments with the job, Starsky had always been there for him and together they'd done their best, and that had meaning even if nothing else did. I'm sorry, I didn't think. Please come, help me one more time and let me explain...
Shivering in the cold air - and the loneliness of the empty basement - Hutch curled up to try to stay conscious and cling to that thought.
His watch said 9:24 by the time he struggled back to full awareness and could concentrate his wandering mind. Moving was arduous, but there were no other options and the hope of talking to Starsky gave him renewed energy.
Hutch's head was swimming as he struggled to stay upright; it took some time before he finally balanced on his feet. His spent body was shutting down, but he refused to give up until he achieved his goal. Leaning heavily against the wall and clenching his teeth, he made it across the basement and, very slowly, up the few stairs to the back alley entrance he'd stumbled through just the evening before.
Outside, he paused to slump against the wall and wipe the sweat out of his eyes, and to listen and watch. His vision wasn't always clear, but he appeared to be alone in the alley. Hutch slowly limped his way to the corner then, hugging the wall, slowly and carefully squinted around it.
An empty alley leading to a street - and a phone booth.
Hutch closed his eyes gratefully at the sight. He waited a minute longer, but no footsteps, no one appeared at the mouth of the alley. He finally took the chance and crept forward, still propping himself up against the wall.
At the front corner, he paused again for a much longer look. Hutch was surprised to note that the street looked completely different from the one he'd been on before. Had he really gotten that far on a bad leg? Maybe they'd lost track of him altogether...
He could see no one in any direction other than the typical street people. No suits, no one lurking in shadows. At least, not that he could see. Hutch finally gathered courage and strength and limped out. The phone was only a few steps away, so unbelievably close now. His hand trembled as he reached it and picked it up, praying feverishly that it worked.
It did. He was too tired to be much relieved, vaguely surprised that he left a smear of red on the machine. But he was busy concentrating on steadying his trembling hand as he finally jammed a coin into the machine, his voice as he struggled to give the number to the operator. It was hard to remember, he wasn't even sure which one he was giving. The operator told him the amount needed and he shoved the extra coins in.
An unfamiliar voice answered.
"Sergeant Starsky," Hutch rasped, trying to swallow past his dry throat. Please, God, let him be there.
"One moment, please," the voice said pleasantly, and clicked off. Hutch closed his eyes and let the booth wall take a little more of his weight. Be there, Starsk, please. It was late, but with his partner missing... or maybe they could connect Hutch because he was too confused to try to figure out where else to call...
Hutch sagged in relief. "Starsk?"
"Hutch!" The other's voice sharpened in excitement. "What's goin' on? Where are you? Are you okay?"
The barrage of questions muddled the blond's tenuous concentration. "I don't..." He tried to collect his thoughts past the throbbing in his head. "Starsk, help, I can't..."
There was the briefest pause, then Starsky's voice returned, calm, reassuring. "Hutch, where are you? Tell me where you are 'n I'll come getcha."
Where? Hutch frowned, looking around as he tried once more fruitlessly to place himself. But everything was unfamiliar and frighteningly stark and threatening. He wanted badly for Starsky to come get him but where was he? "I don't know," he said despondently, "I don't know, Starsk-"
"Hutch, it's okay," Starsky's voice lowered soothingly. "Take it easy, it'll be all right, I promise. Are you indoors or in a phone booth?"
Hutch clenched the receiver, swallowing, willing himself to relax and think. "Booth."
"Okay, good. Is there a number on the phone?"
Of course, the number, he should have thought of that. It was just so hard to think straight. "Uh, yeah," he squinted at the number, brushing damp hair out of his eyes. "619-715-..." he blinked to clear his eyes, "... uh, 5837."
"San Diego?!" Starsky immediately steadied his voice again. "Okay, partner, listen t'me, I'm going to call the SDPD and-"
"No, no," Hutch's breathing quickened in agitation. "They're all over the place, Starsk, if they find me-"
"Hey, hey, it's okay, Hutch, calm down," Starsky hurriedly cut in. He thought for a moment, Hutch's heavy breathing the only sound over the line. "Okay, buddy, it's gonna take me a little while to get t'ya, but I'm on my way, okay?"
"Good. Now look around and tell me whatcha see. Any churches, libraries, somethin' around ya?"
Hutch blinked, then scanned the area. "A church."
"You see a church? Great. Does it have a name?"
Hutch shook his head, regretting it when his head started to ache worse. "Uh-uh. I don't know."
Starsky continued calmly. "That's okay. Listen, babe, I want ya to go into the church and wait for me there. Stay outta sight an' I'll be there soon. Can ya do that for me?"
Hutch voice was weary. "Yeah." He'd do anything Starsky asked.
"All right. Just hang on, I'm comin', Hutch." There was a slight pause. "Hey," Starsky's voice sounded strained for the first time. "It's gonna be okay, I promise. Just... don't go anywhere without me, huh?"
"No, I...," Hutch swallowed, pressing a hand against his leg to try and stop the pain that flowed through it. His hand met warm wetness again. "Starsk, hurry. I'm scared." The last was whispered.
The answer almost matched his tone, quiet but solid. "I know y'are. Go t'the church and wait for me, I'll be there soon and I'll take care of everything, okay?"
"Okay," Hutch answered in a small voice. That sounded wonderful.
"Okay." The phone clicked, no good-bye necessary, no more time wasted. Hutch stood a moment longer, tightly clenching the phone and listening to the broken line. It took conscious effort to hang it up. Fear and loneliness descended again, but he pushed them away. Starsky was coming, he had promised.
Awkwardly, Hutch maneuvered himself out of the phone booth, waiting until no one was around. Then, taking a deep breath, he set out across the street to the small Catholic church, clutching his left leg with one hand as he limped along as fast as he could go. By the time he reached the doors, he was gasping, ready to collapse. He pulled open the door with difficulty, leaning against it as he tried to collect himself, then stumbled inside.
The chapel was empty, he noted with weary relief, and he stood swaying for a moment, trying to decide where to go. Stay out of sight, Starsky had said. Hutch finally noticed the two confessional booths to one side, each protruding from the shadows. There was darkness between them, a little space, and with one last push, he struggled over and sank down between them, sliding to the floor. His remaining strength and concentration were all wrapped in one thought, Starsky said to wait.
Time became incomprehensible, oblivious. He just knew he hurt and was scared. The pain traveling up his leg melted him from the inside out though he was shivering with cold, and his head and leg throbbed relentlessly until he felt severely sick to his stomach, but there was nothing left to gag on. He rested his head weakly on his good leg and waited. Starsky said...
The door opened. Hutch looked up and blinked. Hope flared brightly when a form stepped inside, then cautiously dimmed as he realized something was wrong. This person had light brown hair. And wore a suit. As the man turned, Hutch caught sight of his face, then shrank back into the shadows in terror. It was the man with the knife. But now there was no place to go. Helpless, he pressed against the back wall and prayed the other wouldn't see him in the dim light. Starsk, where are you...
The man began walking up the center aisle, glancing around sharply as he did. Hutch closed his eyes and waited.
The door opened again. Hutch squeezed his eyes tighter shut, then, reluctantly, forced them open. The other man turned as well, and they both watched as a third stepped inside and into the light. Dark curly hair and a familiar blue windbreaker, but the way he stood told Hutch all he needed to know. Relief made him lightheaded.
The first man wheeled back toward the door and left at once, pausing only a brief moment to look Starsky over and Starsky, in turn, studied him. Then he was gone.
Starsky watched him go, then turned his attention back to the room, slowly setting off down the middle aisle.
Hutch struggled to rise, drawing a sharp breath, and somehow made it even as the room swayed out of focus around him. He was too weak to do any more than shuffle forward a little, out of the shadows, trying not to put weight on his bad leg. All that was keeping him going now was the desire to reach his partner.
It was no more than a hoarse whisper in the large room, but Starsky whirled at once, then, without any hesitation, raced toward him.
He had someone to fight for him now. As the fear faded, so did his desperation-fueled energy. He began to fold, the world in slow motion as he dimly saw his partner vault a final pew and suddenly appear before him, reaching out for him. It was all too far away and too much and he was very tired and sick and his leg and head hurt but he felt himself caught and gently gathered up and thought he heard his name called and suddenly it felt so nice and warm. Refuge. He leaned his cheek against the other's shoulder and, as darkness gently overtook him, resigned himself willingly to it. To Starsky.
Consciousness filtered in. A sense of movement, occasional small jolts and bumps, a distant hum; his mind sleepily provided that he was in a car again. Before panic could rise, though, self-awareness returned. The fire in his leg was gone completely, pleasantly numb, and his headache had receded to a dull background ache, adding to his lethargy. And warmth surrounded him. Not just of the soft blanket he was comfortably cocooned in, but also of the protective embrace wrapped around him, supporting and comforting; the body he was propped up against, a heartbeat faintly in his ear; the soft breath on his face. Without understanding, he'd still never been so at peace and secure before.
His slight shifting alerted the other to his wakefulness. The arms pulled him closer and a quiet voice breathed in his ear.
"Shh, go back to sleep. It's okay now, I'm here."
He smiled drowsily and nestled closer. Feeling safe and cared for, he let himself be rocked back to sleep.
The light filtering in through the curtains was faint, either twilight or dawn. Hutch watched it for a minute, half-asleep still, not trying too hard to figure out which. The way his head felt, it was way too early, whichever it was. Musta been some party...
He automatically pulled the covers aside and rolled out of bed in one smooth motion.
Jagged pain shot up his leg and through his body, and he gasped as his leg buckled, dumping him ungracefully onto the floor. He struggled to sit up, clutching the limb with gritted teeth.
Starsky dropped to his knees beside him, gently prying his hands away from his leg. Hutch stared at him silently as the brunet fiddled with the bandage wrapped around his thigh. Apparently satisfied that no damage was done, Starsky sat back on his heels and met his friend's eyes cheerfully.
"You okay?" One hand squeezed Hutch's good leg gently. "What happened, d'you forget?"
The face, the words, the voice all brought the memories rushing back: the murder, the kidnapping and escape, the vulnerability and exhaustion of being on the run alone in a strange city, then the pain of the attack and the fear of having no place to turn. He stared at his hands as delayed terror set in and they began to shake, then looked helplessly back at Starsky.
His partner seemed to understand. He moved quickly, standing and bending down to gently tug the blond back up onto the bed, then pushing him onto his side and covering him. "Easy, Hutch. Try to relax. It's over and you're safe now." There was no response as Hutch shut his eyes again. "Hey, partner, you hear me?" Starsky's voice sharpened a little. "Hutch, I havta know you're okay."
Hutch sighed and nodded.
Starsky smiled gently, unseen, and sat on the edge of the bed. "Okay," he said. "Just relax. We can talk when you're ready," he kneaded the arm closest to him.
Hutch made a face and this time Starsky grinned. Difficult, he could deal with. The blond slowly calmed, clenched fingers gradually loosening as he regained control while Starsky silently waited on him. He finally opened his eyes, reluctant, but one glance at Starsky and he haltingly began the whole story, from the voices on the street to the phone booth. There, he trailed off uncertainly, memory failing.
Starsky took over. "Then you called me and went over t'the church t'wait for me." He couldn't imagine how, now, with Hutch's leg in the shape it'd been in, but then, his partner usually did whatever he set his mind to. "And that guy who was there when I got there, was he after you?"
Hutch nodded, absorbed in staring at the blanket. "He was the muscleman in the alley."
"The one who knifed ya." Starsky's voice was deceptively neutral; the hand that wasn't resting on Hutch gripped the edge of the bed with white-knuckled anger.
A brief hesitation, then a self-conscious nod.
Starsky paused, too. "What about the other guy in the alley, the one doin' the talkin'. Didya get a good look at him?"
The blond head shook wearily.
"Okay," Starsky gently said. He hated pushing, but had to do it while Hutch's memory was fresh. "The place they took you to, you think you could find it?"
"I don't think so," Hutch's voice was too soft. Starsky knew that sign: Hutch was upset with himself for not having been more observant while on the run and scared out of his mind. Sometimes it amazed Starsky that his partner put up with him, with the high standards of perfection the blond kept.
Time for a change of subject. Starsky's voice became affectionate as he slowly straightened the slender fingers that had begun to curl again. "Did pretty well in my book, partner. Without your badge or your gun, was about all you could do. Lucky ya didn't get yourself killed." He cleared his throat. "Gabe was there when you called, he drove down with me and we took you over t'the hospital, but I didn't let 'em admit ya, figured you'd be happier resting up in your own home." A quick, grateful look from the blond was answer enough. Starsky didn't mention how much better he felt, too, having his partner where he could keep an eye on him, especially after the scare of having Hutch disappear like that, then collapse on him. "Anyway, Jace came by to check y'over, too; he'll come by tomorrow again." A reluctantly questioning glance this time. "You're fine," Starsky assured. "Leg's gonna take a bit t'heal and you've got a respectable bump on your head, but you're gonna be fine."
Hutch nodded tiredly, body once more demanding rest to overcome its ordeal.
"Not so fast, pal," Starsky stood up suddenly, jarring his friend fully awake again. "Need to clean you up a little and get some food in ya." Hutch groaned but Starsky tugged at him firmly. "C'mon, you're already skinny enough, and you stink," he grinned pleasantly.
Hutch glowered but hadn't the energy to argue, merely let himself be helped up and, leaning heavily on Starsky, led into the bathroom.
An hour later, Starsky sat by the bed, watching worriedly as the blond slept. Hutch had rallied enough to shower on his own, despite nearly collapsing afterwards, and he'd managed to find enough appetite to eat the good-sized breakfast Starsky put in front of him, though the brunet suspected most of that was done for his sake. Hutch had never liked worrying him, and seemed embarrassed by coddling of any kind even though Starsky knew that he needed it sometimes. The memory of Hutch curled up in his lap on the long car trip home, resting easily as long as Starsky was there, would always stay with him.
But despite Hutch responding to the care, it was obvious something was still wrong. Besides the close call, the lingering fear that Starsky was working so hard to dispel, the anger at those who had done this to him. He was withdrawing into himself again, sky blue eyes stormy. The blond's parting words three days before had played over and over in Starsky's head. What good does it all do? Is that all this means? Starsky had first feared that had included him, but Hutch's obvious continued trust in him had relieved that worry. Nevertheless, despite the frustrations and occasional doubts, neither of them had ever had such a crisis of faith in the Job before. And that scared Starsky nearly as much. What if Hutch had lost faith in being a cop?
He sat for a long time after, watching the peaceful face framed by drying blond hair, the outstretched hand, palm up, that curled shut and relaxed again as he dreamed. The very first time Hutch had come to him, trusted him for help, it had felt strange. Starsky had had little close family nearby to practice on, no friends who had enough faith in him to rely on him like that before. But he had discovered to his amazement that love was really about giving, not getting; in giving, he'd received more than he ever thought possible, including more love than he knew one person could give. The awkwardness had disappeared and, suddenly, caring for this blond goy had become the most natural part of his life. There was nothing he wouldn't do for Hutch. Including leaving the only job he'd ever wanted to do.
It still didn't feel right, though. Did Hutch really want to quit? He was a good cop, an incredible detective, and he usually loved what he did nearly as much as Starsky. His reasons were different, but his commitment and concern mirrored his partner's, and what they achieved had given them both satisfaction. But Hutch's doubts now came from the experience with some dirty cops that hit a little too close to home, and a case that challenged everything he'd believed about his Job. And maybe that was something Starsky could do something about.
He got up quietly, watching the sleeper to make sure he didn't disturb him, then silently snuck into the kitchen and to the telephone there to make some calls.
Hutch mended slowly, his palpable depression slowing his progress, much to Starsky's frustration. Nor did Hutch ever mention the kidnapping or inquire after the case other than a fruitless, half-hearted trip through the mug books. But he tolerated Starsky's concern, and so the brunet continued to badger and coax his apathetic patient into taking care of himself. He could also sense Hutch's growing dread of returning to work even though it was never mentioned. Starsky just hoped his partner would make it until then.
It had been close. "Starsk, I don't know about this," Hutch spoke up quietly in the car on the way to Parker.
Starsky glanced over at him. "You'll be fine," he deliberately misunderstood. "Your leg's comin' along great and you can get around on the crutches pretty well. 'Sides, I'm gonna stick around and desk duty's not so boring if we're both doin' it."
Hutch snorted, remembering too many times when they'd supposedly been on desk duty together until Starsky found some way to get out of it, although the other's loyalty warmed him. But that wasn't what he'd meant. "I know that. It's just-"
"Hutch," Starsky's voice was completely serious now, "don't. Give it a day or two first. Trust me on this one, please." He looked earnestly at his partner.
The blond stared back at him, then nodded. He owed Starsky that much and a lot more. Figured that his partner would know what he'd been thinking...
Starsky pulled into the lot and parked, but paused before getting out, laying a hand on Hutch's leg. "It's gonna be okay," he said softly. "You'll see." Without waiting for response, he got out and came around to help Hutch out of the car, looking embarrassed at the fond smile Hutch gave him first. Then they slowly went inside.
The hallways seemed unusually empty, Hutch was relieved to notice, though he appreciated the few people that stopped to welcome him back. But the crutches were hard to maneuver and he was thoroughly ready to sit down by the time they got to the squadroom. Starsky took the lead, opening the door for him and concentrating on helping him make the turn.
The chorus of voices nearly made Hutch lose his balance. Astonished, he looked up at the packed room, then above at the "Welcome Back" sign stretched across the top of one wall.
Starsky was grinning at him like a silly kid, but Hutch didn't have a chance to say anything to him as the crowd rushed forward to greet him, sweeping him into the room. He was speechless as a chair appeared for him by a table full of food, and, after a while, he began to lose count of how many well-wishes and earnest welcomes he got. Including, he noticed, most sincere ones from several who had suspiciously skirted him a few weeks before. He'd ceased to be amazed by the time Huggy pushed his way forward to greet him, and only laughed when Dobey also put in an appearance in a party hat.
Then it was time for gifts. He caught sight of his partner once more halfway across the room, then Starsky disappeared from view as blonde, curvaceous Rosie stepped forward to primly hand Hutch a small box. He grinned as he took it. "I should disappear more often," he offered, to a chorus of groans. The little box opened easily, and the room suddenly grew quiet. Hutch's smile faded as he stared into the box, then slowly pulled the leather folder out, opening it to reveal his badge and ID. It was suddenly hard to swallow. After a moment, he looked up, confused.
Starsky abruptly appeared beside him and crouched down, reaching out a pile of folders tied with a colorful bow. "Here's your other gift, partner," he said solemnly. "Soon as everyone heard what happened, they got to work round-the-clock." He nodded at the files. "All three a'your friends from the alley and the big man himself, plus a bunch o'others are all under arrest and we've got pretty solid cases against 'em. SDPD wasn't too happy we got in on their territory," he smiled, "but they gave us a hand after we explained why this one was ours."
Hutch stared at him, then at all the faces expectantly watching him around the room. His eyes filled. "I... I don't know what to say." He drew a shaky breath. "Thank you. I... It means a lot to me." He ran out of words, overwhelmed.
His friends let him off the hook. There was another round of back pounding and hand shaking, but the party began to die down, people loading plates and disappearing back to their posts. Fellow detectives paused a moment longer to offer their support and congratulations before moving off to their desks around the room.
Dobey stopped in front of Hutch. "We take care of our own, Hutchinson," he said soberly, then gave a fleeting grin before disappearing into his office, the party hat still perched precariously on his head.
Only Starsky remained, hitching himself up onto a nearby corner of the table and quietly grinning at his partner. Hutch shook his head in wonder. "How did you do all this?" he asked.
"I didn't," Starsky answered. "Party wasn't my idea, and everyone volunteered their own time on the case. I just told 'em what was goin' on; they were the ones who wanted to help." He leaned closer. "Family, Hutch."
Hutch gave him a halfway grin. "Family, huh?"
"Todesco!" Dobey's holler was easily heard through his closed door. The Spanish detective quickly hurried to answer.
Starsky shook his head. "Family black sheep." He picked the leather case off the desk next to him. "You still want this?" he asked as easily as he could.
Hutch took it from him at once, sliding it into his back pocket with a little effort. "I think I always did," he conceded. He glanced up at the welcome sign and the pile of folders, then back at Starsky. "Sometimes it just takes somebody who cares to make you see what's right in front of you." He shyly patted Starsky's hand.
Starsky stared at him, not sure whether he'd heard right, then, eyes shining, touched the blond head briefly before he got up to hurry around to his side of the table. Only his faintly pink ears showed above the folder a moment later. Hutch smiled as he settled in the chair and picked up the first file. It was time to get back to work.
Written in 1997