This story first appeared in the zine, Ouch! #7 (1999). This zine, and other fine S&H gen zines, can be obtained from Neon Rainbow Press: http://www.neonrainbowpress.com/ Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
Long, routine day. Or, well, perhaps it would have been routine a month before. Now, it was called progress. After nearly two weeks sick leave for "line of duty injury"--was that a euphemism or what?--and another week restricted duty, a routine day out on the streets felt pretty special.
Hutch was still watching him, of course. His partner tended to take things like this--"things like this," another euphemism--almost harder than Starsky did. For some reason, Hutch had a real problem with someone getting to his partner, with a gun, with a syringe of poison, with a combination of physical and mental torture like Simon Marcus' cult had used only three weeks before when they kidnapped him...
Starsky shied away from the thought. That one was a little too fresh still, and possibly even worse than the other two. Physical pain he'd dealt with before, but the sadistic mindgames left deeper scars. Not to mention that Hutch hadn't been there this time to ease the ordeal.
Cut it out.
Sometimes he thought his own mind had been turned against him, with its regular insistence on reminding him of the nightmare everywhere he turned. Distraction was easier with his partner around, and Hutch usually knew when he needed it, but now Starsky was alone.
Okay, deep breath. Think about somethin' else. Blondie'll be here soon, and then... Well, that wasn't a long-term solution, but Starsky was getting better. Already he was making it through some nights without waking up screaming, and the memories only grew hard to ignore when he was tired, like now after their first full day back at work.
Tired--the very word seemed to make him feel all the aches that had mostly retreated but still awoke at the first sign of exhaustion. Even though the physical damage hadn't been severe, the 24-hour ordeal had left its mark in abused muscles and a depleted energy level. And fading scars like the rope marks he absently traced on one wrist. Fading externally. Internally...
Starsky gave in to the demands of fatigue, curling up on the couch to wait. Hutch would be back soon from having gone to pick up something for dinner for them, but with his car in the shop, he'd gone on foot instead of taking the Torino and would probably be at least another half-hour. Then the house wouldn't be so quiet anymore or Starsky's thoughts turned so inward. He was not good company for himself of late.
The clock on the wall ticked in argument against the cloying stillness, and Starsky quieted his thoughts to listen to it, grateful for the interruption. The rhythmic sound was one of order, peace, time passing until his partner came to the rescue again, this time against the enemy of silence...
He fell asleep.
There were at least two rings before Starsky began to climb up into wakefulness again; he knew that because the sound registered far before awareness of his body did.
He fumbled for the phone, connecting tongue to brain with effort in order to form a coherent "Hello."
That woke him up, and he was shoving himself upright on the couch. "Ma? You okay?" It wasn't Friday, and calls from her any other time were for a reason other than just catching up.
"Sure, sure, I'm fine, Davey. But how are you?"
Starsky frowned, missing something. "I'm fine, Ma. What's goin' on?" Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he realized that rain was pelting the window in front of him with the force and clatter of hail pellets. When had that started?
"Does something have to be 'going on' for a mother to call her son?"
His attention went back to the phone. "Ma..." he said more sternly.
"I've been worried about you," his mother said abruptly, as embarrassed as she was defiant.
Starsky sighed. "Ma, I'm fine." He'd never told her about Simon, but with the shape he'd been in that first Friday when she'd called, it hadn't taken her long to figure out something had happened. "I'm just tired. We had a long day today."
"So you're back at work again." The words were soft.
"Where else would I be?" He'd grown expert at avoiding the questions, for what good that did against mothers' instincts.
There was silence for a moment, and Starsky could feel his sleep-reduced tension level slowly begin to rise again. He knew what was coming, the same thing he'd been hearing particularly non-stop since Marcus.
"Ma, please, don't start," he begged quietly.
"Don't start what, that I'm worried about you? I can't help it, you know that. That job took your father from me and now it's also going to take you--"
"Ma!" It came out too sharply. Starsky moderated his voice. "Ma, this doesn't help anything. Pop loved what he did and I do, too." Most of the time, anyway. Not so much in the past few weeks, but she didn't have to know that. "Please leave it alone."
"Davey..." A heavy sigh. "I don't want to lose you, too."
Starsky shut his eyes; he really didn't need this now. "Ma, please," he whispered.
"Just think about it, Davela, that's all I ask. Your Uncle Al could give you a job at his car place, or if you wanted to come back home--"
"Fine, Ma, I'll think about it," Starsky cut in, starting to get angry despite himself. He couldn't begrudge his mother the worry, not with his--not to mention his father's--track record, but her relentless pushing when she knew he didn't want to quit or leave just wore him down. "I have to go, Ma."
"I love you, Davela."
"I love you, too."
She hung up, and Starsky dropped the receiver back on the phone, feeling even more tired than when he'd fallen asleep. Why did she do that to him when...
Starsky's head came up, eyes narrowing at the rain that pattered hard against the dark window. He had fallen asleep, long enough that late afternoon had turned into evening and a storm had started up. So where was Hutch? Still out there in an icy January flood? He turned his gaze to the clock. Seven-thirty nine?! Over an hour had passed since he'd fallen asleep...
Something was wrong.
He felt as cold inside as the rain all of a sudden, and sleep departed in the rush of fear as Starsky sprang up off the couch and dashed around the room pulling his shoes and jacket on. Maybe he just didn't want to go out in the rain so he's still at the store? So why didn't he call? Unless I slept through it. The other option was that something really was wrong, and he didn't even want to think about that.
Keys next, and his Smith & Wesson as an afterthought, shoved into his holster with vehemence. He prayed hard he wouldn't need it, but Starsky was taking no more chances. And then he flung the door open, the rain instantly stinging his face and soaking his hair. Almost blinding him to what was right before his eyes.
The soaked figure was at the bottom of the stairs in a loose huddle, blond hair darkened and plastered to its scalp like a second skin.
"Hutch," the brunet moaned, and then clattered wildly down the steps, nearly slipping on the last one as he crouched by his partner. "Hutch?" he repeated more insistently, one hand already sliding under the drooping head both to check pulse and lift the chin a little.
The blue eyes were open, trying to blink rain water away to see him, and Starsky leaned forward a little to provide cover from the downpour. "Starsk, 'm c-cold." Hutch's jaw was rigidly clamped against the chill but speaking made his teeth clack together.
"I bet," Starsky sympathized, nodding. Hutch wasn't even wearing his coat for some reason, and even Starsky was already feeling chilled himself as the icy water drenched his clothes. Together with the gale winds, it made a freezer seem cozy. Maybe California didn't have snowy winters, but it could make up for the cold in other ways.
He measured up the pitiful blond, heartbeat too fast but strong and eyes clear. A quick first aid check had detected no obvious injury, either, and all of Hutch's limbs seemed to be moving okay. Worry no longer paralyzed Starsky, but it was still a pretty strong force.
"Can I getcha inside or should I call for help?"
For answer, Hutch only grabbed on to his arm and pulled, trying to use the leverage to rise. He lacked the strength to do it, no doubt the same reason he'd not come up the steps to the door, and Starsky eased an arm around him and half-lifted his partner up. That brought a wince but nothing worse, and he moved slowly so as not to push the blond beyond what his body could take. The biggest problem seemed to be the alarmingly severe shudders of cold that threatened to shake Hutch right out of his arms, but at least he was still shivering. The stillness of advanced hypothermia would have been even worse, Starsky knew.
Still, the trip up the stairs was no joy. He kept telling himself that it was cold and weakness that bowed his drunken partner against him, and not something worse, but that left unanswered the question of how Hutch had gotten like that in the first place, in the approximately two hours he'd been gone. Nor did it explain the pained breaths and the way Hutch seemed to be guarding his middle. Common sense demanded professional assistance, but common sense wasn't always the answer for the two of them, not when the physical was just one part of care.
He'd left the door wide open at least, soaking the carpet just inside but mercifully letting him go right in with his full hands, and that was what mattered. Starsky gave the door a kick shut behind him, closing out the cold and sleeted rain except for what had already seeped through and taken hold of his waterlogged partner. The splatter of ice against the side of the house became inconsequential background noise.
Only two steps in, Hutch's knees gave out, perhaps with awareness that he was safe now, and Starsky just went down to the floor with him. He needed to do a more complete check before they went any further to make sure Hutch didn't need help, anyway.
He's so cold! It was impossible not to think it, Hutch's hands completely devoid of any human warmth and constricted into frozen claws. One was clumsily tangled into Starsky's wet shirt in an effort to hold on despite uncooperative fingers. There were slivers of ice in the wet blond hair, and his face was blue and white bleached except for a bruise on the right cheek that, drained of blood from the cold, was only slightly darker. Corpses often looked more alive, except they didn't convulse like this, so hard that it almost seemed like a seizure.
The bruise, though not appearing serious, confirmed his suspicions. "Hutch, I need to know if you're hurt anywhere," Starsky said firmly, trying to hold his partner close to warm him and keep him from shaking apart while at the same time trying to gauge his condition.
"They hit ya in the stomach?" It was hard to undo the buttons of the clinging shirt when its wearer was vibrating so badly, but he had to see.
Starsky frowned, unsure what that meant, but he kept working at the buttons with his own stiff fingers, finally giving them up as a lost cause and jerking the shirt free of the slacks. Hutch sneezed, then moaned, turning his head into Starsky's wet shoulder in a futile attempt to find heat.
"We'll getcha warm in a second, Hutch," Starsky promised as he lifted his arm enough to support the blond head in the crook of his elbow. Then he felt gently along the bruised ribs with his free hand. Nothing damaged that he could feel, though the bruises indicated more than one blow.
Well, there seemed to be no injury to the head nor signs of internal bleeding, and for now Starsky would chance the rest. First priority was warmth, at any rate.
"Help me out here if you can, huh, buddy?" he grunted as he pulled the blond upright on shaky legs and this time headed for the bathroom. Hutch was about as stable as a newborn lamb, but at least he seemed to be tracking what was going on and was trying to help.
Still, reaching the bathroom was a mercy, and Starsky blew out a breath in relief as he plopped his wet partner on the closed toilet seat. He had to keep his shoulder propped against Hutch to keep the blond from toppling or curling over, and struggled to strip off one chilled, adhering layer of clothing after another. The sopping clothes were tossed into a corner to be dealt with later, and Starsky only paused once to stretch over to the tub's faucet and start the hot water running. Otherwise he kept at the frozen clothing with equally frozen fingers until everything was off and he manhandled his partner into the filling tub.
At this point, Starsky would have left to afford his partner some privacy, except Hutch was still shaking and unsteady enough that drowning didn't seem wholly inconceivable. Until the blond could string together more than two words and do it without stuttering, Starsky wasn't about to go. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and settled on the tile next to the tub, one hand firmly holding onto Hutch's arm and the other reaching to gently massage frigidity out of fingers and toes.
It took longer than he would've thought for the warmth to seep in, but then, Hutch had had plenty of time to get cold, too. Finally, pale pink started to infuse the pellucid cheeks and lips, replacing the blue of frost, and muscles frozen rigid and spasming with cold began to limber up. Hutch's teeth still chattered, but that just made Starsky grin as the idea began to sink in that any potential danger was past.
"So what happened?" he finally asked when he thought his partner could get an answer out. "You just decided to take a walk in the freezin' rain?" His voice was a gentle tease.
Starsky's face darkened. "I think we should take you to the hospital, buddy--"
But Hutch was shaking his head, the movements still jerky and half-thawed. "'M okay, r-really, S-s-starsk." He made a face at the stutter, and Starsky nearly smiled again. "Th-three of 'em s-started in on me...got aw-way before it got b-bad."
Bad--like this is good? Starsky's frown grew deeper. "That's how ya lost your coat," he realized.
"B-better than my s-s-skin." A particularly hard shiver shook him and he moaned, trying to brace himself against Starsky's hand and the bathtub.
The water had already begun to cool and would soon do more harm than good. Starsky didn't let go his grip but stretched to reach the towel rack hanging on the wall. "Out you go," he said lightly, and a minute later he had one lean, shivering blond enshrouded in towels.
Hutch stammered on, either ignoring or not noticing as Starsky worked, not fully himself yet. "W-worked me over a l-little, p-pushed me into a r-railing." Ah, that answered one of Starsky's questions. "Couldn't handle th-three of 'em...th-thought they were gonna k-kill me."
Starsky clenched his jaw a little tighter.
"Th-then it s-s-started r-raining." Even dried off, he was shivering harder as the lingering moisture evaporated off his skin, and Starsky hustled him immediately into the bedroom, pushing him down onto the edge of the bed before he fetched his warmest pair of sweats and started helping his partner into them. Hutch tried to cooperate but his sluggishness and lack of coordination almost hindered more than it helped.
"Go on," Starsky said quietly.
Hutch shivered hard again, his whole face constricting as the hard motion pulled at bruised muscles. Starsky cringed but carried on, knowing he had to finish what he was doing before he had any hope of warming up the blond. Another quick brainstorm, and he broke off for a moment to dig out some thick wool socks and worked a pair over the cold feet, then another pair on top of that.
"Warmin' up? It'll start t'feel better in a minute," he promised, going back to the shirt he was trying to get Hutch into before he pulled on the sweatshirt. Layers would help trap what warmth his partner had left. Another hard tremor. "I thought you were the one with Nordic blood," Starsky fussed, trying to distract.
"Th-thought I could make it home. It got so c-cold." Hutch's voice dropped on the last word, and this time Starsky shivered.
"You shoulda called me," he softly chided instead, finally managing to get the sweatshirt on. Starsky stood, triumphant. "There. Couch or bed?"
"Couch. S-sorry, S-starsk, didn't know if they were coming after me. H-hurt a little t'walk but I thought I could make it."
"'Til you got t'the steps." Starsky sighed. He didn't want to even think about what could have happened if he'd slept on into the night. And happening on his front doorstep, no less.
Anyway, the unpleasant thoughts could wait. He got Hutch to his feet and back out into the living room, the blond's steps steadier now, if still slow and a little wooden. On the way, Starsky paused at the linen closet and snagged the thick quilt Hutch had once given him, and wrapped it securely around his friend before he allowed Hutch to settle back against the couch.
"Tea, coffee, or hot chocolate?"
"Tea." The stutter was nearly gone, Hutch looking almost himself again despite the damp hair and tired blue eyes.
"Comin' up." Starsky detoured into the kitchen on the way to the bedroom, putting on the kettle to heat before he finally stripped off his own wet clothes and also changed into something shapeless and warm. The sneeze from the living room wasn't wholly unexpected, and he added another side trip into the bathroom for a box of tissues before returning to the kitchen.
Should call the station, he mused as he gathered tea supplies. Put an APB out on the turkeys, maybe get some mugbooks for Hutch t'look at... But a glance into the living room showed the blond head was already sagging in exhaustion, occasional shivers jerking it up again before sleep could really settle. Starsky couldn't bring himself to do it, not that night. Chances were the guys had already gone to ground in the rain, anyway, and tracking them down could wait just as easily for the next day. This was a time for rest and recovery, and gratitude that it hadn't been worse. They'd been through the same drill not that long before.
Starsky shook his head impatiently at the reminder and gathered up the two mugs to take into the living room.
Hutch was, indeed, already nodding off, but roused with a tired smile for Starsky at his friend's return. Starsky settled in next to him, adding the proximity of body heat for good measure even though Hutch looked nearly warmed now, and they drank their tea in comfortable peace.
"Sorry about dinner." This time it was fatigue rather than cold that slightly slurred the words, but at least Hutch was more alert now, brain seemingly no longer numbed.
Starsky shrugged. "'S okay, I'm not hungry. You?"
"Prob'ly tomorrow; not now." Hutch yawned expansively. "Don't think I'm gonna make it home t'night, Starsk," he murmured.
His mug was tilting dangerously and Starsky saved it before Hutch could dump what was left in it into his own lap.
Starsky smiled fondly at the half-asleep words as the blond head slid down to rest against his shoulder. Then sobered a little as he carefully checked for fever or chills both against Hutch's unbruised cheek and his one exposed hand. Perhaps a slight fever, nothing dangerous. Sleep would be the best thing for him.
Ice was still pelting the window, but benignly now, reminding Starsky of their safety within and adding to the coziness of the warm room. He sipped his tea and stared out into the darkness.
A random attack. The chances of Hutch's car being out of commission, of his deciding not to take the Torino but walk to the market instead, of leaving when he did: a whole collection of conditions that led up to a mugging that could have cost Hutch his life. In the dangers of their work, sometimes it was easy to forget the randomness of life in general.
Hutch stirred against his shoulder and Starsky absently patted the blond head in reassurance, his fingers sliding through the drying strands of hair, separating them with gentle touch. There was nothing he could do to protect those he loved from Life; Starsky had learned that hard lesson when he'd seen his father bleed and die. And his friends in the rice fields of southeast Asia, and a former girlfriend in a hospital bed. Starsky loved his job, he really did, even with all its dangers. But risk existed with or without a badge.
His mother had missed the point. It was this, Starsky thought, closing his eyes so all he knew was the warm weight on his shoulder and the feel of the cornsilk hair and the sound of the frozen rain. This was what made it worthwhile, what made the difference. Moments like this, friends like this, that would always be there no matter what God had in store for them. Not even the Simon Marcus' of the world could destroy that.
Hutch was deeply under now, breathing slow and steady, hardly stirring at all as Starsky gently slid out from underneath him and settled him more comfortably horizontally on the couch. A pillow took the place of his shoulder, and he added the afghan off the couch for good measure, knowing Hutch would kick it off in the night when he was completely warmed through. He studied the sleeping face a moment longer, looking for any subtle sign of discomfort or distress, but there was none. Greater peace than that of sleep smoothed the lines of tension from his partner's face. Maybe the exhaustion of the night's ordeal would banish nightmares for them both this time.
Giving a satisfied nod, Starsky turned off the lights and retreated to his bedroom, and the phone there.
It was answered on the third ring; he'd forgotten the time difference to New York. But his mother's voice didn't sound sleepy as she answered. "Hello?"
"Ma?" Starsky relaxed at the sound of her, and the certainty of what he was going to say. He finally believed it, and he'd make his mother believe it, too. "I was thinkin' about what you've been sayin' about my work. But you know what happened to Hutch tonight?..."
Written in 1999