This story first appeared in the zine, That's What Friends Are For #2 (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: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
After one of the most grueling 24 hours he'd ever known, Hutch had done it, had found his partner. A part of him was more relieved than he could ever put into words, particularly after the adrenalin and anger rush of seeing Starsky hanging helplessly by his wrists, one of Simon's followers lifting a knife to plunge into him. But still, with his arms full of his friend, resting his head on the curly hair, breathing in the familiar scent of Starsky's presence, he could feel the body against his begin to shake and the heavy sobs that came from down deep, and he was scared. Maybe he hadn't been so timely after all.
The podium around him shook with heavy footsteps and Hutch realized the backup had arrived. He could hear them hoisting up the downed disciples, putting on cuffs and beginning to lead them away, but he didn't turn. He had something more important to do. Two of the officers appeared in his peripheral vision, one moving forward for the girl who lay at Starsky's feet, the other standing hesitantly by, not sure if Hutch needed help. Hutch's only response was to turn slightly, shielding his partner from the eyes of others. Protecting each other didn't end at saving each others' life. The girl went without protest and the heavy footsteps retreated.
He felt his partner stiffen at the movement, fighting for the control that he had let himself give up in front of his partner. "It's okay, Starsk," Hutch said softly, "They're gone; it's all over." He tightened his grip on the other, but Starsky didn't relax into it, still struggling to collect himself and force down the flooding emotions again. Hutch regretfully loosened his hold and Starsky, quickly brushing at his eyes with a billowing black sleeve, looked up at him. For a moment, the dark eyes were so completely transparent that Hutch knew that unguardedness was reserved for him alone, and what he saw made him heartsick. Instead of relief or love or any of hundreds of other things he usually saw in the deep blue eyes, the complex mix of indefinables that made up one David Michael Starsky, there was only fear and pain. Then Starsky withdrew into himself, trying badly to hide his momentary vulnerability from his friend. As if he ever could.
It hurt to look into those eyes, and Hutch was almost relieved when he suddenly realized someone else had come up behind and around him. Glancing up, he saw Dobey's face, drawn in concern. "How is he?" the captain asked quietly. "Do you need an ambulance?"
Hutch could feel his partner retreat even further at the new voice, and the blond cringed in response, then shook his head at Dobey.
The captain nodded, having learned a thing or two himself about body language in his years with his men. Starsky was not doing well but Hutch would take care of it.
"I had one of the men bring the Torino around; it's right over there," the black man pointed to the left. Hutch turned his head slightly to see the red-and-white car only a hundred feet or so off to their side. He looked gratefully back at the captain.
Dobey nodded, then left them alone.
Hutch turned his full attention back to his partner. "Hey, Starsk, you think you can walk a little for me?" he asked gently.
The bowed head was motionless for a moment, then nodded slightly.
Hutch shifted his grip a bit, then levered himself and his partner up at the same time. He could feel Starsky trying to help, but whatever he had gone through, he hardly seemed to have any strength left and wavered unsteadily on his feet. Hutch's anger rekindled at the thought of what the crazed followers of a madman had done to the warm, energetic person who was his partner, but he let go of the hatred just as quickly. That wouldn't help Starsky at all.
Hutch hooked an arm around his partner's waist and slowly guided him off the platform, toward the car.
Starsky was looking around and seemed to notice what was going on for the first time since the fight. "Gail..." he began uncertainly.
"It's okay," Hutch reassured him. "They'll take care of her." He didn't know what Starsky's connection to the girl was, but he had seen enough to know that she could have killed him and didn't. He made a mental note to make sure his report made that very clear.
The answer seemed to satisfy Starsky, who again fell silent and drew back into himself. After a moment, he closed his eyes, brow creasing as if he needed to concentrate on simply walking. Hutch's arms were the only thing keeping him upright now, and he slumped against the blond tiredly.
Hutch didn't feel he could hold up his partner much longer by the time they got back to the car; it was a relief to settle Starsky in the back seat, lying down, face pale with the exertion. Hutch hoped it was only exhaustion.
He kept an eye on the rearview mirror all during the short trip to the hospital. Although Starsky never once opened his eyes throughout, Hutch was sure he wasn't asleep, either. The shoulders were still tight with tension, the face drawn with the inner struggle he seemed to be engaged in since Hutch had first appeared on the scene. Fighting what, the blond didn't know, but he could only suspect the pain and memories and fears that the last 24 hours had inflicted on his friend. Unfortunately, Hutch reflected as he pulled up at the emergency entrance, for the moment he could only provide relief for the least serious of those burdens.
The drill was familiar. They took Starsky off into an examining room leaving Hutch to fill out the paperwork. Then, after being told that the wait would be at least another hour, he decided to run home for a change of clothes for Starsky. Neither of them needed the reminder of the black robe for any longer than necessary.
Upon returning, Hutch almost ran into Dobey in the hospital hallway.
"Cap'n!" Hutch's voice reflected his surprise at seeing the black man there.
"Hutchinson. Just wanted to see how Starsky was doing." At Hutch's questioning look, he continued, "They're about to finish with him if you want to take him home." As if he didn't know that Hutch had every intention of doing just that. "It seems like he's coming out of the shock a little, too," he added as casually as he could, pleased to see Hutch's eyes light at the news. "Keep me posted."
"Yeah, thanks," Hutch said vaguely, mind elsewhere, before it sank in how much their boss was also concerned. He took a moment to meet Dobey's eyes and smile a genuine appreciation.
Dobey, embarrassed at being caught concerned about his men, gruffed a good-bye and left. Hutch went into the room the captain had just left.
Starsky, in a hospital gown, was lying on his left side on the examining table, curled up and eyes closed but still not asleep. His right upper cheek glistened with some sort of salve spread liberally over what Hutch wincingly realized now to be a blistering burn. But what struck him most of all was how defensive and wan the familiar figure looked. Fragile, Hutch thought. Starsky didn't open his eyes as Hutch entered.
The doctor finished writing something on a chart, then looked up. Hutch moved over to the other side of the room with him to get the prognosis.
In all, it wasn't as bad as he feared. Scrapes and bruises, evidence of brutal beatings and bruised ribs but no serious internal injury, a second degree burn to a small portion of the face, a head injury with a light concussion, exhaustion. Also a little dehydration, apparently from violent cramp and nausea-inducing drugs. The last made Hutch the angriest; any street punk could have inflected the other injuries in stupidity and anger, but drugging showed deliberate cruelty. The doctor could only say that there were still traces of the drug in the bloodwork, but that it was wearing off and would lose all effect in the next few hours. The best advice was rest and minor care. Hutch thanked him tightly, as sincerely as he could manage past the sickness he felt. Then the doctor left and Hutch turned back to the still form on the bed.
He walked over slowly, placing the bag of clothes he'd brought down on the end of the bed at Starsky's feet. Then he moved to the head. "Starsk?" he whispered, placing a hand on his partner's back.
The lithe body tensed and his eyes snapped open, almost in panic, before finding Hutch's and calming. "Yeah." The voice was infinitely weary.
"Brought you some clothes, partner. You wanna put them on, or..." Hutch left the unstated offer dangle.
"I can do it," Starsky said quietly, sitting up slowly by himself. He still needed Hutch's help a little, not too steady on his feet yet, but he managed to get dressed mostly by himself, not appearing to want any help.
Hutch finally left to find a wheelchair, happy for once with the usual hospital policy. With Starsky stubbornly trying to deal with everything all by himself, Hutch wouldn't have put it past the idiot to try to stride out of the building on his own and fall flat on his face, instead.
Getting him down and into the car was little trouble. Starsky settled into the front seat this time, not even reacting to being driven in his own car, a fact Hutch wondered if his friend overlooked in his fatigue or simply didn't care about. After a little reassurance from Hutch, he finally dozed against the door.
At Starsky's place, Hutch herded his partner up the stairs, this time Starsky making it mostly under his own steam. Once inside, he excused himself and went into the bathroom, where Hutch could hear him being sick to his stomach. The bathroom door was locked, though, a clear "no trespassing" sign. Hutch closed his eyes and sighed tiredly, leaning against the door for a long minute, wanting to help and not knowing how. He finally straightened, going into the kitchen to find something for Starsky to drink.
He was beginning to seriously consider breaking the door down when, after a long silence and two unanswered calls, the door lock finally rattled as though shaky fingers were trying to work it. The door opened and Starsky appeared, ashen, immediately leaning against the door jamb. Hutch dropped the spoon he'd been stirring with and strode instantly toward his partner, but he was stopped a few feet away as Starsky held up his hand. Gathering his strength, his partner dragged himself to his bedroom, collapsing tiredly on the bed with a moan.
Shaking his head, Hutch went back to get the juice, then entered the bedroom and crossed to the bed. Putting down the juice on the nightstand, he began to untie Starsky's shoes.
"Don't," Starsky mumbled at him crossly, pulling his foot out of Hutch's grasp.
"Let me help, Starsk," Hutch pleaded softly.
"M'okay," the other insisted, even as his slurred speech belied him. "M'just tired. G'wan home."
"Think I'll stay, if you don't mind," Hutch said with deliberate lightness. "I'm kinda tired myself."
Starsky looked up, scowling. "I do mind. I'm not a baby, Hutch. Go home and lemme sleep." He turned away heavily, shutting out the blond's presence all together.
Hutch swallowed, plucking at the blanket. Perhaps Starsky wasn't physically strong enough at the moment to be able to deal with the emotional ordeal he'd gone through. He needed time to heal, both in body and spirit. But so did Hutch, and they usually helped each other in that. It was one of the unstated but definite rules of partnership...their partnership, anyway. He couldn't understand why Starsky was denying them both that help this time. Perhaps they had finally come to a situation that was beyond their friendship's ability to deal with? After the embarrassing indignities of his withdrawal or the naked dependence of Starsky's poisoning, he doubted it. That wasn't what was wrong here. Starsky was simply burying the terror he had almost succumbed to back at the pavilion in Hutch's arms, and that still badly needed release.
Slowly, shakily, Hutch stood up. "Bye, Starsk," was all he said, and walked out the door.
He got as far as the outside walk. There, he stood there for a long moment, thinking. About what the doctor said. About Gail and Simon and all the followers. About how Starsky had acted initially, the white-knuckled grip he'd kept on Hutch's jacket back at the zoo. And about friendship. And then he sat down on the steps to wait.
After ten minutes, Hutch got up and took out his key to Starsky's place and quietly let himself in the front door. He moved through the house as familiarly as through his own, avoiding the creaky spots, moving back toward the bedroom. He looked over the figure on the bed, pleased to note the shoulders finally relaxing in sleep. He very gently finished pulling the shoes off, covered his partner with a blanket, then pulled up a chair not far from the bed to sit and wait in case he was needed. The anxious, sleepless preceding day was catching up with him, too, and he finally drifted off himself.
A low moan woke him up out of the light sleep. Hutch sat up immediately, leaning forward to study the face that was twisted in distress and shining with perspiration. Starsky tossed again, burying his head in the pillow as he mumbled something unintelligible.
Hutch pulled his chair up to the edge of the bed, then hesitantly reached out, resting a hand lightly on the head first, then a restless arm. "I'm here, Starsk," he whispered softly.
The figure on the bed stilled at once. A few minutes later, Hutch also fell into deep sleep.
He awoke first, the clock next to him reading 8:37 pm. Hutch rubbed the sleep out of his eyes one-handed before realizing that he had unconsciously kept his contact with Starsky throughout, his hand still on his partner's arm. And Starsky didn't look as though he'd moved at all.
Hutch withdrew his hand almost reluctantly, settling back in the chair to watch his sleeping friend instead. As if in response, Starsky also stirred, then opened his eyes. Hutch was the first thing he saw, and, for a moment, the blond thought he could see relief in the deep blue eyes. But then the emotion withdrew and he shivered at how lifeless the familiar eyes became.
"What are you doin' here?" The tone of the question was mild, but Hutch knew it was hiding annoyance just below the surface. Denial.
Hutch suddenly felt sick at all the layers and games. Part of what made their partnership, their friendship, special, was that they had never had to play these games with each other before, and when one did try, the other wouldn't let him get away with it. "What do you think I'm doing," he answered back, not bothering to hide the irritation.
The jaw hardened. "I'm tired. Hutch, I don't wanna talk." Starsky began to turn again to shut out the blond. Doesn't want to go through it again... Hutch found himself unconsciously translating.
One put-off a day was enough. "Tough," Hutch said unflinchingly. "You're not gonna get much sleep with those nightmares you've been having, anyway."
That caught Starsky's attention and he turned back angrily. "How do you know what's in my head, huh? Who asked you to come back here, anyway!" Thinks he can deal with this by himself...
Hutch opened his mouth in retort, then caught Starsky's eyes and all the fight drained out of him. "It helps if you talk about it, you know," he said compassionately.
The change of mood caught Starsky off guard. "I don't... I can't..." He was shaking as he pushed himself off the bed, heading for the door. Scared. That one I can handle.
A hand latched onto Starsky's, stopping him. "Lemme go," he weakly fought the restraint.
Starsky was crying now. "Hutch, I can't, don't ask..."
Hutch pulled him back down onto the edge of the bed. "It's only me here now, Starsk. Let me help. Tell me."
It was a while before Starsky could talk. Defenses down to Hutch also meant dropping his defenses against the pain and terror of the ordeal, and it hurt so bad, he could barely breathe from the sobs. Even the horror of feeling his life ebb away with Bellamy's poison hadn't left him this alone and unnerved. He could still hear the chanting whenever he closed his eyes...
"Lean on me, Starsk, let me help. Together we can handle this; you're not alone."
Over and over these new words repeated softly until Starsky heard and listened to them, and they replaced the taunting chants. Other things became real, too: the damp shirt against his face, the soothing rocking motion, the arms around him. Not alone.
When the sobs ran out, he anchored himself in the wet shirt and the strength beneath it, beginning to talk even as the tears still came. Everything: the surprise attack in the bathroom, the mind games and beatings, Gail, the bear and the keeper of the flame. Out in the open, they didn't seem so horrible as the memories he'd fought, awake and sleeping, and the burden of facing them alone.
Drained and feeling empty, he lay tiredly against his friend as Hutch talked, still in that soft, gentle voice that Starsky never heard him use with anyone else. His partner told him about the search, about his own feelings and fears, some of the words catching in his throat, too. Starsky listened to it all, soaking up the love and concern until he heard what was behind the words. They had been separated but they had never really been alone.
By the time Hutch finished, Starsky was barely able to stay awake, his hurting body and all the fears from before receding to a distant ache. Comfort freely sought and freely given replaced it all, in tender touch, in the whispering voice, in the reassuring presence of his friend. All he felt now was a good, cleansing fatigue.
The arms around him shifted, and the wet fabric pulled away from his face, replaced by a cloth that brushed his face dry, carefully avoiding his sore cheek. He smiled tiredly, heard a soft, throaty chuckle in response. Then a glass was pressed into his hands with the order to drink, with which he obediently complied, almost dumping some of it on himself until a hand steadied his. That done, he was gently let back down onto the bed. Although he missed the secure embrace, he relaxed comfortably on the bed, curling up as warm covers were draped over with him. " 'Night, Hutch," he murmured contentedly, eyes shut. Just as he dropped off to sleep, he thought he heard a whispered response.
The nightmare was over. Starsky slept peacefully.
Written in 1995