This story first appeared in the zine, Compadres #15 (1999). This zine, and other fine S&H gen zines, can be obtained from Neon Rainbow Press at: 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 with Maria Farina
Duty was met. Gunther was caught, safely in the hands of the SFPD, already charged with half-a-dozen serious offenses and only awaiting Hutch's leisure in adding any others, the slow wheels of justice already beginning to speed up.
Friendship was met. Not only friendship, love, life itself. What mattered most. Starsky was okay, out of the woods according to the doctor, resting and getting better. Hutch still felt the rush of contentment and pure joy at the last sight of his partner, sleeping peacefully, still half-smiling at Hutch's enthusiasm. Starsky was safe.
Which left only... Hutch.
He just wasn't sure where.
The plane landed at LAX and he was one of the first off, no luggage to retrieve. It had been a short trip, just long enough to arrest one of the most powerful men in America, the man who had almost killed Starsky. Who had killed Starsky, for a short time...
Hutch concentrated on moving through the airport and hailing a taxi, then giving terse directions to the hospital. The drive would take a while, and he leaned back to wait but couldn't seem to relax. He sat stiffly instead, staring blankly at the back of the seat in front of him. A fist curled tightly on his leg to stop the slight trembling.
At the hospital, he automatically stuffed some money into the cabbie's hand, then stared after the departing car as it drew away. Gunther owned a lot of transportation companies--did that include any taxi conglomerates? Or perhaps the plane Hutch had just flown in on? The man who turned down a chance at the presidency because it was a step down in power. Hutch shuddered and turned away to go inside.
Up the elevator, 19 steps to Starsky's room. Funny the things you noticed sometimes. The strange looks from the other people passing him in the hall was not among them. Everything was confusing, unreal, besides the one occupant of the one bed in the one room.
Hutch walked unsteadily through the door, also oblivious to the fact that the nurse was gone. All he saw was the bandage-wrapped chest slowly rising and falling. His eyes searched higher for cheeks that finally had a bit of color, lips slightly parted, softly breathing in and out. Life. Not death. Everything went on, Ken Hutchinson had lost the life that belonged to him and gotten it back again as breath flowed in and out and in and out...
His hands were shaking harder now, but this time he didn't notice.
Huggy shook his head forlornly at the sight of the huge sandwich the captain was polishing off before his eyes. He was beginning to regret packing the picnic basket full of goodies for the other man. Edith Dobey would never forgive him.
Still frowning, he slipped out of the room and wandered back down the corridor as he had already done three times in the last 15 minutes. With Starsky only back among the living for not quite a day, the black man was still getting used to the thought. He had precious few real friends in his life, and the thought of having come that close to losing one rattled him more than the streetwise barkeep cared to admit. He couldn't wait for Hutch to get back from San Francisco so that things could start getting back to normal.
Huggy glanced in the window as he paused at the door, then did a double take as he saw the figure by the bed. Still, it shouldn't have surprised him--who else would Hutch hurry back to but one curly-haired partner? Huggy grinned and opened the door.
"Hutch, when'd you get back?" he asked cheerfully, careful to keep his voice low.
No reaction. The blond appeared to be carved in stone, unhearing, unmoving, unresponding.
Huggy frowned. "Hutch?" He ventured a little closer, taking stock of the bloodless face under the blond hair, the blank expression, the slight tremors that went through the ramrod straight body. "Hutch?" he whispered once more, seriously concerned now, covering the last few steps between them.
The blond head turned a little, slowly, pale eyes bled of color looking vaguely at him without recognition. The trembling was worsening even as Huggy watched.
"Uh-oh," the black man sighed, turning and heading quickly for the door. He knew exactly what he was seeing, had seen often enough before in the faces of people on the street who were overwhelmed by one too many crushing blows, who were no longer able to deal with the world, who were crashing. Left alone, they caved in on themselves and either recovered out of sheer will or just wasted away. Hutch was a survivor, Huggy had no doubts about that. Friends were around to help and cushion in times like these, however, and with Hutch's main support temporarily incapacitated, it was Huggy's turn. But first he had to get Hutch out of there.
He skidded into Dobey's makeshift office, startling the man. "Cap'n, Hutch's here. You'd better come take a look." He didn't wait for a response, already hurrying back toward Starsky's room with heavy footsteps behind him. Huggy led the way through the door.
Hutch still sat where Huggy had left him, the rigidness gone; he'd sunk into the chair, staring again at the bed. He was shaking so violently, his white-knuckled grip on the bed railing rattled it lightly.
Dobey stepped forward tentatively, face creased with worry. "Hutch?" he said gently. He leaned into Hutch's line of vision. "Son?" Huggy had never heard such tenderness in the bigger man's voice before. But it received no response. Dobey turned back to Huggy. "What's going on?" he asked sharply.
Huggy's voice was calm. "He's crashin'," he stated matter-of-factly. "No sleep, no food, losin' Starsky, gettin' Starsky back, Gunther. It caught up to him." He spared a worried glance at the blond, whose forehead was now creased with confusion. "This is just the beginnin'; I seen it before. He'll snap outta it, then he'll really fall apart."
Dobey looked skeptically first at him, then at Hutch. Huggy let a little impatience creep into his voice. "Cap'n, he's gonna be okay, he just needs a shoulder to cry on, y'know?" It was déja vu to a few years back, only then Starsky had been the one to take over and nurture the blond through that crisis, leaning only a little on his two friends for support. This time it was up to Dobey and Huggy alone. "We gotta get him outta here," Huggy insisted, "It'll be a lot harder if he crashes here." Hutchinson pride and all. How many times had Huggy seen one of the two protect the other not only from physical harm, but also from disgrace or shame in the prying eyes of the outside world? Weaknesses stayed within the partnership and were shielded by the strength of two instead of one.
"All right," Dobey finally agreed, moving closer. Flanking Hutch, he and Huggy both pulled him up to his feet as the detective fretfully shook his head.
"M'okay. M'all right-" The rest was incoherent.
The two men ignored him as they got a firm grip and maneuvered the big blond out of the room. He stumbled along, disoriented but unresisting, and Dobey deflected all inquiries and offers to help as they made their way. They were almost to the garage before Hutch spoke up again.
"Starsk?" The one word was suddenly clear and heart-brokenly desperate.
"It's okay, Hutch," Huggy soothed. "Starsky's fine. We gotta let him rest now; we'll come back soon."
That temporarily quieted his companion and, with unspoken agreement, Huggy and Dobey turned him toward the Caddy and loaded him into the back seat.
Dobey leaned in through the passenger-side window. "Huggy, one of us ought to stay with Starsky," he began reluctantly.
"It's okay, Cap'n. I think I can handle Mr. America here by myself," Huggy said dryly.
Dobey's look was openly grateful for a moment, then, with a last glance at Huggy's passenger, he silently strode back to the elevator.
As he disappeared, Huggy's smile slid off his face and a little of the worry he'd been hiding appeared. Hutch would be okay; Starsky would kill Huggy if he wasn't, but it still didn't make what was about to follow any easier. With a sigh, the barkeep got in and set out for his place.
By the time they pulled up in front of the house, Hutch was stirring restlessly and seemed mostly aware of his surroundings, if not yet actually making sense of them. Huggy had kept up a stream of cheerful reassurances on the way, hoping to keep the other relaxed and calm until they got home, and it had apparently worked, but he nevertheless breathed a sigh of relief when the house came into sight.
Getting Hutch mobile, let alone up the stairs, on the other hand, proved to be quite a challenge for the slight black man alone. Hutch was more or less moving under his own power, but between the violent shudders and the lack of comprehension, he was difficult to guide. Huggy was grateful to get him inside.
"Come on, Blondie, time for bed," he directed, heading them both into the bedroom. He kept one hand around an unsteady arm while he pulled back the covers with the other. "Get in." Hutch obeyed. Huggy tugged his jacket off, rolling him over to get it loose, then unsnapped and removed the holster and gun. There was no resistance, and he also pulled off the shoes before tucking Hutch in firmly.
First stage accomplished; get him someplace safe where he could rest. Next, Huggy reassessed the situation. With the combination of emotional shock and coming off of several days' worth of adrenalin, Hutch had the shakes bad. That would wear off, Huggy knew, as would the mental fog, but the blond's paleness and icy fingers concerned him now. Emotional shock. That could be dangerous if not treated. Huggy hurried over to the linen closet and pulled out a pair of blankets and some extra pillows, then returned to the bed. He tucked the pillows under the long legs, propping them up, and smoothed the extra blankets over the huddled figure. Then, he reached under the blanket for the icy feet and rubbed them vigorously to get the circulation going, before moving up the bed and repeating the maneuver with the chilled fingers that opened and closed spasmodically. He continued up the long arms, rubbing and kneading until the limbs felt warmer and there was a spot of color in the waxy cheeks.
The voice sounded puzzled but was steadier and clearer, and Huggy was pleased to note that the previously blank eyes were now looking at him with awareness. The blond was finally pulling himself out of his numbed state. "Yeah, Hutch. I'm here."
"Where's S-Starsk?" The blue eyes were no longer empty, were full almost to overflowing, as a matter of fact, but Huggy wasn't sure with what.
"Starsky's at the hospital. Remember? He's okay, he's sleepin'. Like you oughta be." Hutch stared at him as Huggy pulled up the blankets over the shoulders that weren't quaking so badly anymore. His hand was grabbed in an iron grip.
"He didn't get down, Hug. I yelled at him to g-get down, but he didn't." The cold hand pulled at him in agitation.
"I know," Huggy said gently, "he didn't listen. There was nuthin' else y'could do."
"But I'm his p-partner. Supposed to protect him, but h-he died." Fear grew in his voice.
"Hutch, y'couldn't do nuthin'. They hit ya in the police parkin' lot; nobody was expectin' that. It wasn't your fault," Huggy said firmly, trying to loosen the vise on his hand.
"All year my fault," Hutch's voice fell to a whisper. "I didn't know what to do. Nobody ever cared about me like that. Made me mad that he never gave up... got angry."
A tear was sliding down his cheek and he was no longer looking at Huggy, who stared back at him in surprise. Maybe this crash had been long overdue. Hutch continued, throat working to get out the long-bottled emotions.
"I didn't know what was wrong, I just-just hurt worse and worse and he wouldn't leave me alone and let me give up. He just hurt with me." Suffering eyes turned to Huggy. "Why would he do that?"
This was no time for petty platitudes. "Same reason you would. Because he loves you, Hutch," Huggy said very softly.
Hutch's eyes overflowed and his shaking was no longer just from adrenalin fading. "Oh, God... Hug, I never told him, not really. I didn't share with him anymore, talk to him like we used to. He hated it, but he didn't give up. And then he died." The words were breaking up but they continued to pour out. "I can't... I don't know what to fix. How can I fix... I even got Gunther when nobody else could, he was too big, like bringin' down the president, but I got him by myself, and Starsky still died..." He couldn't go on and Huggy wasn't able to watch any further as his friend was choked silent by sobs, face pressed into the pillow. He gently gathered up the dead weight until Hutch was folded in his arms and Huggy could rub the sagging shoulders.
"Starsky knows, Hutch. He always did. He just wanted you to talk t'him; ain't too late t'change that. He's gonna be fine and you just tell him what you told me. You both got a second chance now."
He wasn't sure the other heard, but he could feel Hutch let go altogether as the sobs deepened and the blond head buried itself in his chest to escape the pain. Huggy just held on and soothed as best he could, fighting to keep his friend from drowning in the frustration and hurt. The crying muffled in his shirt no longer had the lost, hopeless sound as when Hutch had first begun, and Huggy took that for a good sign. Hutch might not remember the specifics of their exchange the next day, but his soul had begun to untangle itself, and that's where healing started. He could talk about it now, and would have a willing and eager audience in Starsky; the two of them together would do the rest. In fact, Huggy speculated, knowing how symbiotic the two of them were, it wouldn't surprise him if Hutch's healing helped heal Starsky, too. Despite everything, Huggy hadn't felt this good in a long time.
The tears wouldn't stop--Huggy didn't know a person was capable of crying so much. His shirtfront was thoroughly soaked by the time the blond lay limp and quiet, utterly depleted. Huggy held him a few minutes longer, refilling emptiness with friendship, enough to hold Hutch until Starsky could take over.
When the shaking had calmed to an occasional shiver and he sensed Hutch was beginning to drift off, he carefully lay his friend down and drew the wet outer shirt up over his head, then covered him with the blankets again. Hutch curled up like a small child, already more asleep than awake.
Remembering his first aid, Huggy fetched some juice from the kitchen and coaxed the blond to drink some before letting him begin to doze. Then he continued the calmative ministrations, brushing damp blond hair off the other's forehead, drying wet cheeks and eyes with a tissue, and finally fetching a roll of gauze. Dobey had initially ordered Hutch to have his slashed wrist seen to, the only reason it had been tended at all, but it hadn't seemed to occur to the detective to take care of it or change the bandages since then.
Huggy slowly unwound the old, bloodstained bandage, checking to see that stitches hadn't been pulled. The wound was an angry red and looked a little infected; Huggy made a mental note to call the doctor and ask about getting some antibiotics for it, but for now, he rewrapped it with fresh gauze. The gash had been deep. Hutch had been lucky, but the blood loss and trauma would've had to have contributed to the blond's exhausted collapse. Huggy was only beginning to wonder that he had managed to keep it together as long as he had. But then, he'd had to. Starsky had needed him to.
By the time he was done, Hutch was deeply under. Huggy paused for a moment to lightly lay a hand on one blanketed shoulder.
"Sleep well, amigo. Starsky's waitin' for ya." Then, he tiptoed out the door, quietly shutting it behind him.
Written in 1996