This story first appeared in the zine, Seasoned Timber 1 (2001). 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: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
"All rise, all rise for the Honorable Thomas Brubeck."
Dave Starsky dutifully stood at the summons, as he had for so many other summonses in the past, reaching over without a glance to steady his partner as he also rose. Ken Hutchinson had been out of his leg cast for a week already, but he was still a little imbalanced on the weakened leg. It wouldn't have stopped him from missing the trial of one Victor Humphries, though, not even after Starsky's gentle suggestions that he didn't have to be there for it. Living the nightmare that had put him in the cast in the first place should have been plenty without reliving it again in testimony. Starsky gave his partner a quick assessing glance. Hutch noticed immediately, giving him a soft smile in return. He was ready for this, especially after two long months of physical and spiritual recovery. Starsky had worked hard to make sure of it. He just hoped he was ready himself.
"On Thursday, February third, 1977, at 3:30 pm..." They'd retaken their seats and the prosecutor was beginning his opening statement. A young Assistant D.A. by the name of William Oleson, he'd insisted they call him Billy and had talked to both Starsky and Hutch extensively in preparation for the trial. It was more attention than Starsky was used to getting from the D.A.'s office on any case, but this one was different. Attempted murder of a police officer always garnered more attention, easily evident by the ring of reporters the detectives had to press through to get into the courthouse that morning. Outright murder would have been even more inciting, but Starsky had thanked God every single day that the attempt against Hutch's life had failed. If not...he could imagine that the trial unfolding would have been his own, instead, for the murder of Vic Humphries. If Humphries had killed Hutch...
Starsky cast another hungry glance at his partner, and Hutch, eyes glued to the front of the courtroom, reached over to put a hand on Starsky's leg. Reminder that he was alive, safe, there. Starsky took a deep breath and concentrated on what Billy was saying.
"...causing his car to run off the road and crash into Topanga Canyon. Miraculously, Detective Hutchinson survived the fall, but when his car came to rest at the bottom of the canyon, his legs were trapped beneath it, effectively pinning him in place..."
Hutch's hand had stiffened during the recitation and Starsky gave it a sympathetic rub. Maybe Hutch had come to terms with what had happened, but hearing it described again in detail had to be torturous.
"...the time he was found, Detective Hutchinson was near death, badly dehydrated and in shock from exposure, a severely broken leg, and other trauma to the body..."
Near death. Such an ugly phrase, implication of a proximity Starsky didn't want to consider, yet he'd thought it himself at the time. It had been hard not to, the way Hutch had looked then, a memory Starsky had firmly put out of his mind since.
However unwillingly, he couldn't resist remembering anymore. With the warmth of a living Hutch's skin beneath his fingers and Billy Oleson's steady voice in the background as anchor, Starsky's thoughts went back to St. John's Hospital two months before.
Room 314, Dobey had said, and Starsky had sailed through the hallways looking for it. For his first glimpse of his partner since they'd arrived at the hospital too long before.
He nearly passed the room before he realized it, the progression of numbers not quite making sense. Or maybe just not to his tired mind. After several sleepless days of looking for the missing Hutch, then finally finding him at the bottom of Topanga Canyon half-crushed by his car, Starsky felt like he was running on worry alone now. All of which he promptly forgot as he found the sought-for room and went inside.
Starsky had thought he had the wrong place at first. The broken and...fragile looking figure in the bed didn't look at all like the partner he knew by heart. Even when Starsky had first found him in the canyon, Hutch had looked weak and badly injured, but not this beaten.
The grime was washed from Hutch's face, his torn and dirty clothes replaced by a white gown. But in the strong hospital light and with the glow of triumphant discovery gone, the real extent of the man's injuries had become clear. His leg, held fast in some sort of brace and slightly elevated, was swollen and nearly blackened with contusions the few places skin showed through the bandages. Starsky could only imagine that the other leg, tucked under the blanket, was similarly mottled. Hutch's arms had fared a little better, less discolored, but antibiotic gel gleamed on several ugly scratches.
And his face... Starsky swallowed. Hutch's face had come through relatively unscathed, only some tape marking the hairline cut that had been responsible for all the dried blood, and a painfully red sunburn just starting to peel around the cheeks. But it also was where the suffering of the past few days showed most painfully. A deep line was carved between his tightly shut, blackened eyes. Hutch's lips were pressed together except for when they opened for a gasp of air, and his head rolled first one way then the other on the pillow, trying to escape the discomfort he continued to be in even then.
Starsky winced. He'd finally gotten Hutch help and still his partner was hurting. After huddling together under a protective tarp as they'd lifted the wrecked car off Hutch, holding on through the blond's screams of pain and terrified panic at the threat of amputation, keeping Hutch focused on him so that neither of them would see the medics treating the fractured and bleeding limb, all Starsky wanted to do was give his partner some relief from the suffering.
Hutch moaned, body shifting again, and Starsky snapped out of his thoughts, moving up to the side of the bed. Maybe he couldn't fix everything, but at least he could help. His partner's left arm was strapped to a board and attached to an IV, but the right hand he gently picked up, seeing for the first time the salve that also coated the fingertips. Starsky hadn't noticed before, but each digit had been rubbed raw, no doubt as Hutch had tried to dig himself out. The thought made Starsky swallow an unexpected upwelling of grief and anger.
Hutch's cracked fingers curled around his hand, much like a baby's instinctive attempt to hold on, and his eyes opened a fraction. Starsky's anger was gone just as fast, his mouth softening into a tender smile meant for his partner alone. He leaned closer to the blond head.
"Hutch? Hey. Good to see ya again." Oh, how good.
Hutch's frown deepened, his eyes widening. They were bloodshot from exposure and didn't look quite focused, but they stared at Starsky with much of the same disbelief as in the canyon. "Star--" Half the name was voiceless even though his mouth moved.
"Right here, buddy," Starsky said gently. He reached up to sweep some of the blond hair off Hutch's forehead, tired blue eyes trying to follow the movement but making it only halfway. Starsky left his hand on the reddened forehead, feeling some of the furrows there ease under his fingers. Pain was almost as much emotional and mental as it was physical. The doctors had done what they could with the body; the rest was up to the spirit.
Hutch shifted restlessly again, glancing past Starsky only to return his gaze to his partner with frustration.
"Easy, Hutch. I know it hurts but it's gonna get better."
An exasperated shake of the head, pain tightening the corners of his eyes.
Starsky frowned. "What's wrong? Tell me--let me help."
Hutch's tongue darted over his flaking lips. "Leg," he rasped, his heat-parched throat making his voice raspy. "M-my leg..."
Starsky suddenly understood, disgusted he hadn't before. No doubt the fear of losing his leg had haunted Hutch during those long hours in the canyon, but since his rescue it had become his foremost terror. "You're leg's gonna be fine, Hutch, I promise," he soothed. "It's gonna hurt for a while but they're not taking it off."
Hutch sagged, tension easing. Starsky smiled, running his thumb in light circles on the blond's forehead. "Don't worry about anything--I've got it covered. You're okay now and I'll watch your back, you just heal."
The corners of Hutch's mouth edged up minutely into an imitation of an answering smile. He licked his still-dry lips again, and Starsky was reminded that his partner was coming off serious dehydration. He'd given Hutch some of a warm soda out in the canyon despite medical prudence, but just as with everything else, it would take a while for all the effects of the dehydration to go away. Casting a glance around, Starsky located a water pitcher on the bed and freed a hand to pour some in a glass, then raised it to Hutch's lips.
"Just a little now...don't wanna make you sick...that's good." He set the glass down, wiping at the trickle down Hutch's chin with the back of his hand. "Isn't that better?"
"Thanks." It came out a little more humanly this time, and with the long glance Hutch gave him, Starsky had his old partner back for a second. Then the tired eyes pressed shut again and he moaned, turning slightly away from Starsky's touch.
"It'll get better," Starsky promised again. "Hang on to me. I'm here with you this time."
He went back to his massage, noting the lingering heat of exposure and fever. The staff was combating the overheating and dehydration, Starsky knew, but no doubt the headache and parched feeling were lingering, and they would also be adding to Hutch's confusion and playing havoc with his short-term memory. Starsky smiled again, all his sadness slipping out now that he had no audience.
Softly, he continued. "You look like a broiled lobster right now, buddy, but in a few days you'll have a tan the nurses'll be swoonin' over." Starsky moved his hand down a little lower, stroking along a hollowed cheek, a tensed jaw, trying to reassure at least through contact. Just as he had with the simple act of cradling that same head in his hands out in Topanga. He could still remember the angular face softening at the touch, lucidity stealing into his eyes as Hutch sought his partner out. The relieved laugh that turned into a weak cough.
"Still can't believe you made it, Hutch," Starsky whispered half to himself. "You knew I was looking for you, didn't you?"
The sunbaked face rolled toward him, again constricting as Hutch moaned.
"Easy, buddy," Starsky said, continuing down to rub the side of Hutch's neck. "Try to go to sleep now. I'll stay with you." Neck and back had always been where tension collected in his partner, and Starsky could only imagine how knotted they were after two days of being pressed and twisted out of shape. A full back rub would have to wait, but until then he would do what he could.
Hutch's eyes snapped open, staring at him with faint confusion.
"You still awake?" Starsky grinned.
"...leg?" Hutch asked breathlessly.
"It's fine, Hutch," he answered patiently, willing to repeat it as many times as was needed to get through to the muddled brain. "Still there. Doesn't look too pretty right now, but--" But he had apparently told Hutch what his partner needed to know, the blond's agitation fading and his eyes sinking shut at Starsky's words. "You're gonna be fine," Starsky said earnestly. "Good as new in a few weeks, the doctor says. You just need some rest." And relief, and peace, Starsky sorrowfully added in silence as he stroked the strawgold hair. The ordeal wouldn't really be over until Hutch was whole and on his feet again.
Hutch hadn't gone to sleep then, however, to Starsky's no great surprise. The injured man was just too uncomfortable to rest, and so Starsky had stayed and continued to do everything possible to distract his partner from the pain. When even that had ceased to help, the doctor was next, who took one look and then ordered more medication. It hadn't helped that Hutch was barely respondent to questioning by then, giving only whispered one-word responses that he was hurting, he'd been injured in his car, and that he was with Starsky now. That last made Starsky blush, but hey, if that was what had gotten through to his partner, he was glad for it.
It had taken a while longer until the medication kicked in, during which Starsky had been torn between keeping Hutch still and listening to the doctor's report. Infection, a leg that needed to be rebroken to be set right, surgery--the initial medical report had been optimistic, Starsky realized with a sinking heart and dry mouth. The only good news seemed to be the doctor's optimism that Hutch would be all right, and the permission Starsky was given to stay as long as he wished. The medical staff really was committed to doing everything they could for the sick man. Starsky would do no less.
Hutch's face didn't completely smooth out even in unconsciousness, but when it was finally slack with sleep, his body boneless and still, Starsky finally convinced his punchy mind that all he cared for was safe and he could rest. Dragging a chair close and claiming Hutch's limp hand, he finally did just that, sleep coming the moment he closed his eyes.
Starsky shuddered out of the reminiscence, to the concerned look on Hutch's face. He gave the blond a weak smile and Hutch, only moderately reassured, turned back to the trial. But the blond's hand, Starsky discovered, had relocated to Starsky's wrist and held on fast there. Seeking contact or providing it, Starsky wondered briefly, then shrugged it off as one and the same. Neither of them was up to facing that day without the other at his side. A good description for their daily work, when Starsky thought about it.
Oleson had finished his statement and was seated, and a sleazy defense lawyer had just begun his piece. Not the "Honorable" James Balfour this time; Humphries' previous lawyer was sitting in jail facing his own conspiracy charges. His replacement looked about as reputable, though, strutting in the front of the courtroom in his wrinkled suit with all the arrogance of a man certain of getting away with murder. Or attempted murder.
"...they expect us to believe this fantastical chain of events led to Detective Hutchinson's unfortunate accident, running off a notoriously dangerous road, into a canyon that has claimed six lives over the past year in similar accidents..."
Starsky flinched, spooked both by the lawyer's casual dismissal and the mortality figure. Six people dead, almost seven. He glanced again at his almost completely healed partner, marveling again that Hutch had survived, beaten the odds. Just like they had in Giovanni's after Starsky had been shot, then months later when he'd been poisoned and had only a day to live. There was a lot of luck involved, and a benevolent God. But it also had to do with stubborn partners who wouldn't give up. Starsky couldn't conceive of it being any other way.
Speaking of which, Hutch was watching him again, and Starsky gave his partner a more complete answer this time, a long look that made Hutch nod and give his wrist a squeeze before letting go. Starsky almost shook his head; he'd never shared such a telepathic ease of communication with anyone else. Even when Hutch had been half out of his head, that flow had still been there between them.
The lawyer droned on in the background and Starsky tuned out the litany of lies, instead following where the memories led.
When Starsky awoke, one shoulder and the side of his head propped uncomfortably against the side of the hospital bed, it wasn't because of the doctor's return.
Fretful murmurs broke into his half-awareness, exactly what Starsky had been tuned to even in sleep, and he was hot. Or rather, the hand he held was overheated, and Starsky realized with a start he'd been aware for a while of the steady rise of heat, the sensation playing into his dreams.
Snapping fully awake, Starsky glanced up at his partner's face, eyes narrowing at what he saw. The burnt cheeks were flushed even redder and the half-open blue eyes glowed with fever. Squashing a groan, Starsky stood and pressed the call button again.
The agitated movements were beginning again, this time seeking escape from heat instead of from pain. And through it all, that strengthless, rambling voice.
"...too hot...sun up, hurts my eyes...can't get...can't get free, leg hurts...it hurts...I need...Starsky, I need...help, please, don't leave me...alone, God..."
It could easily have been his partner's train of thought back in the canyon. Shaken, Starsky tried to interrupt it. "You're not alone, Hutch. I know it don't feel like it right now, but it's all over and it'll get better soon. Just hang on, babe. Hang on."
He could have been in another room altogether, Hutch's pleas and desperation running on unbroken. But the doctor finally arrived, ordering another antibiotic to fight an infection that wasn't giving up. That happened with untreated, exposed wounds.
It was when the doctor said they'd have to restrain Hutch until he calmed that Starsky stepped in. Uh-uh, no way was he allowing that. After being pinned under his car for two days, the last thing Hutch needed was to feel trapped again. Only with Starsky's vow to make sure Hutch didn't pull out IVs or hurt himself did the doctor reluctantly relent. Promising to check back soon, he finally left them alone.
This was it, he was in for the long haul and Starsky knew it. But how was that any different from the commitment of years of partnership?
"--tell Starsky...need help...don't let Sonny leave..." Hutch's breath was turning harsh as he strained against Starsky's grasp, trying to reach his leg. "God, that h-hurts."
The nurse came in again, leaving the ice-filled pitcher, and Starsky hardly noticed her presence. "I know that, babe, but it's gonna get better. Easy, Hutch, don't fight me," he begged, an arm across Hutch's chest keeping the blond pinned as carefully as Starsky could manage.
The blue eyes had found the needle running into his arm, though. "...scor-scorpion...don't let it sting..."
"No, buddy, it's not a scorpion," Starsky said gently. "You're in a hospital, no scorpions around. They're just tryin' to make you feel better."
Hutch's eyes widened, real panic washing across his face for the first time. "No! No, not...better. Please, p-please, I can't...do that, I'll...tell you anything...please d-don't...oh, God."
The last was said with such soft defeat that Starsky knew with cruel clarity where his partner's overheated mind had wandered. And just like in that room above Huggy's bar, there was nothing he could do but hold on and try to comfort and hope that his partner's ordeal would soon be over. He'd been able to help free Hutch from the heroin's hold then, had gotten him released from his imprisonment beneath his car only the day before, and Starsky would damned if he'd leave his partner trapped, alone, in his nightmare world.
Starsky sat back on the edge of the bed, alternating between smoothing the sweat-curled blond hair, massaging tensed shoulders, and simply stroking the palm and back of Hutch's reddened hand. Every time it stiffened, he kneaded out each long finger, willing the same laxness into the taut, resisting body. As predicted, the skin grew hotter, Hutch's rambling growing more incoherent with the rise of temperature. Rubdowns and ice were only marginally effective, not touching the fever but at least making the invalid a little more comfortable. Starsky would take what he could get. But he didn't stop talking. Having the other there always helped when one of them was hurting, if only through the comfort of company.
"Hutch," Starsky said softly. "C'mon now, take it easy. Listen to me, it's gonna be okay, I promise. All okay. But you have to rest. You're safe now."
Hutch groaned again, body stiffening as he fought his interior battle. God, he can't keep doing this. Nor could Starsky. He already felt like he was fighting gravity along with the delirium, and if he was exhausted, Hutch had to be using energy he couldn't spare.
"...Mildred?" It came out as a gasp. The fever-bright eyes didn't see him anymore, passing right over him without recognition.
Mildred? From dispatch? Could Hutch have heard the radio and just not been able to get through? Starsky's eyes stung at the thought. "I heard ya, partner," he whispered. "I heard ya and I came to get ya. We got you out and you're at the hospital now. You're safe. I've got you. Just calm down. You're safe."
It was just a murmur, but Starsky grabbed on to it greedily. "Safe, buddy, you're safe. You're in the hospital and everything's gonna be okay. I'll take care of everything."
Another murmur, less fretful this time.
"Shh," Starsky soothed, lightly rubbing the back of his fingers against a flushed cheek. "You're okay now, just rest. I'll be right here."
Hutch curled a little toward his voice with an exhausted sigh, trapping Starsky's hand against his face. A minute later, it was drenched with sweat.
After hours of rising and plateauing, the fever was finally going down.
Starsky's breath caught, hiccuped. Hutch certainly seemed to be resting at long last, sleeping the sleep of the exhausted. Healing. Returning.
Starsky sank back onto the chair, not knowing whether to feel grateful, relieved, or humbled. Finally, he just grinned. His partner was a stubborn man and Starsky had never been gladder of it.
He managed to stay awake long enough afterwards to help the nurse change the patient's bedclothes and gown, working around bandages and the leg cast. Starsky winced anew at the rough, bruise-mottled skin. That his partner had survived at all still amazed him. Hutch roused during their ministrations long enough to stare at them in blank sleepiness, then faded out again without any further sign of awareness.
The nurse left him an extra blanket and an admonition to try to get some sleep, and Starsky sat and blinked sleepily at the unconscious patient for some time, noting the smoothed lines of tension, the natural color of the face under the sunburn and combed blond hair, the slack body no longer arched against the phantom distress of memory. "We made it, partner," he said softly again, as he had in the valley only the day before, but this time it was really true.
The deluge of gratitude just added to his fatigue, and Starsky curled up in the fat chair and snuggled into the blanket to fall into badly needed sleep.
"...Starsky, who viciously attacked my client without provocation on the mistaken belief that Mister Humphries was involved with Detective Hutchinson's disappearance..."
Humphries' lawyer was still going on, and the sound of Starsky's name pulled his attention back to the trial. He stared at the defense attorney, willing his teeth to unclench. He'd known the defense would argue something like that, but it still infuriated him to hear it.
"You attacked him?" Hutch whispered next to him.
Starsky nearly cracked up, the humor in his partner's voice dissipating his fury as no doubt had been Hutch's intent. "Not viciously enough," he muttered back under his breath.
Hutch snorted in response.
"...and he was hardly an objective investigator in this matter, striving to tie my client into this unfortunate accident rather than seeking out the real truth of the matter. In fact, Detective Starsky's fixation with my client nearly led to Detective Hutchinson's death through the delay of pursuing legitimate leads..."
Starsky's vision went red. The pompous ass could press his client's "innocence" all he wanted, but suggesting that Starsky had nearly gotten his partner killed--
A hand gripped his shoulder hard, anticipating his eruption. "Don't." The quiet voice was firm but not unkind. Starsky's head jerked toward his partner, hot protest ready on his lips. But Hutch just shook his head slightly. "Billy'll handle it." And, in fact, Oleson was already on his feet protesting, but neither of the detectives was paying much attention. Hutch held Starsky's eyes by the force of his gaze alone. "I know the truth, isn't that what counts?"
Yeah. Starsky's angry gaze faltered, flicking to the front of the courtroom where the judge was saying something to the defense attorney, then back to his partner. Yeah, Hutch knew the truth without their even having had to talk about it, and that was what mattered, wasn't it?
Hutch gave his shoulder a few massaging squeezes, then released him with a pat. Another unvoiced promise: nothing anyone said could change what the two of them knew, what was between them.
Still, Starsky thought as he forced his attention back to the proceedings, it ate at him that anyone could think he'd done less than his frantic best to find Hutch, that he'd have risked Hutch's life. As it was, he'd barely left the hospital for the first several days, Hutch's initial fever and pain replaced by nightmares that only Starsky seemed able to calm.
But Hutch remembered some of that, even if most of what had come before it was fuzzy, and he really did know Starsky. More than that, Hutch trusted him. And that was far more important to Starsky than any sleazebag lawyer's lies. In fact, it had been what had gotten them through the nightmares weeks before, too.
The sleeper on the bed stirred restlessly, and Starsky leaned forward, waiting. He didn't have to wait long. Hutch suddenly twisted in his dreams, moaning as he fought unseen restraint. The next moment he shot upright, eyes wide open but unseeing, gasping for breath that didn't seem to come.
Starsky jumped up to grab his partner's arms and ease him back down on the bed. "Easy, Hutch, easy." Frantic blue eyes found his face. "It's Starsky. I'm here. You're safe, buddy, you're safe. You're in the hospital, remember?" The heaving chest was slowing a little, terror beginning to seep out of the stricken expression. "Shh," Starsky soothed, releasing his hold to sweep sweat-plastered blond hair back out of his friend's eyes. "You're okay, your leg's okay. You're safe." He picked up the nearest clenched hand and stroked his thumb across the back. "Rest, Hutch. I'll be here."
Hutch's eyes, still fixed on the brunet, started to droop as the nightmare lost its hold and exhaustion reasserted itself. The fist in Starsky's hand relaxed, the flaxen head sagging into his other palm, and Hutch slipped back into sleep.
Starsky sighed, waiting until he was sure Hutch was deeply under again. He rested his hand for a moment on the damp forehead, gauging its warmth, before pulling the blankets back up around his friend and then withdrawing to his chair again.
After the deepest of Hutch's exhaustion had been quaffed by sleep, the nightmares had begun. Starsky had expected as much; lying underneath a car for two days, helpless and almost certainly without hope of being found, could do that to a person. An assurance that he was all right, his leg still intact, and Starsky there with him was usually all Hutch seemed to need to calm down, if only until the next nightmare.
In a moment of surprising clarity, the blond had insisted at one point that Starsky go home, that he'd be all right and, utterly exhausted, Starsky had reluctantly agreed. He'd made it as far as the end of the corridor before realizing he couldn't go through with it. The body was willing but his mind wasn't ready to have Hutch out of touching distance yet. And somehow he'd suspected Hutch hadn't been as ready to have him go as he'd let on, either.
It had been a good thing Starsky had stayed, as it turned out. Despite his partner's rallying, the nightmares continued and Hutch, half-asleep even in his terror, was soon too drained to respond to Starsky except on the subconscious level. And while the high fever was gone, a low-grade temperature dully continued to burn in the spent body.
The anguished whisper jerked him to his feet in pure instinct and Starsky laid his hand against the warm face, stopping the restive tossing of the blond head. He liked the heat of the skin even less than the unfocused, flat blue eyes. "I'm right here, Hutch, I'm right here. I've gotcha."
He grabbed the hand that was trying to reach down toward the encased leg. "It's okay, babe. I know it hurts but it's gonna be fine. We got you out." Two days late, but we got you out.
The forehead under his fingers wrinkled with fine lines of confusion. "...yeah?"
Starsky smiled a little. "Yeah. Would I lie to ya? You're gonna be fine. It's all over."
"...over..." A hiccup, or a dry sob. "Please..." The word slurred almost intelligibly.
Starsky leaned closer. "Please what, Hutch?"
But Hutch seemed to be drifting already. Then suddenly he shuddered, blinking up at his partner in wide-eyed, terrified confusion. "...Starsk?"
He grinned. "The one and only. It was just a nightmare." He unlatched the fingers that had grabbed onto his sleeve, squeezing them in his hand instead. "Do you remember?"
Hutch's harsh breathing was beginning to slow as he stared at Starsky, then finally dragged his eyes away to take in the room. "Hospital?"
"Uh-huh. You're okay."
The blue eyes dragged shut for a long moment, incongruously cold fingers clenching Starsky's hand convulsively. "My leg...?"
He'd only told Hutch a dozen times, but he'd probably have to say it another dozen before it sunk in for good. "It's okay. You broke it but it's gonna be fine."
A long, unsteady sigh. "Thanks."
"Go back to sleep, Hutch. You've got some healin' to do."
"Thanks, Starsk." The voice was sleepy but the eyes that blinked at him were soft with gratitude.
And Starsky found him unexpectedly choked. Of all the times Hutch had woken up screaming, all the times he'd slipped back into sleep in the reassurance that his partner was there, this was the first time it was really Hutch, his Hutch, looking at him through those heavy blue eyes. "I'm glad you're back," Starsky said, voice unexpectedly husky. He managed a smile. "Just rest, blintz, huh? We need to get you back on your feet."
"Mmm. Me 'n you..."
"Me 'n thee," Starsky affirmed in a whisper.
The nightmare didn't return for some time after that. And even when it did, they dealt with it and eventually beat it the same way they always did things. Together.
An elbow nudged him lightly in the side and Starsky blinked, briefly confused.
Hutch was giving him that half-teasing, half-understanding grin that said he knew what was going on in Starsky's head but wasn't above making fun of it. If only a little.
Starsky shook himself, realizing that people were heading out of the courtroom all around him. Another bewildered glance at his partner and Hutch took pity on him.
"The judge called a break. Figured you'd want to go stretch your legs a little."
"Oh...yeah." Starsky rose, waiting briefly until he was sure Hutch had also safely done so, then turned to head out into the middle aisle that led to the back doors.
And across the cleared courtroom, his eyes suddenly met Humphries'. The felon, dressed in a suit and tie far neater than any he would have chosen for himself, was sitting at the defense table as the guard waited for the room to clear. Watching Starsky with a smile of satisfaction not unlike the one he'd given the desperate detective two months before as Starsky had tried to get some information on the missing Hutch. Starsky's face hardened, his body stiffening as he took in the contented look of the man who'd nearly killed his partner, putting him through hell first.
"Let it go," came the soft voice behind him.
Starsky took an automatic breath at the sound of that voice, loosening up a little despite his anger. "I wanna go over there and wipe the smirk of that--" His growl wound down, no words in his vocabulary for what he thought of Humphries. It had been the same with Forest, another person who'd caused Hutch so much suffering. The kind of hatred they elicited in Starsky was beyond his capacity to process.
"I know," Hutch continued quietly behind him, his palm warm on Starsky's back. "But he'll get what's coming to him. Let it go. Don't let him hurt you anymore."
Starsky almost laughed. Hutch had been the one hurt physically, grievously, not Starsky. But while Hutch had dealt with it and gone on, Starsky was the one who looked each time at his recovering partner with grief and pain mixed into the joy.
"It's over. I'm fine now, my tenacious partner took care of that. Let it go."
Starsky took another breath, feeling himself unthaw.
"Let it go," Hutch whispered one more time.
Starsky finally pulled his gaze away from Humphries and half-turned to look at Hutch. The blue eyes smiled at him, full of life and warmth. Starsky glanced back at Humphries, taking in the empty eyes of the felon. No contest. With deliberate movements, he slid out of the row into the aisle, waiting there until Hutch joined him at his side, before dropping an arm around the blond's shoulders. If his hold was a trifle protective, Hutch didn't say anything. Starsky met Humphries' stare one last time, the message clear: We won. He's safe, he's with me. You lost.
Humphries' smile faded.
Dumping the baggage seemed ridiculously easy to Starsky, all of a sudden. The past didn't matter anymore, certainly not the turkey in the cheap toupee and handcuffs. All that did was right there next to him.
Starsky strode out of the courtroom with his partner at his side: the two survivors. He didn't look back.
Written in 2000