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"You really don't have to do this," Ken Hutchinson said to his partner as the brunet settled in at the opposite end of the couch.
"Yes, I do," David Starsky mumbled, studying the blond, who was uncharacteristically curled up in the corner on the cushions. Hutch's bravado was back in full force, but he couldn't miss the shadow in his blue eyes. It was just as strong and intense as it had been 45 minutes ago when Starsky had walked in the door. There was no way he was about to leave his best friend alone. What had happened only a little while ago was still too fresh in his mind.
Hoping to convince Hutch to go out to get a bite to eat after all, Starsky tried calling from the front desk at the precinct, but had only gotten a busy signal. Well, if he was energetic enough to be on the phone, maybe he wasn't too tired to go out...provided Starsky badgered him enough.
After trying unsuccessfully to get through two more times, Starsky decided to head over to Venice Place. At the very least, maybe they could order something in. Starsky hated eating alone, and ever since he'd discovered the wonderful world of the female of the species and then joined forces with Hutch, he'd had to do very little of it. Between the two, he very rarely had to eat by himself.
Upon arriving, he'd been surprised to find Hutch, out of breath and panting, sitting in the exact spot where he sat now. He noticed the telephone lying off the hook on the floor and the glass shards lying near it, but as he bounded through the door, Hutch didn't react to his presence. "What's goin' on?" Starsky asked worriedly. Other than the pumping of the blond's chest, he made no move.
"Hey," Starsky said, coming up behind his friend and laying a hand on his shoulder. Hutch flinched visibly under his touch and jerked around to look at him. Apparently, he'd been in shock enough that he hadn't even heard Starsky come into the room. What the hell is going on around here? "Hey, it's okay. It's only me."
Hutch quickly hooded his eyes, but not before Starsky saw the blatant terror there. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen that look of pure horror - there was no intelligence there at all. "Hutch, what's wrong?"
Hutch had gone on to tell him, slowly allowing himself to be pulled out of his state. By the time Starsky picked up the brick, he was almost back to normal. All but that haunting shadow... Starsky was so concerned about his partner that he hadn't even considered the matter of finger prints before he examined the projectile that had broken Hutch's window.
"It's really no big deal," Hutch tried to convince him again. "Go on home; I'll be fine."
"I'll think about it, provided you answer a question for me. Before the brick came through that window, what were you doing?" The telephone was still off the hook, lying on the floor, and Starsky was relatively certain that the brick hadn't knocked it there.
"Okay, so I was calling you. The only reason I did that was because I was afraid you'd have a rat waiting in your refrigerator too. I don't expect you to come running over here every time something goes bump in the night."
"This was a hell of a lot more than a bump, partner. It was an honest-to-God crash. A crash that didn't happen by accident." Realistically, it was odd for Hutch to be so shaken up by something as simple as a brick through his window and a rat in his ice box, but why he was upset was meaningless to Starsky. The fact was that Hutch needed him, and he was going to be there for as long as it took him to feel secure in his home again.
"Well, if you're gonna stay, you might as well get something delivered to eat. Unless you want the rat, of course," Hutch added with a wan, grim smile.
"Like I said before, blondie, you don't have any ketchup." Starsky reached for the telephone, ordering a topping-laden "garbage" pizza, then covering the receiver. "Hey, you want anything?"
"No way, man. Any appetite I had went right out the window when that rat showed up."
"I guess that's all," Starsky said into the phone, following it up with Hutch's address. "It should be here in about twenty minutes," Starsky announced as he hung up the receiver.
"Good," Hutch answered, jumping off the couch. "That'll give you enough time to make up your bed before they deliver," Hutch commented, presuming, correctly, that Starsky planned on staying the night and not just the evening. He provided Starsky with sheets, blankets, and a pillow before heading toward the bathroom. "I'm gonna take a long, hot shower. If I'm still awake by the time I'm done, I may even make it as far as my bed."
Hutch wasn't kidding, Starsky observed, about the shower being long. By the time the blond emerged, his hair still wet yet drying quickly in the California heat, the pizza had not only been delivered but nearly half-consumed. "Are you sure you don't want any of this?" Starsky offered, opening the refrigerator, then reconsidering and laying the box on the oven when Hutch shook his head.
"Right now, I just want to turn in," the obviously tired blond said.
He must be really exhausted, Starsky thought, if he isn't even going to give me a hard time about my food.
Starsky listened attentively as the bedcovers rustled and Hutch settled in for the night. When silence finally blanketed the room, he took his turn in the bathroom, then snuggled into the made-up sofa, making sure that his holster was close by.
Starsky woke a few hours later to the sound of his partner's voice. He sat up, listening for a few moments, realizing that Hutch was repeating one word, over and over, in his sleep. "Abby." But the tone with which it was mumbled in the throes of whatever dream he was having was definitely not erotic. Starsky continued to listen, uncertain of what the tone truly was. It didn't sound fearful, and the blond didn't wake up, so Starsky let him be. Eventually, even the mumbling stopped, allowing the house guest to go back to sleep.
Starsky didn't know that Hutch had stopped talking because he was lying awake, staring at the ceiling.
God, my neck is killing me. It was the first, foggy thought that invaded his mind as he fought his way back to consciousness. His body, still exhausted from staying up late, listening for his partner, wanted nothing more than to go back to the heavenly slumber. David Starsky knew better, slowly pushing himself to his feet and staggering into the bathroom, glad that he beat Hutch to it.
"You're a mess, Starsky," he said, looking at himself in the mirror. Brown curls were splayed in every direction and his head was cocked at an odd angle from spending the night with it crooked into the corner of the sofa. He ran the water until it was warm-almost-hot, and soaked a wash rag in the stream until it was drenched. Wringing it out, he lay the heated cloth against his neck and it seemed to relieve the ache and the tightness slightly.
When he heard the springs of Hutch's bed through the open doorway, he quickly hung up the washcloth, spinning around so his partner would think he was turning on the shower. It didn't take much to make Hutch feel guilty; even a stiff neck would be enough to set him off. And Starsky was determined to spare him that if he could.
"Sounded like some dream you were havin' last night," he said conversationally as Hutch came in and started to shave. He stripped off his T-shirt and underwear and slipped under the flowing water while waiting for Hutch to decide if he was going to answer. Finally, Hutch lowered the razor so he could speak without risking nicking himself.
"It was just a dream. You know how they can be. It was nothin'." The vagueness of the answer told Starsky that the blond didn't want to talk about it, a wish he was more than willing to accommodate since Hutch didn't seem to be distressed or even worried much anymore. The incident from the previous night seemed to be forgotten, but for some reason, a little itch in the back of Starsky's mind told him it wasn't the end of the harassment.
For several long moments, it seemed like they were the only people in the world, Hutch lying on the ground in agony and Starsky, pulling him into his lap from the grass, trying to keep the badly-burned hand from coming into contact with anything that might contaminate it further. Starsky had been taught about burns, just like any other member of the police academy, and knew how easily they could get infected. His attempt may not be of any help, he thought, but he was determined to try.
Then the moments passed and swarms of people in white converged on the two of them. A man in a long coat pushed aside most of the nurses, kneeling beside the suffering man. The patient was obviously in agony; his face was wet from sweat and tears that he was beyond noticing.
The doctor held the injured arm, not touching the hand, as Starsky and another bystander lifted Hutch and supported him for the move toward the emergency room. Half way there, the pain finally became too much and he passed out, Starsky unsteadily scooping him into his arms for the short distance to the pavement where a stretcher awaited them.
Mercifully, for once, the hospital personnel didn't shoo him from the treatment room as soon as they rolled Hutch into it. They even seemed happy to have him in there, especially when Hutch woke moments later, clenching his teeth against the agony. "Try to keep him calm until the pain killer takes affect," the doctor told the brunet as the took a needle from a nurse and injected Hutch.
Starsky took Hutch's uninjured hand tightly, at that moment having no intention of letting go. But it wasn't to last. It wasn't long before the closed-in space caused the odor of burned human flesh to assault his senses; it was the worst smell known to man. His mouth started to water as the nausea hit him full force, Starsky clenching his teeth together, unconsciously imitating his partner, to try to keep his breakfast down.
Hutch's hand loosened on his, finally, as the shot took effect, the patient falling into a barely conscious state. Starsky was relieved that his best friend seemed to not be suffering quite so much, although his face still twitched periodically from the remnants of the pain. His view strayed from the face to the hand he was still holding, then to the other, damaged hand as the doctor and nurse efficiently treated the serious burns. Suddenly, the nausea was back full force.
"Sorry...be right back...," he muttered through the hand he clenched over his mouth as he fled from the room, making it to the men's room just in time. He wasn't able to leave until his stomach was aching and empty. He rubbed his streaming eyes with a piece of toilet paper.
"Damn!" he muttered to himself. "Hutch needs you, and is willing to let you take care of him, and you gotta run off and throw up." He stood, unsteadily at first on quaking knees, and made his way back to the treatment room. "How's he doin', Doc?" he asked when he returned.
"He'll be okay; it's just a matter of time now."
Starsky couldn't keep his eyes on the doctor, as he knew was the polite thing to do, but watched Hutch as a nurse finished wrapping the hand in a mountain of gauze. "He seems a little more alert, at least. And not hurtin'."
"Well, the drowsiness of the painkiller doesn't last quite as long as its anesthetic affects."
"So, you gonna admit him?"
"Not necessary, Mr...."
"Starsky. Detective David Starsky. He's my partner," he nodded toward the blond.
"Well, at least that explains the explosion. Anyway, Detective Starsky, you should be able to take him with you. I'll give him a prescription for an antibiotic and another for some pain killers. He must take the antibiotic, but the painkiller should only be used if he really needs it. It might make him drowsy, so don't let him drive."
"He's done, doctor," the nurse said, putting the final piece of tape on the bandages."
"Okay, nurse, you can go." As the door shut behind her, they heard stirrings from the bed. They both rushed to assist Hutch in sitting up. He seemed a little out of it still, but apparently well enough to want to get up. "Just take it easy, Detective. You're going to be okay."
"Yeah, partner," Starsky agreed, resting his hand on Hutch's shoulder. "Everything is okay."
"Thanks," Hutch breathed with a faint grin, wrapping his left arm around Starsky's. He seemed to be growing much more aware, at least.
"I'm going to go get your release papers, Officer. I'll be right back."
Left alone in the room, Starsky began to walk the perimeter, Hutch's eyes following him all the way. "You'd better stop picking up everything, Starsk. That stuff is supposed to be sterile," he said, fighting to stay awake, yet enjoying watching his partner investigate the room instead of standing around worrying about him.
"Okay, okay. Boy, it sure is easy to tell when you're feelin' better; you start to nag me."
"Well, I promised your Mom I'd do what she'd do if she was here," Hutch slurred. Starsky did stop touching things, but he just couldn't resist when he came upon the official-looking doctors' scale against one wall.
"Get off there," Hutch stage-whispered, not sure if he could have yelled if he'd wanted to, as he watched Starsky climb onto the scale. Typically, he wasn't listening. "Don't touch those," he went on when his partner started moving the weights into position.
From where he lay, Hutch watched while the brunet continued to move the weights on the scale. He stopped when he got to the point at which he thought it should balance, and when it didn't, he continued pushing them to the right until it finally did. The look on Starsky's face was astounded.
"What does it say?" the blond asked.
"I don't believe it! It says 175 pounds!"
"It can't believe that," Hutch commented doubtfully.
"I know how to read it, and that's what it says! This thing's gotta be wrong."
"That kind of scale can't be wrong," Hutch argued, feeling a little stronger. "It's all that junk you eat."
"I don't eat that much! Not enough to justify ten extra pounds!"
"I've been telling you for ages that you're gonna get paunchy, and you wouldn't listen. Tell me, then...what did you eat last night after I got in the shower?" He had an idea from the leftovers he'd seen this morning, but was determined to make a point anyway. He settled himself gingerly into a chair, not sure he could stand anymore, and waited for an answer. He didn't have to wait long.
"All I had was pizza! That's not that bad."
"It is when you have half of a large one with the works! And then you ate it late at night on top of it. That'll do you in every time."
"But I don't feel any different either. Are you sure this can't be wrong?"
"I'm sure, trust me."
"Well, I'll just have to slow down a little bit. Eat a little less, exercise a little more. It'll take time, but it's not that big a problem."
"I'm afraid it could be, Starsk. Don't forget, department physicals are next month."
"Oh, my God! I forgot! What am I gonna do? I can't go in there ten whole pounds heavier than I was the last time I had one. The doc would nail me for sure!" Starsky really seemed to be getting frantic, making Hutch feel a little bad for bringing it up in the first place.
"I'm afraid there's only one solution that'll help by next month, and it still might not do it all. Diet."
"Diet?" Starsky wrinkled his nose at the thought, but knew deep down that it was the only thing to do. "Okay, if that's what it takes," he said with determination, "then that's what I'll do. Starting right now."
"D'you think you can do it?" Hutch asked doubtfully. He'd seen his partner eat before, and knew how unlikely it was that Starsky could stick to a strict food regimen.
"Hey, if you can go on nothin' but water for 48 hours, I certainly can do this. It'll be lots easier. I mean, I don't havta stop eatin' completely."
"I got news for ya, Starsk," Hutch answered, thankful to his partner for giving him a few minutes of not worrying about his hand, "it's harder to curtail eating than to quit it entirely, especially with a sweet tooth like yours. After the first few hours of a fast, ya don't even feel hungry anymore. On a regular diet, you eat just enough food to make you want more. Or at least, that's how it's always been for me."
Starsky developed a thoughtful look on his face; maybe what his partner was saying was something to consider, but he could never picture himself giving up food entirely, even for a couple days. No, a regular, old-fashioned diet was the way to go, and he was going to start it right away.
Feeling determined from his decision and grateful that Hutch was going to be all right once his hand had a chance to heal, he watched smiling as the blond awkwardly signed himself out of the hospital with his left hand. He wasn't particularly looking forward to telling Dobey about all this, especially since they'd somehow forgotten to file a report on the rat and brick incident from the night before.
"Where should I tell Huggy to meet us?" Starsky called from the phone booth, covering the receiver with his hand.
"Tell him to come to that coffee shop on Fifth," Hutch replied, watching out the car window as his partner turned back to the telephone. He shifted in his seat, trying to find a way to hold his hand so it didn't throb quite so much. He could take another pain pill, but resisted in order to keep a clear head.
He was still fidgeting when Starsky jumped back in the car. "Okay, it's all set up. He'll see us there in about twenty minutes. Not that it matters any, but why'd you pick that place?"
"Because that's where I told Abby I'd meet her for lunch. This way, we can do both at the same time. Hey, don't forget, they've got that Philly club sandwich that you like so much."
"Yeah, I know," Starsky responded, not sounding particularly happy about it.
"What's wrong, partner?" Hutch asked, immediately sensing how uncomfortable Starsky had become. It made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. "
"Nah, it's nothin'," Starsky answered. "I suppose if I have to watch somebody eating, it'll be a lot less torture when it's the junk that you and Abby have."
"Starsk, what d'you mean `watch somebody eat'? Aren't you gonna have any lunch?"
"No, I decided to start skipping lunches and night-time snacks. To help with you-know-what, y'know? I figure, it'll be a lot easier this way."
"You really shouldn't skip meals; they say it doesn't help."
"Well, I'm going to do it anyway. It can't hurt..." he looked chagrined as, at that moment, his stomach chose to rumble out loud. "Well, it can't hurt much, anyway."
The aroma of food assaulted his senses as soon as he walked through the door of the little family restaurant. Trying his best to ignore it, he waved at Abby as she motioned to them from a booth in the middle of the room.
"Hi, sweetheart," Hutch said to her, sliding in next to her. "How long've you been waiting?"
"Oh, not long. And we'd better place our order because I've got to get back to work. What d'you think you'll have, Dave?"
"Just a glass of water is fine," Starsky said, not looking happy about it.
Abby exchanged looks with Hutch, who shrugged his shoulders. "He says it's all he wants."
Abby checked again before eating her lunch, just to be sure he hadn't changed his mind, but Hutch knew the determined look on Starsky's face and knew not to push it. The last thing he'd want was to undermine what his partner was trying to accomplish. The blond smiled affectionately as he watched Starsky practically drooling over the ice cream Huggy brought over to the neighboring table.
As they sped away from the restaurant after lunch, Hutch couldn't help but laugh when Starsky asked plaintively, "Tell me again how long it is until supper?"
It's all my fault! The phrase ran over and over in Hutch's mind on the drive to the Hotel Breman. It's all my fault...I should have known...it's all my fault.
Starsky saw his partner's distraught pose, recognized it in the way he sat in the seat and cradled his bandaged hand. "Hey, buddy," he said, breaking the silence and laying a reassuring hand on his best friend's shoulder. "Don't you go blamin' yourself because Abby just happened to be in your place tonight. She wanted to cook dinner for you at home. How were you supposed to know that somethin' would happen like this."
"You just don't get it, Starsky. This is all my fault. I should've known," Hutch said, unconsciously repeating the exact words he'd been thinking before.
"It's not. Has it ever dawned on you that it's egotistical to think that? You couldn't have expected it and could've done damn little to stop it."
"Yes, I could have," Hutch argued back, not letting himself off the hook so easily. "I knew she was in danger," he whispered under his breath, admitting aloud what he'd been punishing himself with ever since the night of the brick incident.
"Hutch, even you aren't that smart!"
"Smart doesn't have anything to do with it, Starsk."
"Then what does?"
"I had a dream..." the whisper was so quiet, Starsky was sure he must have misunderstood him.
"You had a what?"
"I had a dream, okay?" Hutch almost shouted it in frustration. "I had a dream, and in it, Abby was in trouble. She was hanging off a cliff and I couldn't pull her back."
Starsky smiled slightly, knowingly, seeing right away how he could outthink his partner this time. "Well, I'm not going to argue with you about possible future-predicting dreams, but didn't you just say, in the dream, that there wasn't anything you could do?"
"Well, if you couldn't do anything, then it wasn't your fault. It wasn't like you dreamed you'd let her fall intentionally." When Hutch looked doubtful, he continued, "Look, now in your dream, didn't you hold onto her for everything you were worth?"
"Of course, but...."
"But nothin', partner. Even your subconscious knows that it wasn't your fault, so listen to yourself and let it go!"
Hutch didn't answer for the rest of the ride, deep in thought about Starsky's words and what that freak had done to Abby. And sure enough, he realized, his best friend was right. Even if he was dreaming of the future, what he'd seen had been him trying to keep Abby from getting hurt, not him letting her get hurt. He'd just have to hold onto that until after they took care of the monster who'd victimized him and his girl.
Oh, God.... This is gonna kill him! Starsky hung up the phone, hearing the words Abby had just said to him again in his mind. As much as he didn't want to admit it, Hutch's dream made a world of sense now - and Hutch was way off track if he thought it referred to Tommy's attack on the pretty blond woman. No, this was what the dream meant: Abby was going to leave him.
He couldn't say he liked it - not one bit. It had been a long time since Hutch had given his heart to someone this thoroughly, and the last time he'd lived to regret it as well. But at least she had the decency to make sure that Starsky would be there for his best friend when she shattered his world. It was little comfort, but proved that, at the very least, there was still some semblance of feeling left there for Hutch. He'd have to get his partner to concentrate on that when she was finally gone.
He'd need to distract him.... He and Angie were supposed to meet up with Hutch and Abby at the park for a picnic tomorrow, where Abby would break the news - and his best friend's heart. What could he bring that could possibly distract him from something that painful?
His eyes scanned his quiet, partially-lit apartment, eventually falling on the model train magazine on his coffee table. It lay face down, the back emblazoned with an ad for special containers for storing baseball cards. Baseball cards.... Hutch had seemed interested when they'd talked about Eckworth's career, and intrigued by Starsky's memory of the man's statistics. Maybe...just maybe...that could be it.
Starsky tore his closet apart in search of his childhood baseball card collection. It was the last way he had wanted to spend his evening, but if it helped Hutch over this painful spot, he was more than willing to do it. He just wished it could have been more.
Hutch had wandered off in the opposite direction as the one Abby had taken, looking like a lost little boy. Starsky let him be...he knew Hutch wanted this time to himself after his attempt with the baseball cards met with limited success.
Starsky sat, finishing the meal with Angie that she'd spread out on the blanket before him, trying all the while to convince himself that Hutch was okay and could take care of himself. Every minute he was gone, though, churned his stomach all the more, to the point where he finally decided he could eat no more. Angie knew what he needed as much as he did.
"I've really got to be getting to work," she excused herself. Starsky wasn't sure if she really was scheduled to go into the department store where she worked behind the jewelry counter, but didn't want to know. He wanted to go after Hutch, but he wasn't about to hurt her by doing it.
"Okay, let me help you with all this stuff." They put everything back into the coolers and picnic baskets, including the things Hutch and Abby had brought, and deposited them into the respective vehicles. Angie watched as Starsky retrieved a medium-size white envelope from the picnic basket before soundly kissing her good-bye and sending her on her way.
He stood in the parking lot, staring down at the envelope for a few minutes before taking out the contents, just as he'd done earlier that day when the postman had delivered it. There was another white envelope with Hutch's name on it and a letter with his own. Unfolding the letter, he read it again.
I know your anger with me must be incredible right now, but I'm going to ask you to do something for me anyway. Whether Hutch believes it or not, I still love him very much, so take care of him the way I would if I could convince myself to stay.
I'm sorry I can't, especially knowing how much it will hurt Hutch. Maybe someday, some year, I'll be able to return to the city and start over, but I don't think it'll be any time soon.
I have three things I want to ask of you, Dave, and I hope you'll grant them. The first is easy: give him this envelope. But don't do it until after I'm gone. There are some things I wanted to say to him, and I knew I wouldn't have the courage to say them to his face, especially right in the middle of walking away. I only hope it helps in some small way.
When I'm gone, please take care of him. I hardly think I need to tell you that; I know as much or more than most how close you two are, and if anybody can help him feel better, it's you.
Lastly, please help him to move on. As much as I love him, I don't expect him to stay loyal to my memory by secluding himself from the rest of the world. Hutch has so much love to give, and I know there's a woman out there somewhere, a stronger woman than I am, who will love him with her whole heart, mind, and body, the way he deserves to be loved. He shouldn't be alone, so until this woman comes along, keep him safe and trying. It'll happen eventually.
Well, I guess that's all there is to be said. Hopefully, my letter will help, and when you give it to him, please stay close. I don't know what will happen, and it will be tough not to know, but I think it'll be a lot more painful if I were to keep in touch. Thank you for everything you've done, especially for accepting me into your special friendship. Ever since I started seeing Hutch, I always felt that you were my friend too. It's made my time with Hutch one of the best of my life. Take care of yourself, Dave. I love you too.
Starsky carefully refolded the letter, putting it back in the larger envelope before laying it on the dashboard of the Torino. Taking the remaining envelope, he went off to look for his partner.
He circled the park three times before heading for the more remote corners. So far, Hutch was nowhere to be found. Starsky sighed in frustration and kept walking, passing the opened gate that led to the children's petting zoo. Well, he'd looked everywhere else, Starsky thought, shrugging his shoulders.
It was crowded, being a sunny, warm day, and Starsky paused a moment to watch all the smiling kids introducing themselves to the animals. If he were alone and not looking for his best friend, he would have loved being here. Kids weren't the only people who could enjoy petting animals.
He walked through the crowd, being careful of small animals and even smaller feet, until he finally caught a glimpse of blond under a tree on the grass. "Hutch," he whispered. As he came closer, he had to smile. Hutch looked lost, but a small fawn approached and stood next to him, fascinated by a human who wasn't trying to get close like the kids did. It nestled in close, and when Hutch gently ran his hand down his flank, it lay down with its upper body and head in his lap. He continued to stroke while staring at all the kids laughing and playing.
"Hey, partner," Starsky whispered as he approached, happy that his nearness wasn't scaring away the small deer. Hutch turned his face upward, and Starsky could see the moisture and pain in his eyes. He sat down on the opposite side as the fawn, feeling his friend's sorrow wash over him in a wave. "Whatcha doin'?"
Hutch shrugged, not speaking, and Starsky followed his gaze to the children. Instantly, he knew what Hutch was thinking. "I'm sorry, buddy," he said, laying an arm over the blond's shoulders. "I know you were hoping this one would be forever."
"I'm sorry, Starsk," Hutch finally said, trying to hide the catch in his voice. "I'm sorry I walked off, I'm sorry you had to come looking for me, and I'm sorry to lay all of this on you."
"You didn't lay anything on me, buddy." There was silence between the two for a few minutes, even blocking out he sounds of the children. Feeling desperate to do something, Starsky reaching under the back of his shirt, retrieving the envelope from where he'd tucked it under the waistband of his shorts. "I don't know if it will help any, but Abby asked me to give you this." He handed it over, placing it in Hutch's unresponsive right hand as the blond continued to stroke the fawn with his left. His name, written in her writing, made his eyes water again, and he paused before using both hands to open it. Starsky thanked God that the small deer didn't move; he knew that this gentle, innocent presence would help a little.
Starsky tried not to look like he was watching, although he was, as his friend read the note. As it turned out, there was more than two pages there, and he sat patiently as Hutch read every word, smiling each time something his friend read prompted him to smile even a little and fighting the lump in his throat each time Hutch rubbed his tired blue eyes.
Starsky sensed when Hutch was finished, meeting the blond's eyes as he raised them. They were moist, but underneath was the slightest shadow of a smile. It was apparent to Starsky that Hutch had no intention of telling him what was in the letter, but the curly-haired man sent a silent thank you to Abby for whatever had been in it. Apparently, it was helping, at least some.
"So...you okay?" Starsky asked, squeezing the back of his partner's neck like he'd done a hundred times before.
"Yeah.... I think so," Hutch smiled again, determined to convince his friend that he'd be okay. Maybe not now, or even tomorrow, but eventually. "What say we go get a pizza?"
"But what about my diet?" Starsky smiled.
"You don't really need it, and I don't really want health food tonight." The food he and Abby shared.
Starsky wasn't really hungry yet, but wasn't about to discourage the healing time they could have together at a simple pizza dinner. "Sounds great, buddy. How about we take my car?" He pulled the blond to his feet by one arm, disrupting the fawn and sending it walking away.
"Why your car?" Hutch asked, challengingly, trying his best for the old argument. It didn't ring quite true, but Starsky was willing to take it.
"Lots of reasons. For one, it's not almost fallin' apart. Second, my car doesn't have a half-exploded trunk being held shut with a rope until Merle can fix it. And besides, I know the best pizza place...."
Their voices dissipated into the surrounding crowds as they left the petting zoo and walked toward where Starsky had left the red-and-white striped car. Whatever had been in that letter, it had helped. And he was going to help the rest of the way. Hutch would be okay, he was sure. He'd make him okay, if it took every minute of every day forever.