This story first appeared in the zine, A Small Circle of Friends #3 (1997). This zine, and other fine S&H gen zines, can be obtained from Neon Rainbow Press at: http://www.neonrainbowpress.com/ This story is based on the M*A*S*H episode, "Out of Sight, Out of Mind". Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
Starsky had to laugh. It was so ludicrous, he couldn't help it.
"You mean they actually bought this?!" He glanced up at his partner, who watched him with silent amusement across the desk. "Charlie actually got all these people to buy into a plan t'blow all the smog out from over L.A. onto the ocean? With giant fans?"
Hutch was apparently having trouble keeping up proper police officer's disapproval at the fraud Charlie had perpetrated and put up a hand to stifle a snort of laughter.
Starsky had no such inhibitions. His grin was wide and his body quivered as he handed the file back to Dobey, who stood to his left, looking at both of them with stern disapproval. Even though those who knew him as well as his men could see the humor that flickered in the dark eyes.
"It's not funny, Starsky. We estimate Charlie Peck defrauded people out of some $36,000, some of that money people couldn't afford to lose. It's time to put Peck out of business, permanently."
"Yes, sir. Do we know if Charlie slipped town or if he's lying low here?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Starsky saw someone come up to his partner, distracting him, and he immediately turned his complete attention to their boss. One of them had to listen.
"Word is that he's in hiding somewhere locally until the heat lets up and he can start another con." Dobey had noticed Hutch's lack of attention but had merely grimaced and turned his gaze to Starsky. "I suggest you check around the street and nail Peck before he gets the chance." With a last pointed glare at Hutch, he turned and huffed back into his office.
Starsky grinned after him, then turned back to his partner. Hutch was in earnest, soulful discussion with a young blonde officer, her lab coat doing nothing to hide her trim figure. She seemed vaguely familiar but Starsky couldn't place her name. She seemed no stranger to Hutch, though, who held one of her hands as they talked, inches apart.
Feeling his partner's gaze, Hutch looked up at him, cheeks flushing a little at Starsky's look. That was interesting. Hutch only blushed when he was really falling for a girl. Starsky automatically put aside any romantic notions of his own. Competition for a lady was only fair game when neither of them was beyond the infatuation stage.
It must have showed in his face because the blond flashed him a quick grateful glance as he stood. "Starsk," Hutch stood, "Eve needs me to help her with something in the lab. Think you can spare me for a few minutes?"
"I'll do better than that," Starsky grinned at them both charmingly. His partner winced. "I need to pick up the analysis of the Echols crime scene. I'll go down with ya."
That earned him another grimace, which he ignored. Hutch turned Eve by the waist and led her out the squadroom door, Starsky trailing behind.
"Hey, aren't you gonna introduce me to the lovely lady?" Starsky asked in the hall, matching stride with them.
Hutch's look said "no," but he reluctantly proceeded to do the honors. "This is Lt. Eve Kine. She works in forensics. Eve, this is my nosy partner, Dave Starsky."
The words held no malice but Starsky looked affronted as the girl dimpled at him. "Nice to meet you, Starsky. Ken's told me all about you."
Her voice was deep and smooth and held none of the giggly airheadedness of many of Hutch's past love interests. Starsky approved. "I hope we can be friends anyway," his grin widened.
The lieutenant laughed and Hutch quickly shifted her to his other side, away from Starsky. "Pay no attention to him," he said, sweeping the door open for her before letting it shut in Starsky's face. Starsky's grin only grew as he opened the door for himself and followed them inside.
Eve led Hutch on into the lab in the back as Starsky watched them go a moment longer, then switched his attention over to the lab tech, smile still lingering. "Echols crime scene," he told the tech cheerfully. A half-minute later the report was in his hand and he was discussing it with the young man. Intent on the analysis, he didn't pay much attention to the loud bang that sounded shortly after from the back.
Then Hutch screamed.
The file dropped to the floor as Starsky vaulted through the swinging lab doors, hardly pausing to take in the scene.
Hutch was staggering next to the counter, his face hidden in his hands, Eve frantically tugging at on one arm. Starsky moved automatically, not sure what was wrong or what to do but needing to help his partner. He had almost reached the two when he caught sight of what sat on the counter behind Hutch, smoking and charred. A gas burner. Oh God, flashburn. In his eyes...
He wheeled around and grabbed the technician who had followed him inside and just caught up. "Call an ambulance now," he barked, not even noticing as two of the several technicians and assistants who had also begun to show up turned to do just that. His focus was completely on Hutch again. Reaching his partner, he grasped him by the arm and waist. "Eve, where--"
"Here," she pulled again, and this time with Starsky's help managed to direct Hutch over to the showerhead that was in the back corner of the room.
"It's all right, Hutch, it'll feel better in a minute," Starsky said with deceptive calm, "we just gotta wash those eyes out." He quickly realized he was talking for his reassurance alone; Hutch's only response was continued moaning, unaware of anything but the excruciating pain in his eyes. Kine turned the water on and Starsky pushed the blond under the stream.
Hutch shuddered under the blast. Starsky continued to hang on to his waist but with his other arm forced Hutch's left hand down. "C'mon, partner, we gotta rinse your eyes. Let up, huh?" Still no response. "Hutch?" Starsky was beginning to worry about shock. "HUTCH!" he finally bellowed. The blond paused for a moment, instinctively turning toward him. "Let me help," Starsky said more gently, prying his hands away and tilting his head up into the stream of water. "Open your eyes," he urged.
Slowly, Hutch stopped struggling and cracked his eyes open, his face twisted with pain. Every muscle in his body seemed corded with tension, but Starsky maintained his grip tightly just in case. "That's it," he said approvingly, amazed at how calm he sounded when he was scared out of his mind. "Help'll be here any minute. It's gonna be okay. Trust me."
That was the only thing he said that seemed to be understood. Hutch relaxed fractionally, leaning into his partner a little bit. I'm scared, his body language silently confessed. Starsky gave him a slight squeeze back. I know, but I'm here.
Vaguely, he was aware of Eve holding onto Hutch on the other side and Dobey arriving and issuing orders and asking questions, but Starsky answered them all on automatic. His attention didn't budge from his partner trembling in his grasp as they silently waited for help to arrive. And tried not to think of the possibilities.
For once, they didn't separate him from his partner, either in the ambulance or the hospital. Not that Starsky would have let them. Even though Hutch's shakes eased soon and he submitted calmly to paramedics' and doctors' examinations and treatments, he was always sightlessly turned toward his partner, his fingers clenched around the bit of Starsky's sleeve he'd managed to snag. He was terrified and hiding it with customary stoicism from everyone but the one person he trusted with his vulnerabilities. And Starsky was determined to stay and give his friend at least that much relief and comfort.
Despite the reassurances Starsky reeled off to his partner, though, he was cold with fear inside. He'd seen grenades go up in GI's faces in 'Nam and knew how dangerous flashburn was, and a malfunctioning gas burner could be just as bad. Hutch seemed fine except for his eyes, but that was enough. Eyes were sensitive and it didn't take much trauma to permanently blind...
The thought was obviously on his partner's mind, too, though, and Starsky couldn't let himself dwell on it now. They'd deal with developments as they happened. For the time being, all that was important was keeping Hutch calm and thinking positively.
The bustle around them had temporarily cleared as the staff apparently waited for results or something and most moved on to new emergencies. Starsky took the opportunity and leaned forward against the gurney, resting his elbows on the edge as he watched what he could see of the blond's face under the gauze-draped eyes. Chafing the hand that held on to him, he dropped his voice back into their normal playful banter. "So, how come you never told me about Eve, huh? Figured on keepin' her all to yourself?"
That provoked a shadow of a smile although it didn't relieve the drawn lines of Hutch's face. "Haven't known her that long. 'Sides, she wasn't in'rested in you." Whatever they'd given him for the pain hampered his speech a little. Hutch's grimace at noticing that echoed the one he couldn't see on his partner.
Starsky forced a smile into his tone. "That's only 'cause she never met me. I bet if she and I spent a little quality time together, she'd forget all about-"
"Starsky and Hutchinson?"
The ER cubicle curtain was drawn aside and an average-built doctor in his fifties with graying brown hair and a mustache entered the room. Starsky straightened to meet the new arrival, unconsciously relaxing when he saw who it was. Several previous visits to the hospital for criminal investigations and their own emergencies had led them to cross paths before enough that Dr. Jim Overman was, if not a friend, someone they knew and trusted. It reassured Starsky to see the veteran doctor on the case.
"Dr. Overman! Boy, am I glad t'see you." He suddenly flinched at his own choice of words, glancing quickly at Hutch and seeing his mouth tighten fractionally. Starsky hurried on. "I think Hutch offered a light to a temperamental gas burner at the precinct lab." It suddenly occurred to him that he'd not even asked Hutch or Eve what had really happened, but his partner wasn't contradicting him so he went on. "Caught some of it in the eyes. Half the girls in L.A.'ll never forgive me if I let anything happen to those baby blues, so take a look, willya?" Starsky knew he was babbling inanely, but the pent up tension was beginning to make itself known despite himself. A slight tug at his wrist told him Hutch knew and was doing some reassuring of his own. Starsky let out a breath. Figured.
Overman was not a personable man, but his voice and presence exuded calm and assurance. Within a few minutes of shaking Starsky's hand and patting Hutch on the arm, he had done a thorough examination of the patient, making thoughtful noises and driving Starsky crazy. Even though the detective hovered over the doctor's shoulder, he still couldn't see what Jim was looking at or tell if it was good news or bad.
"Well?" he finally prompted in frustration when Overman finally stepped back to write on the chart.
"Give it to me straight, doc," Hutch murmured with strained humor.
"Well," Overman slipped his pen back into his gown pocket. "I'm going to have Dr. Farrell, our ophthalmologist, take a look at him, too, but it looks like a standard case of flashburn."
"We knew that, Jim," Starsky said with exasperation. "What does that mean?"
"We're going to bandage his eyes. He'll need to come back Saturday so we can remove the bandages." Overman was pulling at his mustache thoughtfully.
Starsky nearly lost his temper but felt the tug at his hand again. Hutch didn't even need to see him to know what he was ready to go off. He swallowed the outburst and with deliberate patience asked, "But are his eyes gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, Jim, are we gonna have to get a seeing eye dog and join the K-9's?" Hutch added, tilting his head as though he were looking at the doctor.
Overman gave an apologetic shrug. "I wish I knew what to tell you, Hutchinson. The eye has a great capacity to heal itself, but it can also be very sensitive. There's a good chance the damage is temporary, but we just won't know until Saturday."
There was a moment of silence, broken by Starsky's tight-lipped, "Terrific." He turned away in frustration. With a silent, sympathetic look, Overman grasped his arm and, quietly repeating that the ophthalmologist would be in soon, left the two men alone.
Starsky's angry motion pulled him out of Hutch's grasp, but he didn't realize it until a soft voice from behind him called, "Starsk?" There was a tinge of well-hidden panic in it.
He spun around at once, one quick step taking him next to the bed and the hand that blindly reached for him. Blindly. Starsky shook his head. "I'm right here, Hutch," he stilled the hand.
The blond relaxed back on the gurney, lines of tension still evident in his posture. "Thought maybe you fell asleep on me there," he said a little too lightly.
Starsky smiled. "Nah, you're the one who's lying there all comfortable. If you wanna take a nap, though, it's fine with me." For once, it didn't matter that his smile didn't reach his eyes.
"You admittin'... you're not scintillating company?"
"You've gotta be okay if you're using fancy words like that. And I'll let you get away with it 'cause you're high on those drugs they gave you."
Hutch snorted. "Not that high," he murmured. "Idiot..."
They waited for the doctor like that, Starsky standing watch and providing an anchor in the darkness for his half-asleep friend, trying not to see the future as dark as Hutch's world had just become.
It took another 45 minutes before the ophthalmologist came in. Waiting was not Starsky's strength, especially with his partner out of it and silent, and he was about to go crazy with the inactivity. Only Hutch's unloosening grip on him kept him where he was, trying to be as still as possible. It was one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do.
The specialist wasn't much help, either. He looked at Hutch's eyes with several instruments and gave no visible reaction except to mark things down on his clipboard. Starsky watched his every movement but gained no more insight than he had with Overman, and Hutch didn't react at all, only the tightening of his fingers betraying his awareness.
In the end, the prognosis was the same as Jim's. Come back Saturday, no way of knowing until then. The ophthalmologist used longer words that Starsky didn't know and Hutch silently nodded at, but that was the bottom line. The specialist left, and soon a nurse came in to bandage Hutch's eyes in thick gauze that wrapped around his head. Starsky hardly noticed how pretty she was, watching instead as his partner bit his lip at the process.
"There," the nurse said cheerfully, stepping back and laying a hand on Hutch's close arm. "How does that feel?"
The nurse's smile didn't waver but Starsky had had enough. They both had. "Okay, partner, it's time to go," he announced suddenly, shifting his grip so he was pulling Hutch up into sitting position. "Get me a wheelchair and release papers," he ordered to the woman under his breath. When she hesitated, he added a clipped, "Now." With an uncertain glance at Hutch, she left.
Starsky was supporting more of Hutch's weight than he'd expected, but, he consoled himself, the drugs were probably still at work. Probably added to the other's mood, too, although Starsky didn't see how things would look any better later. But now was not the time for that. "Come on, Blondie, get up," he harped playfully. "You don't wanna lie around here all day, do ya?"
Hutch responded to the teasing more than the tug, obediently doing his best to sit up, then letting Starsky maneuver him into the wheelchair that had appeared through the curtains. A moment later, he was settled and Starsky was scribbling signatures on the paperwork that was also timidly proffered through the drapes. He smiled ruefully at that; apparently he'd been harsher with the woman than he'd thought. He was handed a prescription for pain as needed, then they were free to go.
The blond hadn't said a word, Starsky considered as he pushed the wheelchair down the corridor, but perhaps that was to be expected. He had to still be in some shock both from the injury and the prognosis. But Hutch had a tendency to internalize stuff, burying them deep where they grew unattended, eating away at him. He'd need time to deal with this, and help in the meantime. It was Starsky's job to make sure he got both, and didn't lose himself in the process.
Turning the corner, they almost ran into Dobey.
The captain had been restlessly patrolling the corridors, waiting. Now his eyes fell at once on Hutch, seeing the bandages and knowing what they meant. He shot a glance up at Starsky full of worry and questions.
Not now, Starsky silently shook his head back. He mimicked a phone at his ear with his free hand. I'll call you. Hutch didn't need one more person to deal with now and try to act normal for.
To his relief, the black man nodded, understanding in his eyes. Starsky nodded to him gratefully as he passed, one hand brushing the captain's sleeve in quick appreciation. And just a touch of needed comfort.
Pulling up outside the entrance, he hesitated.
"I'll be okay, Starsk, go get the car."
His partner's head was tilted up at him as though looking back to catch his eye, and Starsky caught himself nodding in response. He cleared his throat. "Okay. Don't go anywhere, huh?"
Hutch's voice was reassuringly thick with sarcasm. "Gee, I'm so glad you're here or I might have tried walking home by myself."
Starsky grinned at him, knowing his partner would hear the smile in his voice. "Always said I was the smart one in the partnership," he said with satisfaction, then hurried off before Hutch could sputter a suitably scathing response.
The levity felt good, lightening a little bit of the cloud that had settled over his him in the last few hours. He and Hutch had faced more than a few crises that way, finding some shred of humor in it, even morbid humor. Outsiders might not have understood, but then outsiders wouldn't have recognized the intense feelings behind the light banter, either. Because, when it came down to it, the partnership, the closest friendship Starsky had ever known, sustained them through everything God had seen fit to throw their way. It would this time, too. Starsky just couldn't see how yet.
The drive home was quiet, Hutch still too worn out to rally even to Starsky's outrageous attempts at humor, and both of them unable to stop thinking about their current worry. As the initial shock faded, a matter-of-factness was settling on Hutch that his partner wondered about. He knew denial was tied up in it somewhere, but also some kind of strange peace beyond the crisis mode Hutch usually showed. Starsky didn't know what to make of it.
"What'd you say to Dobey?" the blond's words startled him out of his thoughts.
Starsky looked at him in surprise, then decided not to ask. He knew better than anyone how perceptive his partner could be. "I told him I'd talk to him later."
"What're you going to tell him?" Hutch's voice was nearly steady now and deceptively light, but the question was a very serious one.
"The truth. We don't know anything yet."
Silence. If Hutch thought he was being optimistic, he didn't say so, and Starsky was relieved for that. He didn't know how he would've answered.
"Where are we goin'?" his passenger abruptly spoke up again.
"Your place. To bed like your doctor said." Starsky hesitated. "I thought it's better if you're someplace you know really well," he added more quietly.
Hutch's smile was gentle. "Starsk, I know your place almost as well as my own. How many times have I ended up there and had to get around in the middle of the night in the dark?"
Starsky shrugged even though he knew the motion wouldn't be seen. He had a feeling his friend was picking up on a lot of the unspoken still. "I know, but my place has stairs. Don't want you fallin' down and breakin' your neck. The paperwork would take years to clear up."
"Uh-huh," was the knowing answer. "Nice to know you care."
"I do," Starsky insisted indignantly. "You know how long it took me to--"
"--break me in, I know," Hutch finished for him, shaking his head.
Neither's grin lasted long, though, and Starsky was relieved when the cottage came into view. Pulling up beside it, he hurried out to meet Hutch at the other side of the car, then hesitated. Hutch solved his dilemma taking hold of his close arm and letting the brunet lead them both inside.
He used his key to open the door, then progressed on past the living room into Hutch's sleeping area.
"Starsk, I don't need to go to bed," Hutch resisted his direction as he sensed where they were headed.
"Yes, you do. You were in shock there for a while, Blondie, and Dr. Farrell said you need to rest." Starsky's tone allowed no disagreement. He pulled the covers back and got Hutch seated on the bed, then stepped back to watch his patient reluctantly shed his jacket and shoes and lay back on the bed. "I'm gonna be right over on the sofa," he pointed before aborting the motion he realized was useless.
"You don't have to stay and watch me sleep," Hutch said firmly. "I can even do that with my eyes shut."
Starsky grimaced, then grew serious as he considered what to do. There was too much left unfinished at the office, but he hated the idea of leaving Hutch helpless and sightless so soon after being handicapped. Hutch seemed to be dealing well with his condition, but Starsky knew how terrified and lonely he would feel if the tables were turned. And he still remembered the desperate grip on his sleeve. He hesitated.
"Starsk, I'll be okay 'til you come back," Hutch insisted more quietly, reaching out unerringly to pat Starsky's leg. "Really."
He wanted to stay and he knew part of Hutch wanted him to stay, too, but his partner was the kind who dealt with things on his own at first before he was comfortable sharing and talking them over with anyone, even his best friend. There would be time for that later. "Okay," Starsky hedged. "But I'm coming back at 6:30 with dinner." Suddenly realizing Hutch had no idea how late it was and couldn't read a clock, he quickly added, "It's 2:30 now. Go to sleep and I'll be back before ya know it."
Hutch nodded. "Okay. But no junk food."
That actually prompted a very small smile. "You're no fun, partner," Starsky grumbled, then clasped the shoulder next to him before turning and leaving in a hurry, not giving himself a chance to change his mind.
Behind him, the still figure in bed listened as the door banged shut, followed soon by the faint sounds of the Torino roaring to life outside. The sound faded away quickly and Hutch curled up in bed, banishing his second thoughts at asking to be left alone. The house suddenly seemed very large and strange and frightening, and as much as he tried to pretend it was just the middle of the night and dark, he couldn't.
Hutch shivered. He couldn't even imagine life like this permanently; the thought seemed to smother his very soul. And sleep couldn't possibly be farther away. Impatiently he pushed the hopeless thoughts away once more, then threw back the covers and shakily got up. He didn't straighten up completely as he got to his feet and felt his way from the bed to the far corner, nearly tumbling over a chair on the way. A familiar shape finally met his fingers and he grasped the guitar gratefully, then one-handedly made his way back to bed. Curling up at the head of the bed, he settled it into his lap and strummed familiar chords. Finally, one thing he could do even without his eyes. It was faint comfort but it was the only way he could cry without shedding a tear.
The evening was long and subdued. The two detectives had been friends too long to need words or even sight to know what the other was feeling, and Starsky felt his partner's fear almost as clearly as his own. Hutch also seemed acutely aware of Starsky's worry and was doing his best to keep the mood light--which increased Starsky's anxiety. But there were times when pushing was needed and others when he knew to back off and wait, and this was the latter. And so the evening passed with little talk and simple companionship easing a bit what words couldn't. And Starsky pretended not to notice the stumbles and lack of appetite and tight shoulders of his friend.
After dinner they finally ended up in front of the television, Hutch sitting stiffly and resolutely next to his partner. Starsky finally ventured a hand to settle on Hutch's neck and, the touch not refused, began to rub carefully, dispersing some of the tensions of the day. With a muted sigh, the blond leaned into the massage, shoulders sagging a little as he loosened his control. Starsky just continued silently, deliberately using hypnotic, gentle strokes. And five minutes later, the other was fast asleep against his shoulder. Starsky smiled soberly; he'd suspected Hutch hadn't slept while he was gone. He arranged his companion more comfortably, then, with an arm curled protectively around the slumped shoulders, settled in for the night.
"You sure about this?"
Hutch usually didn't need to see Starsky's face to pick up the subtleties of his partner's mood, but this time even a stranger could've heard the skepticism and worry in the brunet's voice. He quashed down the irritation he felt at the implication that he needed a babysitter, knowing the reaction was unfair, but his voice was still sharper than usual. "I'm fine. We can't both be off work this week."
There was a brief silence and he knew exactly what Starsky was thinking. What if it's not just a week? But Hutch refused to even consider that possibility. In the fresh light of morning--so to speak--it was easier to throw off the foreboding thoughts.
"If you're sure..." Starsky said doubtfully.
Hutch sighed, annoyance slipping away at the worry that was in the disembodied voice. This had to be nearly as hard for Starsky as it was for him. "I'm sure. The refrigerator's full of sandwich stuff, my gun's on the endtable and I can listen to the radio. Now would you get going already?"
A snort of laughter. "You're gonna have more fun than I am."
"'Course I am."
"I'll come by at lunchtime. Stay outta trouble, huh?" There was a plea in the teasing order.
Hutch nodded, and he felt a hand gently graze his hair before footsteps once more retreated out the door and, a moment later, Starsky drove off.
Silence. Hutch sat on the sofa for several minutes, feeling the silence thicken around him and settle on his shoulders. Then, with an unconscious shrug, he got to his feet to feel his way through getting dressed and ready for the new day.
Some considerable time later, he had no idea how much, the new day was beginning to drag. There were many options for what he could do even without sight, but somehow none of them appealed much. Impatiently, he finally pried off the cover of his bedside clock and gingerly felt the hands to see what time it was. Somewhere around 9:10, he figured. Only an hour and a half since Starsky had left. What was he going to do all day? And, even more worrisome, what was Starsky doing without him?
By 9:30, he was pacing the floor, heedless of his occasionally bumping into the furniture as he did. Dobey wouldn't let Starsky out on the streets by himself, would he? The captain usually either gave them desk duty or temporarily partnered them up with one of the older detectives like Gabe for the duration of the other's sick leaves or vacations.
A longer stride ran him into the couch endtable and Hutch had to catch his balance against it. Frustration hit him even harder than usual and he smacked the table angrily with his hand. He wouldn't--he couldn't--just sit here and be useless. That would be even worse than the injury.
Making a swift decision, he fumbled his way to the telephone and called for a cab, then tracked his jacket down and put it on. Finding his wallet and badge was a bit more of a challenge, but he finally discovered Starsky had left them on top of the dresser. Hutch briefly considered taking his gun but then decided against it. He'd be safer without it than with it. Then he made his way to the front door, hesitating there for a moment before venturing out. The cottage was one big obstacle course, but at least it was familiar and finite. Outside, there were no boundaries or safeties, only a lot of pitfalls for a suddenly blind person. If he made it to Starsky, he'd be fine, but until then...
He dismissed the thought. He would get to Parker okay and find Starsky; that was where he belonged, with his partner. Straightening his shoulders with deliberate courage, he opened the door and edged his way into the world outside.
The cab driver didn't seem to think much of his being obviously blind and even helped him into Parker and up to the squadroom. It probably didn't hurt that Hutch had to let the cabbie pick out the correct bills from the detective's wallet, including a healthy tip. He winced at the thought but there seemed no other choice.
Several voices greeted him in puzzlement and concern as he went through the hallways and he could place most but not all of them. What am I doing? A blind cop feeling his way along the station? He knew he was making an idiot of himself and yet he couldn't stay away. The thought of returning to his dark, silent house was even more terrifying than the idea of falling on his face in front of all his colleagues.
The cabbie left him at the door and, bracing himself, he grasped the door handle just as the door swung inward, almost tumbling him into the room. Familiar hands quickly grabbed his arms and, half-steadying him, pulled him out into the hallway.
"Hutch, what are you doin' here?! How'd you get here? Tell me ya didn't walk-"
"I didn't walk, Starsky, I took a cab."
His partner's voice only quieted a little and the fingers digging into his arm didn't loosen at all. "By yourself? What were you thinkin'?!" Starsky sounded like he was trying to decide if he was concerned or angry.
"I was thinking I didn't want to be at home by myself in the dark anymore," Hutch snapped back. After a moment, he contritely added, "You're here," as if that explained it all.
To Starsky it probably did. Hutch could hear him exhale loudly and he knew exactly his partner's expression, that particular mix of exasperation and fondness he seemed to have reserved for his partner. "You're somethin' else, Blintz," he finally said softly, his touch gentling. He turned them both back to the squadroom. "I don't know what the cap'n's gonna say, though."
Actually, Dobey didn't say anything at all at first, though Hutch knew there were some silent questions and answers he wasn't privy to being exchanged between his partner and his boss.
"Just what do you think you're going to accomplish here, Hutch?" Dobey finally spoke up, but his voice didn't have its usual gruffness despite the black man's attempt to sound stern.
"Well, uh, if Starsky's on desk duty, maybe I can do some calls or toss things around with him. Don't need to see to do that."
He could just picture Dobey's eyes narrowing at him speculatively, then going to Starsky to confirmation. His partner must have backed him up--not that Hutch ever doubted he would--because the captain abruptly said, "Okay, Hutchinson. If you feel up to doing a little brainstorming and you're helping Starsky, I'll ignore it temporarily. But," his voice rose a little in emphasis, "this is for desk duty alone. And only this week."
"I'll only need it this week, Cap'n," Hutch quickly said. "Thanks."
"All right then. Starsky, I want to talk to you for a minute."
Hutch started at that and he could feel the brunet tense beside him before gently taking his arm. "Just a sec, Cap'n," Starsky said, directing Hutch out the door and to the bench in the hallway right outside Dobey's office. "I'll be right back," he reassured Hutch softly. "Probably just wants to know what I found out on Peck," he said in an undertone before wheeling back and shutting the office door behind him.
Yeah, right, thought Hutch. Making a face, he settled back to wait.
He soon grew aware that he was not sitting on the bench alone; there were definite sounds of movement and breathing next to him. He was surprised at how disconcerted he felt at the idea of not knowing what kind of person he was sitting next to. Casting about for an excuse to make small talk, he said the first thing that came to mind.
"So, uh, is the smog as bad as usual today?"
He could feel the other start, then there was a quiet, "Excuse me?"
Young, male, cultured. Probably not a felon, and besides, Hutch hadn't heard the rattle of cuffs. "Smog. Can you see the mountains at all or is it soup out there?"
"Very funny," the man snorted bitterly.
Hutch sighed in exasperation. "Come on, buddy, can't you see I can't see here?"
A surprised pause, then a more sympathetic, "No. No, I can't."
Oh, geez. Hutch cringed. "Sorry. Is it...recent? Not that it's any of my business," he quickly added.
"It's okay," the man said quietly. "Yeah, fairly recent. I got mugged. Guy hit me on the head. When I woke up... That's why I'm here. They're still lookin' for the guy."
"I'm sorry," Hutch repeated earnestly.
He could almost hear the shrug. "That's life. What about you?"
"Flashburn. I messed with an explosive gas burner."
"They don't know yet." The ease with which he said those words surprised Hutch. He'd not been able to bring up his reservations even with Starsky.
"Sorry." The man lapsed into silence.
Hutch thought for a minute. "I'm Ken Hutchinson," he finally offered, reaching out a hand.
"Tom Straw." The man managed to find it and they shook. "What're you here for?"
"I work here," Hutch snorted, trying not to sound as cynical as he felt.
"Oh," was the surprised response. An uncomfortable pause followed, then, "I used to be a photographer. Now...I'm not sure yet."
Hutch winced again, guilt and a bit of shame stealing into his feelings. He'd been feeling sorry for himself for maybe, possibly losing his sight, but he'd always be Starsky's partner and, if he cared to think about it, he had other options to consider. But here was someone who'd been deliberately stripped of a gift that he could no longer pursue. "You were lucky," he tried earnestly. "You coulda gotten killed."
"Do you feel lucky, Officer Hutchinson?" Tom countered calmly.
Hutch slumped. "No."
Straw was quiet for a moment before saying, "My wife says it hasn't changed anything, though. And my whole family's been really great about it. I guess...I guess in some ways I am lucky."
Hutch stared sightlessly at the young man, feeling his heart constrict a little. That's Starsk--wouldn't matter to him if I was a total cripple, he'd still be there. Lucky doesn't begin to cover it.
"Mr. Straw?" another, unfamiliar voice spoke up in front of them.
"Yes?" Tom's voice was turned away from Hutch now.
"We're ready for you."
"Thank you." Tom turned back to Hutch. "It was nice to meet you, Officer Hutchinson. I'll be back in a day or two, maybe I'll run into you again." There was a touch of wry humor in his voice.
"It's Ken," Hutch corrected. "Good luck to you, too, Tom."
The bench creaked and two pairs of footsteps retreated. Hutch fell back into his own thoughts, suddenly having much to think about.
Dobey's door flew open next to him and Starsky touched his shoulder. "Ready?"
"What'd Dobey want?" Hutch asked, standing and turning toward his faceless partner.
"Oh, he just wanted to know how you were doing and making sure you weren't pushin' it. I told him I'd keep an eye on you. No pun intended," he added hastily, almost hesitantly.
The humor might've rubbed him the wrong way earlier that morning but it was so typically, morbidly Starsky, all Hutch could do was give a good-natured groan and a shove toward the door.
"You can't be serious, Captain." The sarcasm in Officer Simonetti's voice was only outweighed by disbelief. "You're allowing a blind officer to remain on duty? For what possible reason?"
Dobey's patience was limited with fools, and he considered the IA man at the top of that list. "Hutchinson is not officially on duty," he answered tightly. "He's merely keeping busy and, might I add, helping us out on his own time while he recuperates."
"Officers with handicaps that impair their work have no business here. He's only a danger to himself and his fellow officers."
"Sitting at his desk?" Dobey shot back. "If Hutch chooses to spend his recovery leave here helping his partner out with the case, I'm not about to send him home." Dobey's eyes took on an unholy gleam. "Unless your department is slow enough that you want to help us out on a few of our cases?" he offered pleasantly.
Simonetti bristled. "You're only doing this because it's Hutchinson, aren't you."
His smug tone broke the captain's last bit of civil self-restraint. Half rising out of his chair, Dobey leveled a pen at him. "You mean because it's one of my best men we're talking about and I can use his help? You bet I am. I don't need you second-guessing me on this one, Simonetti. This is my department and my men and I say he stays." The last two words were considerably loud.
The IA man tried to save face as he edged toward the door. "All right, Captain, no need to shout. I just hope you know what you're doing." A last look promised that he'd be making sure of that, then he was left.
Dobey eased back into his chair, trying not to smile. IA was an important department and some of the men in it were among his friends, but Simonetti's imperious attitude and suspicious nature had long rubbed the black man the wrong way, and it was a pleasure to put him in his place now. Truth be told, Dobey wasn't as sure as he'd proclaimed to be about the wisdom of letting Hutch stay, but he trusted both Starsky and his own instincts. Hutchinson would have far too much quiet time on his own at home to worry and think, and his presence at the station would help Starsky more than hinder him. Besides, what made Hutch a good cop had little to do with his physical abilities. With any luck, this experience would at least serve to teach him that. Harold Dobey was worried about his boy, about both of them, but this was the best any of them could do for Hutch at the moment, and, should the prognosis turn out badly, this lesson could prove to be a very important one. He just prayed hard it wouldn't come to that.
With a heavy sigh, the captain turned back to his paperwork.
It didn't take long to realize that coming in had not been one of Hutch's best ideas. True, it didn't take sight to talk on the telephone or toss things around with Starsky. But looking up the numbers to call, consulting notes to gain the information to discuss, those were things he couldn't do by himself any longer. And he could feel the eyes of the whole squadroom on him as he stumbled along. Starsky did his best to help, fetching him things and reading phone numbers off to him, but Hutch knew that despite both their best intentions, he was slowing his partner down more than helping him. And he absolutely hated the feeling.
Hutch turned toward the voice, already mentally identifying it as Babcock. "Yeah?"
"It's Babcock," the detective said carefully. Hutch sighed to himself. "I'm goin' down to the cafeteria, can I get you anything?"
"Thanks, I'm okay," he smiled, genuinely meaning it. Babcock was the fifth or sixth who'd come by already to talk to him or offer help, not condescendingly, at least not much, but honestly concerned. The unspoken support from his workmates of his being there was reassuring and always lifted the gloom, if briefly.
Babcock gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder and Hutch heard him leave the squadroom. The blond turned back to his desk, feeling his partner's eyes on him, and gave him a smile. A quiet chuckle was his answer and he picked up the phone again, feeling a little lightened.
The phone clattered back, both he and Starsky going tense at that voice. "Simonetti," Hutch acknowledged coolly, making no effort to turn toward the man.
"Very good." The patronizing approval grated his teeth and he could almost feel Starsky's hostility across the desk. The IA man came closer. "I don't suppose you'd gotten the file together on the Burghoff shooting for me?"
Hutch felt around his desk top, locating his file box, and dug down to the bottom most file. He pulled it out and handed it unerringly to the detective. "Signed and sealed."
There was a pause, then a grudging, "It's not filed properly but it'll do." The footsteps moved away.
Starsky made a derisive noise. "At least you don't have t'look at his ugly mug," he groused. That elicited a wan smile from his partner, and Hutch picked up the phone once more. He got the number right on the third try.
The day only went downhill. The encouragement of his colleagues and quiet advocacy of his partner helped stave off the worst of the frustration, and Hutch did his best not to show his chagrin even as it built inside him, but Starsky, of course, could tell. The brunet tried even harder to help him unobtrusively, minimally, but the fact that he needed to be subtle just grated at Hutch even more. Not only did Starsky have to hold his hand in everything, he had to walk on eggshells to do it. It just was one more unfair thing in this whole mess.
Hutch was nearly ready to take off, get out and go anywhere but there, when Starsky excused himself for a moment, his footsteps retreating toward Dobey's office. A moment later he was back, his hand settling on Hutch's shoulder.
"Get your coat, we're going out."
Hutch cocked his head toward him. "Out?" he asked warily. "I thought we were grounded."
"I have t'talk to Alans and Morgan, maybe check in with Huggy. Sounds like Peck's already found himself a new racket and I wanna catch him with his pants down this time. We're not going on patrol so Dobey says it's okay as long as you're only riding along."
"Not getting out of the car, you mean," Hutch interpreted bitterly.
"Well, if you wanna stay here..."
The light answer diffused his chagrin as his partner must have known it would. "Not on your life. I'm coming," he grabbed his jacket.
The hand clapped his shoulder once, then drew back as Hutch put his coat on. Once he stood, Starsky casually slung an arm around his shoulder, pulling him along out the door as the brunet did so often, only this time subtly directing him, too. Nothing but the bandages gave any indication Hutch was blind, and for that bit of tactful saving face he felt a sudden warmth of gratitude toward his partner.
They continued down to the Torino, where Starsky opened the door for him, giving him one last unobtrusive squeeze before he got in. A minute later, they were on the road.
The silence was companionable, not at all like the cottage where the suffocating quiet was nearly as dark as his vision. Hutch felt himself begin to relax a little, no longer reminded every minute of his limitations. "Thanks," he finally said softly.
"Hey, I was getting a little stir crazy, too." He could hear the difference in his partner's voice as Starsky turned toward him. "Besides, how can I pass up a chance to take you somewhere without you makin' comments about the way my car looks?"
Hutch sputtered into laughter, surprised at himself how much it made him feel better. Starsky always seemed to know what to say to him when he retreated too far into himself, and the affection in his voice even now made everything suddenly seem a lot more bearable.
"So, where are we going?" he finally asked, his lightened tone reflecting his improving mood.
"You remember Alans said that Peck was headin' out to the east side to start somethin'?"
"Well, Morgan passed it on t'Huggy that Peck was gettin' into horse races. The kind where he knows before everyone else who's gonna win. So who do we know with their ear to the ground on the east side?"
"Uh," Hutch trailed off into thought for a moment before snapping his fingers. "Dirty Nellie."
"Right. Figured it wouldn't hurt to check with her. We can also try t'find Fireball, find out if he saw something."
Hutch snorted. "Preferably something that's really there."
Starsky abruptly sucked in his breath and Hutch almost tipped over as the car swung into a U-turn without warning.
"What?" Hutch asked shortly.
"Guy with a gun in the alley we just passed. Looks like a mugging."
"We're not on patrol. I can't just leave a mugging without doing anything, Hutch, you know that." The tension was back, not only heavy on him but also on Starsky this time, too. Then the car screeched to a stop and he could feel his partner turn to focus on him. "Listen to me, Hutch." The voice was low and very serious. "You stay here, no matter what. I mean it. You get out of this car and I'm gonna kill you if the guy with the gun doesn't. You got me?"
Hutch nodded numbly.
"Good." There was a quick touch on his arm and then the door slammed shut, leaving Hutch to his imagination.
He called in the mugging and Starsky's response, then sat and waited. The seconds ticked by like sandpaper rubbing his skin. He strained to hear anything but there was nothing to hear, only his thoughts to keep him company and bad company at that.
A shot rang out from somewhere to the left, the side Starsky had gotten out on, followed almost at once by another. He jumped at both sounds. Oh God, Starsky. Hutch's jaw clenched. But from this distance he couldn't tell if it was the Smith &Wesson. Silence hung for a moment, then another shot sounded. Then nothing. A very long nothing.
Hutch's hand strayed automatically to the door handle and hung there uncertainly. Everything in him wanted to go and try to find Starsky. His partner could've easily been shot, lying helpless, dying. The picture was very real, technicolor bright in his dark world. His jaw was beginning to ache. And yet if he went, not only was there no guarantee he would blindly find Starsky, but he could also easily get in the way, either getting himself shot or endangering Starsky with his helplessness. The former didn't concern him near so much as the latter. Hutch squeezed his sightless eyes tight shut, the hopeless choice crushing the breath out of him. He felt like he was going to be sick.
A distant police car wailed its approach and suddenly there were running footsteps approaching. Hutch was so stiff he felt he'd break in two. The steps ran up to Starsky's side of the car, then the door was jerked open.
"Got him. Guy took a few shots at me but gave up pretty fast when I shot back." Starsky's voice almost sounded amused. "Call for a black--Never mind, I hear one comin'."
The relief of his partner's safe return was so overwhelming, it nearly made Hutch lightheaded. He tried to release clenched muscles only to realize that if he did, he was going to lose it. He nodded stiffly instead, not trusting his voice.
There was pause as he knew Starsky was watching him, alert now to his mood and worried. But there was no time for talk as the patrol car rolled up behind them and the siren died down. Starsky hesitated, then withdrew out the door to go talk to the officers.
Hutch didn't move a muscle, his mind racing on without him. Useless. No, worse than useless. He not only couldn't watch Starsky's back, he was in the way. This was all a mistake, starting with his stupid insistence on going in to work, to becoming so frustrated that Starsky had gotten him out of there, to his being his partner's "back-up" instead of someone who could really do the job. He shook his head bitterly. Who was he fooling? A blind cop was no cop at all, only a liability. A liability that could get Starsky killed. No matter how much he didn't want to admit it, things had changed. Having to listen to his partner go into the line of fire with him unable to help or even pick up the pieces in case of trouble, had made that starkly clear to him.
The voices that had been distant in the background died out, and a moment later Starsky got back in and started up the car. As soon as he pulled out onto the road, Hutch could hear him pick up the mike and log them out, promising Dobey a report later. A full minute passed before he quietly said, "We're goin' home."
Hutch didn't argue. He didn't blame Starsky one bit for wanting to get him safely out of the way. Self-disgust was the one emotion that overpowered the simmering anger in him.
Starsky wasn't saying anything, a fact for which Hutch was both grateful and worried. He really didn't want to talk about it, to hear confirmation of his own doubts from his partner, and yet he was scared what the silence meant. Even though he knew common sense dictated that their partnership couldn't last this way, the thought was still a shock, and he didn't want to know if Starsky was thinking the same thing.
The easy peace had vanished and Hutch felt bereft at the smothering of that sense, too. The trip home seemed interminable, but what awaited them there worried him even more. And it was only Day Two of the rest of his life.
Starsky still hadn't said a word when they reached the cottage, merely come around and silently walked Hutch inside. The blond collapsed on the sofa and his partner went into the kitchen.
Fixing food he could do. Fixing what was ailing his partner was a lot harder. Starsky missed seeing his partner's eyes, all the unsaid feelings and ideas that were a normal part of their daily conversation, but he hadn't had to see them now to know what was on the other's mind. Up until now, Hutch had been dealing with his new handicap fairly well. Starsky could see the effort it took and tried to make it easier however possible, but his partner was a strong man and a patient one. When Starsky would've been bouncing off the walls, Hutch could find other things to do that allowed him to express himself without the use of his eyes. That quiet coping impressed but didn't surprise the brunet, and had helped him better deal with the situation and his helplessness, too.
That was, until he'd gotten back to the car and seen Hutch sitting there, looking like he'd break if he got any stiffer. And Starsky realized then what his partner had just discovered, that Starsky could've gotten himself shot just then and Hutch wouldn't have been able to do a thing about it, not even help him afterwards. It was the awful feeling of helplessness both of them had nightmares about after the other had been hurt or missing, only this time Hutch had been utterly powerless to do more than sit there and listen. No wonder his hand had been white around the door handle it clutched.
The trouble was, Hutch was the psychologist of the pair. It was he who was good at getting Starsky to open up and work things out. Starsky knew his partner inside out, better than he knew himself, but he didn't know what to do for him now. How could he help Hutch face the possibility that his life would never be the same again?
His hands worked as furiously as his thoughts and the meal quickly took shape. Feed him, that comes first. But then what? One thing at a time. Starsky would be there and that was the best he could do for now.
Starsky paused for a moment to glance out the kitchen doorway. The blond was there right where he'd been left, dropped like a ragdoll, head bowed. The anger that had braced him in the car was no longer apparent except for one clenched fist. Normally, he'd have felt Starsky's gaze, but now he was too bound up in his own world to notice anything. Starsky sighed and went back to throwing together the casserole.
He finally put it into the oven and quickly wiped his hands before tentatively heading out into the living room.
"Hey," Starsky ventured softly when his presence still hadn't evoked a response.
A brief nod, barely an acknowledgement, was the only response.
Geez, partner, what kind of hell have you wrapped yourself in? He couldn't bear to play the lighthearted role they usually adopted to deal with the heavier stuff, not with Hutch hurting so badly. He sat down across from the couch. "Hutch? What's going on?"
No explosion, just a very unsteady sigh. "I don't know if I can do this," Hutch shook his head.
"Deal with this." The bleak face turned up toward him, all the anger apparently turned into despair. "Being so useless. Having to listen to you answer a call and maybe have to sit there while you get yourself killed. I can't...What if it's permanent?"
"What if it's not?" Starsky countered stolidly.
"It could be."
"Yeah, but since when did you start thinking what if, huh? Don't go buyin' a white cane before we go back to the doctor on Saturday, Hutch. Chances are things are gonna be fine."
"And if they're not?" Hutch persisted.
Starsky's grimaced in frustration. "Then we'll deal with it then. What do you want me to say, Hutch, that everything's gonna stay the same no matter what? I can't. All I can promise you is that you're not gonna do it alone and somehow we'll work it out. You hear me? This doesn't change a thing between us." No longer able to sit still, he jumped up and paced.
The words, when they came, were so soft, he nearly missed them. "I'm sorry."
Starsky turned to stare at his friend. "For what?"
"I know this is hard on you, too."
That's no lie. He'd been so busy looking after Hutch, it hadn't been that hard to push his own churning fears aside, but the what ifs had haunted him late at night, too. He smiled sadly, knowing Hutch would hear it. "Not harder than for you, dummy." Starsky settled back on the edge of his seat, the intensity of his tone matching his posture. "Hutch, it's okay to be scared. I am, too. Just talk to me, make it easier for both of us."
A small nod. "I didn't know what was happening, Starsky, I just heard the gunshots..." His hand, loosened now, was trembling. "Dear God, I felt so helpless. All I could do was wait for you or a uniform to come and tell me what'd happened. It felt like... when you were sick from that poison and I just had to watch you getting worse...only then I could still do something about it. I couldn't do anything this time. I don't want to be stuck like this, Starsk; can't be a cop..." The words were getting ragged.
Starsky moved over to the couch and pulled the other close. Soapy maybe, but Hutch sure seemed like he could use a little bit of comfort. The blond head buried itself against his chest without a sound. It was one place it didn't matter a bit if he could see or not. Starsky sighed, one hand idly rubbing limp shoulders and back. "It's gonna be okay, Hutch. I promise. We'll get through it, if we have t'make you the first braille-reading cop in L.A. You just wait. I'm not lettin' you go so easy."
They sat that way until the oven buzzer sounded and Starsky coaxed his partner onto his feet to go eat.
Hutch was surprised at his own tentative voice and began to rethink at once his request that Starsky escort him down to the lab and leave him at the door. Even if they'd been long overdue for a break and Hutch found his thoughts always returning to his lady and when he'd seen her last. Perhaps she'd been one of the ones who'd tried to call when he wasn't answering the phone--
"Ken?" Her light steps hurried up to him and suddenly she was in his arms, pressed tight against him. "Oh, Ken, I was worried about you. You never answered the phone and Starsky said you just needed some time, but..."
Starsky hadn't mentioned that one. Well, Hutch conceded, he'd probably been right.
Eve drew back from him and he could feel her study his bandaged face. "Ken? I...I heard what the doctor said. I'm so sorry..." She wasn't crying but her voice was a little unsteady.
Hutch pulled her close, reminded once more what it was about this woman that had drawn him in the first place. "It's okay, hon, it wasn't your fault. It just happened. I won't know anything until Saturday, but they seemed hopeful." He stroked her hair. "I'm sorry I didn't call..."
She gave a wobbly laugh against his chest. "You've been busy. But if you think this means you're getting out of our date Saturday night, Hutchinson, you've got another think coming!"
Her answer surprised him even though he should've given her enough credit to figure that's what she'd say. Touched and deluged with feelings, he just held her tighter.
"...Then we put the covers back just like they'd been. You couldn't tell there was anything underneath 'em unless you looked really close, and apparently Jarvis didn't. You could hear him scream all the way down the hall." Hutch's face broke into a broad smile at the memory.
"Uh-huh," Dobey absently agreed, writing something in the folder before he set it aside. "I'm surprised they didn't expel you two from the Academy, Hutchinson."
"Three of us, actually. Colby was usually with us." Hutch sobered for a moment. "He was a good guy once, Cap'n. Did I ever tell you he introduced Starsky and me?"
"Many times." The captain's voice was dry. Starsky had called the night before and they'd had a long talk about how Hutch was dealing with his new limitations and what the future possibly held. Starsky had finally asked Dobey if Hutch could hang out with his boss for a little bit while the brunet did a little legwork, and the captain couldn't say no. He was only peripherally paying attention to the storyteller, anyway, and if was a small price to pay. His attention shifted to the next piece of paperwork and he began to write once more.
"He was the best," Hutch went on, idly playing with the red-and-white piggybank off his desk as he talked. "They called us the Three Corsican Brothers, we hung out so much. He even got along with Van. Seems like the one person who ever has. Probably kindred spirits." Hutch's mouth twisted. "She always could tell another mercenary soul."
"Uh-huh." Dobey wasn't listening anymore and Hutch knew it, but neither of them seemed to care. The company was what mattered. The phone rang and Dobey talked for some time with the person at the other end while Hutch patiently waited.
The door opened and Dobey cut his conversation short as Minnie brought a report in for him.
"Hi, Minnie," Hutch said, then, without missing a beat, continued his story about Starsky and Colby's double date. The policewoman shook her head.
"Hutch, honey, I hate to interrupt you but there's someone here to see you. His name's Tom Straw and he's--"
"Tom!" Hutch's face lit up. "Where is he, Min?"
"Right outside. You want me to take you out?"
"That's okay, I got it," the blond got to his feet, two pairs of eyes watching him uncertainly as he found the hallway door and made his way outside and turned to sit on the bench without hesitation. Dobey grinned at Minnie.
Minnie grinned back at him. "That boy's less of a klutz now than when he didn't have those bandages on," she observed, shaking her head once more before she left by the squadroom door.
For the first time, Dobey allowed himself to feel real hope as he went back to his work.
"Tom?" Hutch asked as he rounded the bench to sit.
"Ken," the other replied warmly from the same spot he'd sat before. There was a moment while they found each other's hands and shook. "I wanted to say good-bye before I go."
"Go?" Hutch's eyebrow rose. "Did they catch the guy?"
"No," Tom admitted. "You know how it is, they probably never will. I understand. I'll come back for the trial in a minute if they ever do, but I've gotta go on now."
"Are you leaving town?"
"Yeah, we're going back to Iowa. Sarah's folks live there and they're going to give us a hand while we figure out what we're going to do."
"Sounds like a good family," Hutch observed quietly. "It's not so bad if you don't have to do it alone, is it."
"No, I guess not." There was a pause, then a careful, "Do you have somebody, Ken?"
Hutch could feel his face melt into a smile. He did indeed. "Yeah, I do. My partner's already laid down the law about how this doesn't change a thing."
"Sounds like Sarah." Tom's grin was equally obvious in his voice. "We could be a lot worse off than we are, Ken."
"I know." Hutch fell quiet. That thought had been on his mind nearly constantly since dinner the night before and the ease Starsky had managed to lull him into. The blond had actually even laughed once or twice. And they'd not even discussed that Starsky was bunking on the couch for the rest of the week. The thought of his situation being permanent was still a terrifying one, but it no longer seemed utterly unbearable.
Tom finally broke their reverie. "Well, Ken, it's been a pleasure to meet you. I left a forwarding address with the robbery department; I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know how things turn out for you."
Hutch straightened. "Same here, Tom. Good luck with your new start."
"Thanks. See you around," he shook Hutch's hand.
Hutch found himself smiling. "You bet." He listened to the steps and the sound of a tapping cane disappear down the hall before he levered himself up and went back into Dobey's office to finish his story.
He could feel the chill in the air almost at once. "Captain?" he ventured.
"Don't you ever knock, Hutchinson?" came an unpleasantly familiar voice.
"Shut up, Simonetti," Starsky growled back from Hutch's other side.
Confused, he automatically turned toward his partner. "Starsky--?"
"Come on, Hutch, we were just leaving." The sharp words didn't match his grasp on Hutch's arm.
"Just a minute, Starsky, this concerns him, too. I heard Hutchinson was in the car with you when you stopped for a call yesterday."
Hutch slumped a little. He'd been afraid of this. But his partner's hand tightened on his arm reassuringly before he turned his attention back to the IA detective.
"He wasn't just in the car, he was riding with me; I didn't stop for a call, just a mugging I came across; and he's Detective Sgt. Hutchinson, Simonetti, you got that?" Starsky's voice fell a few more degrees.
"Riding with you in his condition? Don't you think that's a little foolish? Taking along a handicapped partner endangers you both, plus innocent bystanders. I don't understand why your Captain allows Hutchinson here at all."
Hutch felt cold all over at the confirmation of his fears, too stunned to get angry. His partner took care of that for him, too, though. Starsky abruptly released his arm and whooshed by him, right up into Simonetti's face, Hutch was willing to bet. This time he sounded lethal. "Handicapped? If he were blind, deaf, and mute, he'd still be a better cop than you, Detective. He doesn't have t'see to do the hard part of our job, and that's puttin' the pieces of this case together with me. You wanna give that a try, Simonetti?"
"That's not my job," the detective said frigidly. "My job is making sure cops do theirs, and right now Officer Hutchinson seems to be hindering more than helping. I'm willing to overlook it for the moment since your captain is so...adamant, but should the situation become permanent, we will be having this talk again, and this time I won't be so accommodating."
Hutch could tell his partner was ready to draw blood and, gathering his tattered pride, stepped forward to snag the closest arm he could find. "Starsk--"
"Simonetti, you're dismissed," Dobey broke in. Hutch had nearly forgotten that his boss would've been watching, too, to make sure Starsky didn't go too far. Bur he felt no satisfaction when Simonetti left and Starsky slowly eased up.
"I wouldn't've hurt him...much," he protested, turning back to the blond and boss. "Maybe I shoulda let you at him, Hutch. Only fair fight he'd ever have."
"Simonetti's just full of hot air, Hutch, you know that," Dobey put in, his voice unusually kind. "This is my department and he's just finding an excuse to get under my skin."
Their attempts warmed him but they were weak arguments at best. If only the IA man hadn't been right. Hutch blindly turned to Starsky.
Starsky could see he was feeling lost. "Look, partner, I know how you feel..." he began.
"No you don't," Hutch shot back.
"Okay, so I don't. But I know how I'd feel. Simonetti does, too, and he's digging where he knows it hurts. Doesn't mean he's right. Listen to me, Hutch," his voice got soft. "I got a lead on Peck and I need to figure out a way to pull him in. I need you for that, Blondie. You're my partner because of what's here," he tapped the blond head, "not what is or isn't here," he touched the bandage. "So, you with me?" His hand rested on Hutch's side, touching without demanding.
"He's right, Hutchinson," Dobey put in solemnly. "You still have your experience and knowledge, and that's more valuable than your street skills. I'll take care of Simonetti, you just do your job right now."
His job. Hutch almost laughed, except both men meant it. He know they'd been stretching regulations right and left to keep him at the station, and that if the doctor had a bad report for him, it couldn't last, but for now they both wanted him there, working, maybe even helping. It might turn out to be his last case, but he already had some ideas about Peck, and if he could do even that small bit, maybe it'd prove he wasn't completely useless, that he had something left to give. And right now there wasn't anything he wouldn't do to prove that to himself.
"Okay," he said quietly, "Let's get to work, partner."
Starsky's other hand clapped his shoulder, the gesture a lot more casual than he felt, but Hutch could always tell, too. He returned the touch, hope tentatively stirring in him. They left the room together.
Starsky hung up the phone and turned back to his partner. "Nellie says Peck put the word out that he was interested in talkin' to jockeys who were willing to take a dive. She can get us a number for him."
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Hutch asked, grinning.
His partner's voice stayed serious. "There's a problem. Peck's not an idiot. He's not gonna fall for an undercover job or a phone call from someone he doesn't know. We have to find a real jockey to set him up, and even then it's not gonna be easy to get him to buy it."
Hutch mulled that one over, frowning. "Starsk...what about Little Larry? Didn't he become a jockey after he got out of San Leone?"
He heard the squeal of Starsky's chair as his partner sat up. "Yeah, I think I remember that. Y'think he'd help us?"
Hutch smiled. "No, but I think I can find someone who might convince him. Find out if he's in any races in the next few days; I'll track him down and get him on our side."
"Got it," he heard as he reached for his own phone. Huggy would probably have a lead on how he could find Loretta, and if anyone could tell him where Larry was and sweet talk him into helping, it was Loretta. Nor did it hurt that Loretta had a soft spot for blond detectives.... He dialed Huggy, feeling wonderfully useful for the first time in a long time.
It had taken some doing to find Loretta, but Hutch finally managed. She'd been happy to help and, a half an hour and a discussion with Starsky later, Hutch had Little Larry on the phone and was working out the details. Another half an hour and Larry had called back to say that Peck had wanted to meet him personally first to check him out but that everything was apparently set up and the conman had taken the bait.
Which was why the two of them were back in the Torino, sitting out of the way beyond the stables while Starsky watched the jockey through binoculars and related what he saw to his passenger.
"It's gettin' close to 4:30 now and I don't think Peck's the kind t'be late. Larry's still in with the horse, uh, what's-his-name."
"Myth and Shadow Hunter."
Starsky turned toward him. "That's a stupid name for a horse. Why do they always give race horses dumb names like that?"
"Think about it, Starsk," Hutch said patiently, falling easily back into pedantic mode. "They have hundreds of races each day across the country with thousands of horses, right?"
Well, if they named all the horses simple things like 'Shadow' and 'Lightning,' they'd run out of names pretty quickly, don't you think?"
"I guess," Starsky said reluctantly. "But it's still a dumb name."
Hutch just smiled.
There was a burst of static as Starsky thumbed the radio. "Lincoln Two, this is Zebra Three. Jamie, how you doin' over there?"
The tinny voice of the uniformed officer hidden at the other side of the stables answered, "Zebra Three, this is Lincoln Two. I'm all set, Starsky, no sign of the birdie yet."
"Roger, Lincoln Two."
Silence fell in the car. Hutch finally cleared his throat, trying to sound casual. "My, uh, appointment at the hospital's tomorrow's at 10:15. Do you...wanna come with me?"
The car seat squeaked as Starsky jerked around to stare at him. His voice was clearly incredulous. "Are you kidding?! Of course I'm coming, dummy. What, you thought I was going to put you in a cab or something?" He sounded almost hurt at the question.
Hutch hastily answered, "I didn't mean that. I mean, I hoped you were coming, but...if it's bad news...I didn't want you to have to--"
"Hutch." A hand gently shook his shoulder. "That's why I have to be there. We'll do it together, right? Me & thee?"
Hutch looked up, wishing really hard for the first time he could see his partner's face, but he knew by heart what was there. He nodded.
"Okay." The hand squeezed and let go as Starsky took up the binoculars again. "Still no sign of--wait a minute." He thumbed the radio. "Jamie, can you see that grey Continental?" It was a closed circuit radio and there was no longer time for radio protocol.
"Yeah, I got it. Driver looks like middle-aged male, dark hair and mustache."
"Sounds like our bird. Get ready."
Starsky handed the radio to Hutch, who found the button and rested his finger on it. The brunet was using the binoculars again. "Car's pulling up in front of the stable. Guy's gettin' out...it's Peck!" He paused while Hutch passed that on to Jamie, then added, "He's goin' inside."
"I'm looking for a jockey, Little Larry?" a gravelly voice suddenly spoke up from the microphone speaker settled on the seat between them, its receiver safely hidden on Larry.
"That's me," the jockey's thinner voice answered back. "You Peck?"
"Charles Peck. I hear you could use some money."
"Depends on the offer."
"Standard deal. Fourth race on Saturday. Ghost of a Chance is the odd's on favorite and you're the only real contender. I'd like to make sure Ghost wins."
"What's in it for me?" the jockey asked warily.
There was a sound of rustling as if something was being pulled out of a coat, something like a thick envelope. "Five hundred. Half now, half after the race."
Larry hesitated. "I don't know. I never did this kinda thing before. If they catch me, I won't race again."
A grating laugh. "You mean after your stint in San Leone, you're worried about your racing career? I had you checked out. I also know you need the money. This is twice as much as you'd get if you won."
"You sure we're not gonna get caught?" the thin voice hedged.
"Not if you make it look good. I've done this before. Remember Right on the Money two days ago? I set that one up, too, and no one suspected a thing."
"Bingo!" Starsky crowed. "That turkey even gave us more than we needed. Call Jamie, I'm goin' in." He slipped noiselessly out of the car.
Hutch thumbed the radio. "Jamie, the bird has sung. Starsky's going in, over."
"On my way."
Jamie was a good cop and one they both trusted. Hutch still shifted restlessly as he waited for the trap to be safely sprung, but Starsky had back-up now and they didn't even think Peck would be armed. Still, it was only when he heard the seamless arrest play out over the speaker and his partner's even voice reading Peck his rights, that the tension slowly seeped out of his body. It had gone well and Starsky was okay. For the moment, that was all that mattered.
"Hey, partner!" The brunet's cheerful voice cut into his thoughts and Hutch turned toward the driver's side window that Starsky was leaning through. "Jamie's taking him in. We did it!" His smile was brilliant in his words.
Hutch's was just as wide. They had done it, together, as a team. Perhaps he'd never be a street cop again, but Dobey had been right, he still had the knowledge and experience and skills, and if he needed to, he'd find a new way to use them. He was still a cop.
And from the sound of his partner's joyous laugh, that had been exactly what Starsky had wanted him to see all along.
"Are you nervous?"
"Me? Nah." Starsky's brush-off didn't fool either of them. "You?"
Hutch pondered that. "No."
"No?" Starsky's face twisted in disbelief. He thought his partner had been dealing with the denial.
"No." Hutch sat back on the hospital bed they'd direct him to to wait for the doctor, Starsky taking up a seat across from him. "Sure, I hope to God it'll be good news when he takes these bandages off, and sometimes I can't help imagining not ever seeing colors or a mountain lake or my parents' faces ever again..." He trailed off thoughtfully. Starsky leaned forward, absorbed. "But I learned something I didn't expect, Starsk. Last night, I sat up listening to the thunderstorm we had, the sound of the water raindrops hitting the water. It was like...seeing it like I never saw it before. Then the birds started singing almost as soon as the rain stopped, even though it was the middle of the night. You could tell when dawn came because some of the night birds stopped singing and another bunch started off in their place. It was amazing." He shifted forward, caught up in his vision. "A whole part of my world closed down, but a whole other part opened up instead. And it's like...seeing everything in a different way."
They both hung suspended in the thought for several moments until Hutch caught himself and cleared his throat in embarrassment. "Thanks, Starsk."
Starsky blinked in surprise. "For what? Sounds like you figured this out for yourself." He'd always hoped that once Hutch got past the limitations, he'd see the new possibilities. The intelligence, grace, and kindness that made up Hutch were stronger than any physical limitations.
"Maybe I would've, in time. But you were the one who showed me I could still do things and be useful when I was busy feeling sorry for myself. I don't know how--"
Dr. Overman's entrance kept him from finishing his words but Starsky knew and felt himself blush at what his friend had said and meant to say. As if he would've done anything different. Hutch had known he was scared, too, and both of them had done their share of helping the other cope. The sentiment required no answer and so he didn't try to find one except for rising and going over to stand next to the bed, leaning one hand on Hutch's knee. Hutch straightened from the touch.
"Well, Ken, are you ready?" Jim smiled, taking a pair of surgical shears from his pocket.
"I've been ready all week, Jim," Hutch said fervently.
"Okay. Now hold still for a minute." Overman carefully slipped the scissors through the bandages at one side and carefully cut, both detectives holding their breath. Once he'd cut through, he reached over to turn off the light, leaving the room dim with light filtering in through the window blinds. "All right, Ken, I'm taking them off now." Gently, he unwound the gauze, then peeled off the pads that covered the blond's eyes. "It'll take a minute for your eyes to adjust."
Hutch blinked slowly, staring straight ahead, face expressionless. Starsky felt sick to his stomach with anticipation. For all their talk about dealing with the future if this turned out badly, he still had no idea what he'd do if it truly did.
Then the blond head turned toward him, the eyes focusing on him, meeting his, going soft with relief and joy. Starsky's own face split into a grin in response.
"Well?" Overman prompted.
"It's great, Jim. Thank you," he answered softly.
Starsky flushed again with embarrassed pleasure at the words that weren't only meant for the doctor, but he couldn't stop smiling. He just squeezed the other's leg hard, and said happily, "So, we back in business?"
Hutch's eyes were the peaceful blue that Starsky hadn't even realized how much he missed and they answered him before the blond even opened his mouth. "Partner, we never stopped."
"Lt. Kine," the woman answered the phone.
"Eve? It's Ken."
"Ken!" Eve's voice melted in warmth. "I've been thinking about you. Last night was just wonderful."
"You enjoyed that, huh?" Hutch smiled at his partner, who sat reading across from him in Hutch's favorite easy chair. Starsky just shook his head without looking up.
"I sure did. What do you have planned for tonight?"
"Well, Eve, uh, I've had a relapse. I can't see a thing, but the doctor said it'll clear up in a few days. So I'm kinda stuck here at home." Starsky was still slowly shaking his head, but the corner of his mouth turned up.
"A relapse!" Eve repeated, her voice rising. "Oh, Ken, that's awful! Is the doctor sure it's okay? Can I come over and help you with anything?"
"Well," Hutch contrived to make himself as pathetic sounding as possible. "Starsky's here right now, but I could use some company overnight. Only, you don't have to worry about dressing up or anything, it won't matter. You, uh, don't even need to wear anything at all at night, it's not like I can see anything."
"Oh? You can't see a thing, huh?" Eve suddenly didn't sound so sympathetic and Hutch's smile faded a little. Starsky's smile was growing even though he didn't look up. "How awful. I suppose it won't matter then if I come in sweats and my face cream on, will it?"
"Or, better yet, why don't we wait until your 'relapse' clears and you can come here? I had some plans for us for tonight but I guess they'll have to wait until you're better."
"Uh, Eve, actually--"
"If Starsky's there, you're in good hands. After all, it doesn't matter much who's with you if it's just to help out until you're better, does it? I'll see you when you're able to get back to work, Ken."
"No, wait, Eve--" Hutch tried quickly, but the line was already dead.
"I told you she wouldn't buy it," Starsky said pleasantly from the depths of his magazine. "The lady's too smart for that." He looked up to smirk at Hutch.
Hutch shook his head stormily. "Just wait, Starsky, next time I'm going for deaf. Then at least I won't have to listen to you."
Starsky, unexpectedly, stuck out his tongue in reply. And Hutch couldn't stop himself from grinning with sheer delight at the sight.
Written in 1998