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It's All In A Name
"My partner's filled in plenty."
For the first time in almost nine years, Starsky used those words and was not referring to the blond man in the hospital bed. Starsky was gone in a flash, but his parting words hung in the air, pressing down on the injured officer.
Hutch gazed around the now-empty hospital room - empty but for its one occupant. He wondered why he hadn't noticed up until this moment how depressingly decorated and painted the peach-colored room was.
The latch on the heavy wooden door clicked. "Sorry, Detective Hutchinson," the nurse remarked. "Forgot my towel." All the previous flirtation was gone from her voice, as if it had been a mere performance put on for the dark-haired man's benefit. She grabbed the damp piece of cloth from the table beside the bed and left the room without another word, her only good-bye a forlorn click of the latch.
"Alone again, naturally," Hutch said to himself in a quiet voice. He knew he was wallowing, hated the way it felt, but the schism between him and the rest of the world just kept getting bigger. He looked across the room out the window, wishing he was on the ground floor where he could see people and cars instead of way up here, staring at the clouds.
"Maybe..." he started, his face brightening. He rolled to his right, away from the injured shoulder, ignoring the pain the motion forced to flare there. His right hand reached to the lower shelf on the stand, straining for the item the nurse had confiscated earlier.
"It'll disturb the patient!" She had reprimanded Starsky, grabbing the item.
"No it won't!" Hutch grabbed the item from her, and she seemed surprised at his returning dexterity.
"Then it'll disturb other patients!" She pried it from Hutch's hand, this time placing it out of reach on the shelf he now grasped for. After several moments of strained reaching, a smile of victory told of his success. His right hand now thoroughly occupied, he used the elbow of the same arm to leverage himself back into place as his left shoulder flared again. He stared at the battery-powered scanner for just a moment, then flicked it on, doing his best to keep the volume low. No need to get caught now!
"Thank you, Starsk!" he said as he tuned it to the police frequency. He couldn't be out there, but at least he could still feel a part of it! The speaker came to life suddenly, and once in action, very rarely was silenced. Hutch lay in bed for the next half hour, listening to the units check in, report arrests, call for backup, and check on driver's licenses. He was actually enjoying the audio-only performances when the speaker suddenly took his undivided attention with Starsky's firm, on-duty voice.
"Zebra Three to Control."
"Control here, Zebra Three"
"Please run a check on license #BZ2794. It appears on a off-white sedan which was just seen delivering a stolen television to a buyer. Lemme know what you find out. My partner and I will be checking it out."
For a moment, the radio painted a picture in Hutch's mind - Starsky and Meredith, sitting side-by-side in the Torino. Meredith slapping the red light on the roof, as he'd always done. Meredith taking over radio duties when Starsky was too distracted in driving, as had always been Hutch's duty.
Suddenly Hutch had heard enough, the smile he'd been wearing falling flat. He switched off the scanner and laid it aside, sliding down under the covers with weariness. The doctors kept saying that he needed a lot of rest, so he'd just appease them. He hit the switch near the bed, and the lights in the room abruptly shut off. The blond man closed each eye softly, no longer wanted to see or hear the outside world. "I don't have a place there, anyway," he mumbled as he fell asleep.
Starsky and Meredith exchanged toothy smiles as he called in the plate number, unaware or uncaring of their public eavesdropper. He held their position a respectable distance behind the car they were following.
"So," Meredith started. "Did you have a nice visit with your partner?" She wanted to distract him, and also distract herself from the attraction she felt when they were this close. Bringing Hutch into the conversation, she felt, was a sure-fire way.
"Yeah, I guess. Uneventful. We talked about the case over a basket of fruit and a razor."
"The nurse was giving him a shave - he can't do it himself, you know. That kid really messed up his left shoulder and arm. At least with him being right-handed he can still do a lot of things for himself. It'd drive him nuts if he had to sit and do nothing at all!" It never occurred to the curly haired man that his parting comment had hit the blond like a baseball bat in the gut. He didn't have a single clue to the mood it had left Hutch in.
"He is going to be all right, though, isn't he?" She seemed genuinely concerned for his best friend, and Starsky felt the warmth surge into his chest again.
"One thing about Hutch - you can never keep him down long. He'll be fine in a few weeks." He saw her face fall slightly, and knew immediately it was at the impending end of their pairing. Our professional pairing, at least. He suddenly realized they'd both been distracted, not watching closely the vehicle they were tailing. "Listen, beautiful, we'd better put this conversation on hold until we get through with this. Can't afford to lose this snake now!"
She nodded her lovely face in agreement, and Starsky's eyes once again centered exclusively on the road and the sedan ahead of them.
Evening visiting hours came and went at L.A. County Hospital, but the officer in Room 515 remained the solitary human presence in the room. At the beginning of the time, the nurses, feeling sorry for the patient, made attempts to pay extra attention to the blond, bringing him juice, magazines, pillows, whatever they could think of. But their efforts went unrewarded by the handsome detective as he grew increasingly difficult to deal with. His mood seemed to abruptly vacillate between anger and depression.
It came on suddenly, and the nurses were very prudent in reporting the change to Hutch's doctors. They checked him and found that, although he did seem to be in more discomfort than he had before, he was fine - "coming along nicely" they told him. "It's okay," the doctor reported to the nursing staff as they gathered in the hall outside the officer's room. "Victims, especially police officers, often experience depression after an on-the-job injury. He'll get over it in short order." He took Hutch's medical pad from one of the white-clad women standing nearby and scrawled a few notes over the front of the report. "Give him these sedatives to help him sleep - he needs the rest to help him heal. When he wakes up, if he seems to be in pain, you can give him these." He again used the pen on the chart. "The wound hasn't healed quite as much as I'd hoped, but it's getting there. " He handed the pad back to the nurse and went on his way.
All the nurses and aids agreed to take turns caring for the ornery patient, excepting one frightened little candy striper who nearly shivered at the prospect of facing the man again. Finally, one particularly brave lady went into the lion's den and administered the man his sleeping pills. It actually went easier than she thought, since he seemed to be in the "depression" stage of his sing-song rotation. He seemed almost resigned, and eagerly took the pills that would lead him to a deep and dreamless sleep.
The ringing telephone jarred Hutch, who lay in bed deep in thought. He lifted the receiver with his right hand, jarring and shifting the tender left shoulder as little as possible. After he'd awoken this morning, the nursing staff had given him some strong painkillers. The world was still slightly fuzzy from their aftereffects, but he could feel the ache in his shoulder beginning to grow once again.
"Hutchinson, this is Dobey. Is Starsky there?"
"No, he's not around." Hutch kept his voice level, not saying what he wanted to say. What makes you think he'd be here. He's got better things to do. He's probably out with his partner having a great day at work!
"Meredith and he haven't been heard from since this morning."
"Well, they didn't report in?"
"Didn't I just say that?! "
"Well... ahhhh... maybe they're over at his place or something. Why don't you check?"
"Who do you think you're talkin' to, some punk rookie?! You know this call to you was absolutely unnecessary?" And the receiver slammed down in Hutch's ear.
That's me - absolutely unnecessary. At least to Starsky anyway. But maybe not, just one more time. The ache in his shoulder grew to sharp, twisting pain as he rose from the bed, doing his best to stay on his feet once he got there.
He walked, now more steadily, to the closet in the room and pulled open the door. The only things that hung there were the clothes he'd had on when he was shot. The robe was thrown across the foot of his bed, and no one had thought to bring him any clean clothes. "These'll have to do," he said under his breath. He painfully pulled at the hospital gown, doing his best to remove it without jarring the sling too much. He was amazed the shirt, jeans, and jacket were each still in one piece - it wouldn't have been the first time that emergency personnel had shredded perfectly good clothes in their haste to remove them. Getting on the shirt and jacket was sheer torture, and he was amazed at how difficult it was to button and zip the jeans with only one hand.
A fleeting thought flew through his mind to call a nurse for help, but he remonstrated himself a moment later, knowing they'd never let him leave the hospital to look for his errant partner. He finally secured the button and metal teeth, then took a careful look out the door before nonchalantly walking through the hallway, down the elevator, and out the front door. Every person he passed seemed to stair at him, and it took him awhile to figure out that they were looking at the huge red spot that adorned the front of the jacket and shirt. Some looked on in horror, seemingly amazed that the wounded man was walking, but he didn't want to take the time to explain it to these strangers.
He reached for his back pocket, confirming the presence of his wallet there, then flagged down a cab and ordered the driver to take him to headquarters.
Hutch felt a faint sense of satisfaction at being able to charge in and save the day - just like in those old movies Starsky loves so much. However, he wasn't greeted with the same revelry as those heroes always were.
"Who let you out?" Was the blond officer imagining things, or was Starsky's tone faintly accusatory? Hutch did his best to control the spasmodic pumping of his chest as he leaned against the wall, trying to catch his breath. Feel so weak!
"We figured you might need some help," he finally managed to get out between panting breaths.
"We were doing all right," Starsky responded with a slightly crooked half-grin. Dobey charged into the room at this moment, taking in the entire scene.
"You okay?" he asked Hutch, who still relied on the wall for the support to stand.
"Yeah, I'm okay. You okay?" Hutch turned to the man still tied to a chair.
"I'm okay." Starsky's bindings allowed him to turn only his head to look at Meredith. "You okay, partner?"
"Fine," she responded.
Starsky's smile widened to stretch ear-to-ear. "Yeah, you are." Hutch's faint smile faded at Starsky's use of the word once again. Then he silently looked on as the two officers, still in restraints, exchanged the happiest of looks.
How long has it been since Starsky and I have looked that content together. He knew there'd been more than the average number of arguments lately, and began to examine exactly where they came from. He thought back to the day of the shooting, the aborted ride home and his side of the conversation they'd had.
"Awe, come on, Starsky. After twelve hours of shuffling paperwork in that office - gimme a break!" His response to Starsky asking him to pick a color.
"Sure you did!" He remembered his sarcastic tone when Starsky claimed he knew Hutch would choose blue.
"C'mon, Starsky - I'm tired. I don't wanna play this game!"
"No, this time you're gonna tell me," his tone impatient.
"You're qualified to do nothing but commit yourself."
"No kidding!" in a sarcastic, almost insulting tone.
"Well, you need all the help you can get, pal," regarding his friend's success with women.
I brought this on myself! It's no wonder he doesn't want to be partners with me any more. I've been miserable lately, and he just didn't have the heart to tell me he wanted to break up the team! He swore to himself he'd work on his mood, show Starsky that he was worth having as a partner again.
"Hey, Hutch!" Starsky shouted into the blond's staring eyes. "Hutch!" The voice brought Hutch back into the dingy room they were in, and he looked Starsky directly into his baby-blues. "You wanna untie me, pal?"
"Oh, sorry," Hutch mumbled, and kneeled behind the chair to work on the knots. Untying them one handed was difficult, and by the time Starsky was free Dobey had already freed Meredith. Starsky jumped from the chair, shaking every limb to restore circulation.
"Let's get outta here," Dobey commented. "The uniformed officers can clean up the mess." Officers had already taken away the suspects, and Dobey, Meredith, and Starsky took quick steps heading for the door.
Hutch, however, stood slowly, rising from the kneeling position next to the chair. He made to follow, and had taken three steps, when the room began to swim and he found himself unceremoniously plopped to the floor. By the time the three detectives had rushed back to his side, he'd lost consciousness completely.
Starsky put a hand on Hutch's face, expecting to find fever but not finding any. He gently lifted the shirt and sling away from the bandage at his shoulder and found the white gauze beneath colored in red.
"Damn!" he exclaimed. "Bleeding's started again!"
"I'll call an ambulance," Dobey proclaimed. Meredith apparently decided to tag along, because they both left the room.
"Hutch!" Starsky tapped lightly on the blond's cheek, trying to bring him around. "C'mon, Hutch, wake up!" A quiet moan escaped the lips, but he showed no other sign of coming around. Starsky lowered himself next to the prone figure, keeping vigil until the ambulance arrived to take him back to the hospital. "I knew you shouldn't've been out!" he admonished the unhearing man.
It was cold. The chill seeped through his body, deep into the very marrow of his bones. Where am I? The smell was strange, yet not unfamiliar - one he'd only sensed occasionally. He felt light on his closed eyelids and hesitantly cracked one open. In the restricted view this allowed, the only thing he could see was the color white. White, but from where? His mouth moved a few times, but he was still too groggy to get out the words. The eye opened further and the matching blue one followed suit, just in time to see that the white was the shirt of an ambulance attendant, backing away from where he'd been leaned over the patient.
"Yeah, Frank," he said to his partner, "looks like that IV is helping to bring him outta shock. Whew! That was close for a few minutes there!" He looked down and finally noticed that their patient had awakened. "Well, good morning, Officer Hutchinson. Glad to have you back with us." Hutch's eyes darted back and forth within his field of vision, checking the faces of everyone around, searching for one in particular. His ability to speak seemingly returned as he realized he wasn't finding the face he wanted.
"Before Meredith, he never would've let me ride alone." The two paramedics looked at each other, puzzled. "I guess it's really over." He began to sink back, no longer wanting to contemplate a life without his best friend as part of it.
"Hey, Detective! C'mon, stay awake!" But the blond man had already closed his eyes and given in to the depressing emptiness he was feeling.
"Hey!" A voice called from the front of the ambulance, riding in the passenger side. "Don't forget, you promised to call me as soon as he wakes up!"
"Sorry, Detective Starsky. He woke up for a few seconds, looked around, mumbled something about 'Meredith' and something being 'over' and fell back to sleep."
"Over? What'd he mean by that?"
"I don't know, Detective. But he's gonna be all right. You can ask him when he wakes up the next time."
Hutch was totally silent for the rest of the ride to the hospital. The doctor in the ER checked his wound as soon as the gurney rolled through the double doors. Starsky had affixed himself to the edge of the rolling bed. This time, they're not gonna keep me away!
Starsky watched as the doctors started a pint of blood dripping into his partners arm and sutured up the hole where Hutch had pulled out the stitches. He couldn't help still being afraid because Hutch hadn't awoken. "Why isn't he awake yet?"
"I don't know, officer. There's nothing in the IV but whole blood, and I only used a local anesthetic for the wound. His blood pressure is leveling off and there aren't any signs left of his being in shock. I simply don't know why he's not awake." The doctor, who was unfamiliar to the dark haired officer, looked worried and puzzled - a combination that terrified Starsky.
"What happens now?"
"There's a bed free, so I'm going to have him moved to intensive care. His physical condition isn't that critical, but I want to be sure he's closely watched. He shouldn't be unconscious, and once he gets some rest and this blood packet, he should be fine. We'll just have to wait and see."
"I wanna stay with him!"
"Well, it's not normally allowed, but considering the circumstances... Okay."
An orderly seemingly appeared from nowhere and began releasing the brakes on the rolling bed. "I really don't understand it," the doctor went on. "It's like he's just given up."
"No, it can't be that. Hutch's never given up on anything in his life. At least, not without a hell of a fight!"
"I don't know, then."
Starsky took up the pace beside the bed as it rolled, the doctor also keeping time on the opposite side. "D'ya think he can hear me?"
"It's hard to say. Some people think unconscious people can. Others disagree. It certainly can't hurt to try, though."
Over the next four days, coming to the Intensive Care Ward became as regular an occurrence for Starsky as tying his sneakers in the morning. After the first day, Dobey had insisted he get back to work, knowing as well as the officer himself that he needed something to keep himself busy - to keep his mind off his unconscious partner.
As for the blond himself, he had the doctors totally stumped. They checked every vital sign, performed every test, but were unable to find any reason for Hutch to still be unconscious. If it weren't for the fact that he was still asleep, he would have been released days before.
Starsky adopted the habit of stopping to see Hutch after work, and staying until the nurses and doctors insisted he leave. He talked to his partner, giving him the rundown of the day's events: cases he and Meredith handled, bad guys they'd arrested, funny things they saw or did. He somehow felt that if he could get Hutch interested - really interested - in some specific point he made, then Hutch would be able to grab onto the tenuous thread and pull himself back to the world of the living. Meredith never came along, knowing that this was time the two needed together.
On the fifth night, he visited Hutch as always, keeping up his continuous end of the conversation. "Boy, Hutch, you shoulda seen Fat Rolly. I think he figured he'd be free to do whatever he wanted with only one of us on the streets, but Meredith really set him straight in a hurry. He was so scared - I held it in 'til we got outside, then laughed all the way back to headquarters!"
He waited for the laugh to come - the soft, white-toothed laugh he wanted to hear most - but it didn't come. The room remained silent, the only sound being the monitors they'd hooked up to Hutch when they'd exhausted all efforts to awaken him.
The dark-haired man stood gently, approaching the side of the bed. Hutch looked so peaceful lying there - maybe this was a better way to live than all the hurting they put up with. No! This is no way to live! He reached gentle, well-manicured fingers to Hutch's forehead, pushing aside a strand of hair that had fallen over his eyes. "C'mon, Hutch. It's been five days!! You've gotta come back now. We need you - the department needs you! Hell, I need you!!!"
Starsky started to pace the room, suddenly full of energy he felt would burst through every vein if he didn't move. Along with the pacing, words flowed. He wasn't sure where they were going, or what he was trying to say for certain. He just knew he needed to talk just as much as he needed to move.
"Look, I know things have been pretty lousy lately, and I know you've been feeling kinda down about our job in general. But this is no way to deal with it! I could tell you weren't happy - I couldn't blame you for the snaps and the sarcastic comments." He turned to the blond figure in the bed, and his tone became softer and gentler. "If you don't wanna be a cop anymore, fine! We can quit the force. And if you don't want to be around me any more - I know I drive you crazy sometimes - then I can drop out, too. But please don't deal with it like this!" The last two words caught in his throat, and he fought the fogginess that came to his eyes. "Even if you never want to see me again, I can't stand to see you do it this way!"
Starsky wasn't sure at what point he decided that Hutch was consciously or subconsciously intentionally staying unconscious, but he felt certain that that was the answer. He plopped back into the bedside chair, picking up the blond's limp hand in the process. "C'mon, Hutch, please come back!" He felt a single tear on his cheek, and knew it was reflected in his voice. Starsky was tired - so tired from fighting like this. Worse yet, he felt like he was losing the struggle, with Hutch's life hanging in the balance. He slumped his shoulders, resting his forehead on the edge of the bed. He swore to himself he wasn't going to let another tear fall - was ashamed of the one that had. It wasn't "cool" or "macho" or any of those other words that men today were supposed to be.
He was so wrapped up in his thoughts, he didn't feel the bed tremble slightly. The prone figure in the bed shifted slightly, the head rolling from side to side twice. Then the blue eyes, first experimentally, opened and closed and opened again. "Starsk," the blond muttered weekly, and the dark head shot up amazingly fast.
Starsky was about to question him - ask Hutch if he had, indeed, called him. But it wasn't necessary as the weak eyes met his own in the silent communication they'd shared for years. "Boy, am I glad to see you, partner! You had me really worried!"
"Are you sure about that, Starsk?" Hutch licked his dry lips, giving Starsky time to think about his question. He didn't have to think long.
"What d'ya mean by that crack! Of course I'm glad!" The smile he'd adopted at Hutch's awakening had turned into a frown of puzzlement. "What is going on in that mind of yours, buddy?"
"Didn't think you'd want me around any more - a broken down old cop - when you could have a beautiful new partner permanently. I wouldn't want to get in the way of you and your new partner."
A light came on in Starsky's mind at the emphasis Hutch had put on the word "partner". "What, are you afraid I'm going to trade you in on a younger, better looking model?" He laughed at the attempted joke, then cut it short when the blond failed to join in. "What?"
"Yes," Hutch said quietly. "That's exactly what I'm afraid of."
"Awe, Hutch," Starsky said sadly, retaking the seat he'd risen from moments ago. "You don't ever have to worry about that!"
"It's just... it's just that... well, you and Meredith," he grimaced slightly, "seemed to be the new dynamic duo. And I don't want to be the one in the shadows playing 'Alfred the Butler'."
"I can't believe after all these years you think I'd do that! Yes, Meredith is a great cop, and yes, I enjoyed working with her, and yes, I'm attracted to her immensely. But she could never be a better partner than you, buddy. And even if she was, which she's not, I don't think I could be partnered with her on a permanent basis. So you'd just better get better, partner. I need you at my back out on those streets!"
Hutch seemed somehow rejuvenated at Starsky's speech, and immediately began raising himself to a sitting position. His smile returned, thin though it was, and he seemed genuinely happy. "Wait a minute!" He adopted a new, mischievous expression - one that Starsky had feared he wouldn't see again. "I thought you liked Meredith. Why wouldn't you want to be her partner?" The conversation had turned, and the tone was once again as it had been before the shooting and Meredith.
"Well, it's gone a little further than being partners on the job. I don't think I could be very effective as a cop or as a lover if I had to split my attention between my worry over her and the danger of the position. I'd end up getting myself killed trying to pay attention to everything at once."
"Oh, I see. And you don't worry about me, huh?" His tone was jaunting, taking the sting out of his words.
"Well, partner. I know you can usually take care of yourself. After all, you're a big strong macho-man. Meredith is a foot smaller than you and fifty pounds lighter. We both know that even with all the self-defense training in the world, she couldn't beat some of the toughs we've come up against!"
"I know, partner. I know. And she must be something really special for you to care like this." Both men were relieved to have the air cleared and the pair reunited. They were finally back to their old selves, and Hutch began to itch to get back on the streets.
The nurse who came in to extricate Starsky was surprised to see the blond sitting up in bed, eagerly talking with his partner. She alerted the doctor, who informed Hutch that he could be released the next day, as soon as they performed some tests to make sure he was completely recovered. Both men knew the tests would come back fine, and were prepared when the final results were brought down the next day.
The meeting in the Captain's office the following day was relaxed, and he was mildly surprised that he didn't feel the same threat from Meredith as he had before. Even when Starsky kidded about requesting her "the next time my partner gets shot," he felt secure in his position there, and even faintly admired his partners choice in women. She is beautiful! Maybe she and Starsk will work something out.