This story first appeared in the zine, That's What Friends Are For #3 (1996). This zine and other fine S&H gen zines can be obtained from the editor at:Intertwined@webtv.net. Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
He could hear her screams from outside the building, screams of rage and...frustration? Then maybe Hutch was still okay, maybe he had seen and stopped Diana in time, infuriating her. Starsky rounded the corner at top speed to see the two figures standing in front of Hutch's door. Diana, pounding on Hutch, screaming at him, and his partner leaning against the wall, oddly defenseless. Starsky flew down the hall and grabbed Diana from behind with a yell, trying to restrain her and gauge his partner's state at the same time. His heart sank at hearing Hutch whispering over and over, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," clearly in shock, and at the sight of the towel wrapped around the darkening sleeve of the bathrobe. No, Hutch wasn't okay.
Starsky heard the patrolmen run up behind him, and he pushed Diana into their hands with a quick glance, already forgetting her as he turned back toward his friend. He could just barely hear Hutch's whispered "oops" as he began to slide down the wall. Starsky leaned forward to support him.
"Where you goin'?"
"I think I'll sit down." Starsky didn't think it possible, but Hutch was growing even paler.
Starsky grimaced. "Not here," he pleaded. He put both arms around Hutch, managing to pull him back up and half-carry, half-drag him into the apartment. Supporting most of his partner's weight, Starsky got them to the sofa where he gently lowered his burden down. Hutch was breathing shallowly and his skin was clammy to the touch. Shock, Starsky noted, gotta stop the bleeding. Reassuring his partner, Starsky gently unwound the towel from around Hutch's arm and, after a moment's consideration, tore the bathrobe at the shoulder seams.
"Oh man," he breathed to himself at the sight of the gash, "what'd she do to you?"
The bleeding, slowed under the pressure of the towel, quickly started up again, blocking any further examination. A towel magically appeared beside Starsky, and he barely glanced up at the patrolman who had extended it to him, throwing a muttered thanks over his shoulder. He bunched up the towel and, as gently as he could, applied pressure to the seeping wound.
Hutch, passive under his ministrations till then, moaned at the renewed pain and feebly tried to pull away from Starsky.
Right hand pressing firmly, Starsky laid his left hand on the wet, blond head, trying to hold steady and assure at once. "Hey, buddy, take it easy. Everything's gonna be okay." His patient remained restive. "Hutch, I'm right here, try to relax. Lemme stop the bleeding." He turned a little, careful to keep pressure steady on the shoulder. "Ambulance?" he barked out the question to the uniformed cop behind him.
"On its way," the other promised him, and he nodded once, turning back.
Hutch lay very still, pasty and looking like death itself. Starsky's hand moved automatically from his head down to his neck, checking the pulse. Rapid and not as strong as he would have liked, but still there. "Hang in there, buddy. Come on, help's on the way, stay with me." He reached down to grasp Hutch's limp right hand tightly, trying to evoke a response.
The slight return pressure almost made him gasp with relief. "Hutch?" He looked at the white face to see his partner's eyes half open, watching him glassily. Starsky managed a wobbly grin in response, squeezing back. "Thought you left me there for a minute. Stay with me, okay?" he said softly. He could hear the ambulance's wail now in the background.
Hutch's mouth twitched in a ghost of a smile in response, but it turned into a grimace of pain and his eyes slid shut again.
Starsky face mirrored the grimace, feeling the pain himself. He squeezed the hand once more, then reached up to take a still-dry corner of the towel and wipe the water trickling down Hutch's face.
There was a rattle at the door and two paramedics appeared with a gurney. Starsky waited until they reached the sofa, then made way for them, relinquishing his life-and-death grip on the towel to one of the medics. Then, he stood back, watching over the two working men's shoulder.
Hutch's eyes re-opened for a moment, finding and fixing on Starsky's face. Starsky held the agitated eyes, and for a moment they were alone as he soothed his partner into relaxing. Calmed, the other's eyes finally shut again, and Starsky let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding.
As the medics transferred the limp body to the gurney, Starsky stepped forward to lend a hand, then together they moved him out the door and down the steps. As they paused to open the ambulance doors, he bent down next to the gurney to touch the damp hair once more silently, conveying an affection he couldn't even voice. But the head was still, the breaths a little more even in unconsciousness. Starsky's jaw tightened in anger and frustrated helplessness at his friend's condition even though he knew that it would be better this way, that at least Hutch was temporarily out of pain. The thought didn't make him feel much better.
They were lifting the gurney up, and he moved back again to give them space, then reluctantly made his decision. Hutch wouldn't know if he was there in the ambulance or not, and Starsky needed the mobility of his car; who knew how long he was going to be at the hospital. "I'll follow you guys," he said tersely, already turning back to the Torino, then, at a sudden thought, turned back again. "Take him to Memorial," he added. One of the medics glanced up at him, surprised, but the two hospitals were both fairly close and Starsky had no desire to meet any friends of Diana where she'd worked. "Just do it," he ordered. The medic made a face but didn't argue, climbing in after the gurney. Starsky got into his car, turning the mars light back on, and waited until the ambulance began to move, pulling out into traffic after it.
He sat in the hospital waiting room, staring in morbid fascination at the blood that covered his hands and clothes, oblivious. A touch on his shoulders took a moment to register. He looked up blankly into the face of Captain Dobey, staring at him in confusion for a moment before he gave a small smile of recognition. "Hi, Cap'n." His Brooklyn accent was more pronounced than usual from stress and fatigue.
Dobey sat down next to him and looked him over critically. "Are you all right?"
Starsky looked back dumbly, then followed Dobey's gaze to the blood that covered his front. "Oh, yeah, I'm fine. It's Hutch's...blood." His voice tapered off as he looked down at the floor. Ever since they had reached the hospital, his mind had been empty. He couldn't think about Hutch or could-be's or what-if's, and as he pushed that out of his mind, everything else went with it. You're a mess, Starsky, he could hear Hutch saying. The thought made almost him smile. Almost.
Dobey narrowed his eyes at the stream of emotions struggling across his detective's face. It didn't seem fair: every time one of those two landed in the hospital, he had both of them to worry about. But first thing was first. "How's he doing?"
Starsky sighed and transferred his gaze from the floor to the ceiling. Not much difference. "I don't know. Nobody's told me anything yet. He was unconscious when we got here, lost a lot of blood." His voice trailed off and the blank expression returned. "I wish they'd tell us something," he whispered to no one in particular.
As if on cue, the doors opened and two men in green surgery scrubs walked out. Starsky jumped out of his seat like a spring. "Doctor?"
The older of the two doctors paused for a moment, then walked toward the waiting anxious men with a tired smile. "Are you here for Detective Hutchinson?" At Starsky's quick nod, he continued. "My name is Dr. Peters. Your partner is going to be just fine. The knife cut through the deltoid muscle, but then was deflected off the shoulder blade, so it didn't cause as much damage as it could've; he was very lucky. We've replaced the blood he's lost and sewn him up, and the arm'll be sore and tight for a few weeks, but with proper rest and, later, exercise, it should be almost as good as new."
Starsky visibly untensed, closing his eyes for a moment and breathing deeply. Hoping for good news and being prepared for it were two different things.
"Are you 'Starsk'?"
His eyes snapped open again at the doctor's question. "Dave Starsky," he nodded.
The doctor frowned for a second, before shaking his head. "Detective Hutchinson is fighting the effects of the sedative, asking for you. I think it would help if I let him see you for a moment." He didn't look too happy about it, but Starsky's wide smile told that the doctor would hear no protest from him. As Starsky stepped forward, Peters put out a hand to stop him. The detective stared at him in question. "I think perhaps you should clean up a little first," the doctor said pointedly.
Starsky made a face, acknowledging the logic, and hurried off to the restroom Peters silently directed him to. When he returned, the doctor led him to the recovery room, stopping in the door to point him in the right direction. Then Peters left.
Hutch lay still on a bed in the corner, looking as white as the sheet that was pulled up to his chin. He appeared to be asleep, but when Starsky clasped his uncovered hand, his eyes fluttered open. "Starsk?" he called hoarsely.
Starsky nodded mutely, then squatted down to eye level with his partner. "Yeah, buddy, I'm here. Doc says you're not lettin' yourself rest -- what's goin' on?"
Hutch shut his eyes, swallowed with difficulty. "What hospital?"
"Wha-?" Starsky began in confusion, then understood. Oh. He sighed and rubbed the matted hair gently with his free hand as he had back in the apartment, wanting badly to soothe his anxious friend. "I had 'em take you to Memorial. Don't worry, Diana's not gonna get to you again, I promise."
A little tenseness left the angular face, but its expression still remained tight. "...don't un'erstand..." he whispered, so softly, Starsky had to bend closer to hear.
Starsky breathed deeply for a minute to quell the rage that was rising in him again. It just wasn't fair that Hutch seemed to end up in these situations because he trusted and loved so freely. He gave and gave without apparent limit, and got so much grief back. Well, Starsky was determined that at least one person in his partner's life was going to give back a little, too. He moved his hand down to gently stroke one pale cheek, a gesture of comfort retrieved from his own childhood. "Hey," he said softly.
At the touch, the despair in the face eased, but the eyes that opened to him again seemed empty, of pain, but also of life. Starsky's throat constricted a little, but he smiled anyway. "We'll figure it out later, okay? I'll be here when y'wake up and, I promise, it's gonna be all right. You trust me, don'cha?" he cocked his head persuasively. The nod was slight, but without hesitation, almost childlike with trust. That was always left, even when everything else was gone. "Okay, then, you rest up and get better, partner. I need you back on the streets."
Hutch sighed, but nodded a tiny bit again, already beginning to drift off.
Starsky stayed there for a minute longer, hand still curled around the still one lying on the bed, the back of his finger still lightly stroking his friend's cheek, until he was sure the other was really asleep. Then he stood up slowly, gently releasing his hold, and, with a deep breath, walked away.
He left the recovery room deep in thought, more worried than when he'd entered. Dobey stepped toward him, already forming a question, but Starsky held him off for a moment, striding past him to where Dr. Peters was standing, writing something on a clipboard at the nurse's station.
"Doctor, I need to be with my partner when he wakes up," he stated flatly.
Dobey had come up behind him. "Now, Starsky, the doctor says Hutch is going to be fine, there's no need..."
Starsky spun and grabbed Dobey's arm urgently. "He asked me to and I promised." The stubbornness in his face suddenly gave way to pleading. "Cap'n, you didn't see him in there. He had a bad scare and it really shook him up. I want him to know I'll be there for him. He needs me."
Dobey wavered, consternation rising at his man's unusual intensity.
"I agree," the doctor unexpectedly spoke up. Both Dobey and Starsky turned in surprise to look at him. "I'm just concerned for my patient," he added.
Starsky stared at him, fear growing again. "What's wrong? I thought you said..."
Peters held up a hand. "No, no, physically he's fine, just like I told you. But mentally, I'm a little worried about his attitude. When someone, even a police officer, is attacked, especially in their own home, the natural response is overwhelming anxiety and feelings of vulnerability, even once the danger has passed. Det. Hutchinson will heal, but he can greatly slow his own progress with the depressed or worried frame of mind he seems to be developing." He turned his attention fully on Starsky. "It's obvious that he trusts you a great deal, and your presence and continued reassurance might be the best thing we can do for him."
Starsky nodded seriously, turning back to Dobey. The captain nodded also. Not like he could deny those two much, anyway. "Why don't you at least go home and get changed," he offered softly.
"Yes, he won't wake for another few hours; in the meantime, we'll get him moved to a room," Peters concurred.
Two against one. Starsky was too tired to argue, settling for a nod. "Okay," he finally agreed. "Geez, sound just like Hutch," he added under his breath as he strode off. He didn't see Dobey's smile behind his back.
Hutch's mumbling penetrated the fog of sleep, even in his cloudy mind. Starsky drowsily lifted his head, attention sharpening as he focused on the figure tossing fretfully in the bed. The blond grew more agitated even as he watched, and Starsky snapped out of his chair to grasp the restless shoulders. "Hutch?"
"NO!" Eyes wide open and breathing heavily, Hutch sat up suddenly, almost knocking the other away.
"Hutch!" Starsky tightened his grip, trying to get through. Nightmare images of déja vu of a similar scene less than a year back filled his mind for a moment, then abruptly were forgotten as his partner suddenly moaned and slumped, becoming dead weight in his hands. Starsky grunted at the sudden strain, but let his friend back down as slowly and gently as he could. "Hutch?" He pulled at one shoulder, worried about torn stitches.
Hutch was slowly regaining his color and calming, his eyes never leaving Starsky's face during the other's quick examination.
Satisfied, Starsky slowly let him back down, then turned his attention to the sweat-damp face. "Take it easy, partner, you're okay."
"Starsk." The light eyes closed deliberately for a moment, collecting themselves, then opened again.
Starsky grinned slightly, hesitantly. "Welcome back. Musta been some nightmare," he said sympathetically. "Wanna talk about it?"
The earlier panic was gone, shuttered behind now-impassive features. The only signs of distress was the still-too pale complexion and the dampness that curled the hair framing his forehead. Hutch shut his eyes again, tiredly, shaking his head. "No. S'okay."
Disappointed, Starsky nodded silently, unseen, and began to stand up.
Hutch's hand shot out, clamping on his wrist, as his eyes snapped open again. Starsky froze, staring at him. The blond opened his mouth, closed it again, hesitantly withdrew his hand. "What...uh, happened to Diana?"
The forced nonchalance didn't fool his partner a bit. "They got her locked up," Starsky answered carefully. "They'll probably have a hearing in a few days to determine competency to stand trial."
Sadness mixed with something else Starsky couldn't define flickered in the sky blue eyes. Diana had rattled Hutch, that much was certain, but the woman had clearly been crazy and even his white knight partner knew that some people couldn't be saved. Starsky had a feeling that wasn't what was really bothering his friend.
The other finally nodded, relaxing on the bed. He dozed off a moment later without another word, leaving Starsky sitting there, staring at him in concern as he slept. The darker man might have convinced himself his worries were exaggerated. Except his wrist still hurt.
Hutch's recovery proceeded well enough that he was sent home the next day with strict instructions to take it easy. Typically restless, he ignored them, doing some grocery shopping while Starsky was out taking care of some business and getting them dinner, and scaring his partner to death upon Starsky's return by splitting open some stitches and collapsing in pain in the living room. After that, Starsky was never far away, making sure he stayed off his feet and got plenty of rest. His shoulder was slowly mending, but as his physical health improved, his mental health declined. At first, Starsky was able to convince himself his partner's quiet withdrawnness was born from fatigue and illness, but as Hutch got better and was up more, he only became more withdrawn, eyes haunted. The pain that his vulnerability after the attack had let him express was still there, only now carefully buried from sight with the return of stoic self-possession.
But then there were the nightmares.
After the ordeal of being trapped under his car in Topanga Canyon, Hutch had started to get nightmares. Starsky had thought at the time that they'd ended at the hospital, until he realized shortly after that Hutch was becoming increasingly tired and haggard-looking. It had taken considerable bullying and the threat of returning to the hospital before the truth had come out and, embarrassed, Hutch had revealed that he wasn't getting much sleep. They'd both had their share of bad dreams, and of nights spent playing Monopoly or Scrabble till the early hours to ward the spirits away. But those were battles that together they could win. Starsky had spent a few days on his partner's couch, talking out the bad spells with him, and his presence alone had slowly driven the nightmares away.
This time was different. Two evenings he had spent there already, awakened more than once each night to either restless muttering or outright yells, and two nights he had watched Hutch lock it up inside moments later, insisting he'd be okay, refusing to talk about it. Starsky had made out enough of the mumbled words to know that the nightmares were of some combination of being trapped and stalked, the recent vulnerability rekindling past fears, as well. But beyond that, the other wouldn't reveal anything.
It was evening again. They'd sat and watched, or rather stared at the TV silently for two hours, while some movie played that neither of them remembered. Then Starsky watched his partner straggle off to bed, gingerly cradling his injured arm in its sling. If this night was as bad as the others, Starsky vowed silently as he watched the blond go that, the next morning he'd strong-arm his partner into talking to him, literally, if he had to. Starsky stayed up to watch the late show, but when there was continued silence from the darkened sleeping alcove, he finally got ready for bed.
He had just dropped off to sleep when a loud crash woke him up.
Instinctively, he bolted out of bed, already heading for Hutch's bedroom area. He flicked on a light as he went, pausing for a moment at the sight of the thrashing figure in the bed and the lamp he'd swept off the table onto the floor. Starsky shook his head and hurried around to the side to intervene once more on the nightmare's hold.
"Hutch!" He grabbed one flailing arm and sought the other.
Suddenly, the arm he held twisted out of his grasp, grabbing him roughly by the arm, in turn. He gasped, taken off guard by the unexpected attack, and reached over to loosen the painfully tight hold.
Instead, Hutch's other arm came up and across his throat, cutting off his air.
Starsky began to panic. "Hutch" he managed to croak, one hand pulling at the arm fixed across his throat, the other shaking his partner with all his strength. He was beginning to see spots before his eyes, and, desperate, reached up to slap Hutch's cheek, trying to bring him around.
The blond stopped almost at once and, after a moment of frozen shock, Starsky felt himself suddenly released. He fell onto the floor, intent for the moment only on filling his lungs with air again. As his vision began to clear, he felt a shaking hand rest on his arm. "Starsk?" The voice was just as unsteady.
"I'm okay," he wheezed, patting the hand absently as he forced himself to sit up. The trembling hand helped him lean back against the side of the bed, and he looked up into frightened blue eyes. "I'm okay," he repeated, managing to smile lopsidedly.
The reassurance didn't have its desired effect. "Oh, God..." the other groaned, covering his face with his good hand as he sat back on the floor.
Starsky, fully recovering himself, took in the tangled sling, the stiffly-held bad arm, and the other's shaking, and quickly got up on his knees. "C'mere," he instructed, pulling Hutch up by his good arm and sitting him on the edge of the bed. He righted the bedside lamp and flicked it on, frowning when he saw the red stain on the blond's bandage. Triage presented a more urgent need first, though.
Starsky gently grasped the other's chin and lifted downcast eyes to meet his. "Hutch, it's okay. I'm all right. We're both okay," he said softly but firmly.
Hutch's face was anguished. "I'm so sorry," he shook his head. "I never meant..."
"Hey, hey, I know that. Now just take it easy and let me take care a'your arm, huh?" He waited for a nod, sighing inside as the eyes went back to the floor. He pushed himself up, wincing at the soreness of the deep breath he took as he rose.
After a quick trip to the bathroom, he returned with the necessary supplies. Hutch was unresisting as Starsky gently got him to recline, then, as tenderly as possible, stopped the bleeding and rebandaged the wound, grateful to see that no real damage had been done. Finally, he carefully unwound and adjusted the sling, slipping the injured arm back into it.
"Okay now?" he asked, resting his hand on the taut neck. Gingerly, not wanting to push, he kneaded the tensed muscles. His only answer was a tiny nod into the bed sheets the other's face was hidden in.
"Hutch?" he asked a little more loudly, not stopping his motion. "You gonna talk to me?"
A great, shuddering sigh went through the other. "I'm sorry," came out slightly muffled from the bed.
"Hey," Starsky gently applied pressure, turning the head until he could see one wary eye. "You already said that. And I already said, ain't nothin' to be sorry for. What I wanna know is, what's botherin' ya?"
The eye closed, and Hutch turned slowly onto his back, dislodging Starsky's hand. His good arm went up to cover his face again, but Starsky pulled it back down. Hutch opened his eyes and looked at him for a long moment.
"I was in the shower," he finally said, quietly.
Starsky nodded, gently tightening his hold on the other's arm.
"I don't know how she got in...I didn't hear her. Didn't know she was there until she screamed, but then..." He swallowed, met Starsky's eyes only for a moment, to find the strength to go on. "I tried to talk to her, but she just went wild. I...I had to hit her, and that still didn't stop her. I don't know why..."
Why what, Starsky could guess. "Hutch," he said softly, waiting until the other looked up. "She was crazy. And she was smart, too, that's the only reason she got this far. But if it wouldn't have been you, it would've been some other guy. It wasn't your fault."
"Linda's gonna be okay, too, and there's no way we coulda known or done anything about her, anyway. What Diana did was insane, it's not supposed t'make sense."
"I tried with her, I really did. I didn't want..."
"I know," Starsky soothed. "You didn't do nothin' wrong, it just wasn't enough for her. Nothing would've been. It's not your fault," he repeated.
Hutch was silent for a long minute while Starsky watched him. He knew his friend had a tendency to over-think things, but somehow he suspected that guilt wasn't the real issue here. In fact, neither was the vulnerability, that was just the symptom, an aftereffect that would fade with time and support. But if those weren't it, what was?
Finally, a whisper. "Why is it always me?"
Starsky sighed. He was too tired for self-pity. "When, when Bellamy shot you up with poison, or when you got caught in the crossfire at Giovanni's?" he said impatiently. At Hutch's stricken expression, he instantly regretted the words. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that," he shook his head, "'M just tired. Whaddaya mean 'always you'?"
But Hutch had retreated into himself again, and Starsky kicked himself mentally for his untimely sarcasm. He forced his cloudy mind to try to sort out an effective entreaty, but a soft voice cut him off.
"First Van...then Jeanie, and Abby, and Gillian...They all take...and then they leave, or die, or..."
Go crazy, Starsky mentally finished. "Aw, Hutch," he said softly. "I guess...they're all lookin' for somethin', and you have so much t'give. I don't think any of them meant t'hurt ya..." Well, except maybe Vanessa, but that was another story. He paused. "Ya know, that was what I saw in ya, too, back at the Academy, that made me wanna get to know ya." He paused, waiting for a reaction.
The blond head inclined toward him, ever so slightly.
Starsky went on. "John, he kept tellin' me you were okay, wanted t'introduce ya, but all I saw was this rich kid who didn't know his right foot from his left." He stared off into space, grinning at the memory, noting out of the corner of his eye that Hutch was watching him now. "Then, one day, I saw ya out in the hallway. A bunch a' guys had been pickin' on this skinny kid, one of the greenest recruits. But you, you saw 'em doin' it and got mad and charged right in there, didn't matter that they outnumbered ya three to one. Lucky for you, they didn't wanna tangle with the Hutchinson temper. Or maybe it was lucky for them. Anyway, then you helped that kid get his stuff together and talked t'him like he was your best friend. Made him feel ten feet tall, y'could tell. That's when I thought that maybe you weren't some stuck-up Midwestern hick, after all. 'Course, once I got t'know you better..." he tapered off teasingly.
Hutch looked embarrassed. "You saw that? I didn't know anyone else was there."
Starsky blushed. "Yeah, well, I was just about t'say something when you showed up. Point is, that's just who you are. If you didn't get involved with people like that, you wouldn't be you." He screwed up his face, trying to sort that out. "I mean..."
"I know what you mean, mushbrain," Hutch smiled. Then he sobered as he slowly eased himself up against the headboard, drawing his knees up to cradle his arm. "That doesn't bode well for me, though, then, does it."
Starsky shrugged. "Sometimes. Sometimes people take advantage. But it got you me, too, didn't it?" he grinned charmingly.
"Yeah..." Hutch agreed thoughtfully, not joking. "Starsk, I really am sorry about before, I don't know..."
Starsky stood up. "Wouldya quit already with the apologies? I'm okay. Just talk t'me next time, wouldya?" he added sincerely. "That stupid pride a' yours is gonna get you all bent outta shape one day."
Hutch laughed shortly. "Uh-huh. You stayin'?" he asked, lying down again.
His partner picked the blankets off the floor, untangling them before he tossed them over the blond. "Don't I always?" he asked casually.
"Yeah, you do," there was a smile in the voice that filtered up through the blanket. A hand snaked out to pull the covers down some so that Hutch could meet his partner's gaze. "Goodnight, Starsk." Thanks, partner.
Starsky shook his head at stubborn partners, ditzy blonds, and the world in general. "'Night, Hutch." I love you, too. He stumbled back to the couch for some badly-needed sleep.
It took three more nights for the nightmares to fade away completely, but talking them out lessened each subsequent one's intensity, and they disappeared all together after news came of Diana's commitment to a long-term mental health facility. Starsky moved back out two days later, grateful to return to a comfortable bed, and complained loudly of a sore back for many days after. Hutch responded with a complete lack of sympathy by getting him a walking cane and a tube of arthritis cream, the latter of which Starsky proceeded to liberally apply somewhere his partner was sure to soon find it, and so commenced living in mortal fear of revenge.
And all was right again with the world.
Written in 1996