(C) March 2016
The feeble voice roused Hutch from sleep. He'd been sitting on the sofa in Starsky's apartment, his cheek resting on his curled hand, which was supported by an elbow perched on the sofa arm.
Hutch was instantly on his feet, moving to the bedroom, as his mind tried to register the present. "Starsk?" It was Tuesday of the week he'd taken off. He had mostly worked through Starsky's convalescence after being shot in a restaurant, and had been partnered with various other officers when needing to be on the streets, after Starsky had healed enough to be confined to desk work. No sooner had his partner finally been declared fit to return to the streets than he'd come down with the flu -- such a severe strain that he'd just barely managed to avoid hospitalization. The idea of being without his partner for a while longer while trying to do his job -- to say nothing of the ever-present worry -- prompted Hutch to turn in vacation days and insist to Dobey that he needed time off for himself, as much as to take care of his partner. Some part of him wondered if had been more truth to that argument than he'd wanted to admit.
Now, Hutch entered the darkened bedroom, his voice softening as he moved to the edge of the bed. "Hey there, buddy. How you doing?"
Starsky was lying on his right side at the edge of the bed. An array of wadded tissues were on the nightstand, and a plastic-lined emergency trash can was nearby. In a congested nasal tone, he replied, "I think I'm hungry."
"You think?" Hutch asked doubtfully, bending down to the curled form. He'd already replaced the trash can liner a few times.
He saw the light of Starsky's eye as his partner looked up at him. "Yeah. Pretty sure." Then, "Maybe if I eat real slow?"
The fact that he had an appetite was a good sign. Hutch placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'll heat up some soup. You need help to the john?"
Hutch patted the shoulder. "Okay, I'll be back in a bit."
"Don't make it too hot."
The detail made Hutch smile, and he felt his own fatigue in the muscles of his mouth. He bent closer. "Any other requests?"
Starsky released a breath, then a muttered, "Don't be too long."
Hutch bit back a retort. As he moved out of the room, he felt heartened that Starsky was improving.
In the kitchen, he found a can of chicken noodle soup, and dumped the watery contents into a small pot. He turned the stove to "Hi" and stirred the contents.
He looked at the clock and saw that it was after five p.m. He'd been dozing on the sofa for over an hour. Obviously, he'd needed the sleep. Being responsible for another person's care was always taxing, even though he hadn't feared for Starsky's life with this illness, they way he had a few months ago when Starsky had been shot.
Hutch abruptly sat in a kitchen chair and released a heavy breath. He bowed his head, acknowledging the fatigue that seemed to encompass ever fiber of his being. It really wasn't so much a physical exhaustion, he realized, but more having to be in a state of constant vigil.
He stared at the floor, his mind going back to that little Italian restaurant, and the weight he'd born, in trying to come up with a plan that was going to save all the patrons -- and his helpless, wounded partner -- before Vic Monty arrived.
All the attention, after that night, had been on Starsky's recovery. Then, eventually, Starsky was back in full health, and everything was normal. For a few days, that is, and then this flu.
Hutch wondered if he himself had ever recovered from that night a few months ago. And then wondered what he meant by that... what his own thoughts were trying to tell him.
There was a splattering noise.
Hutch quickly got up and went to the stove. He turned off the burner, and moved the pot aside, stirring the boiling soup briskly to even out the heat. He wondered how his thoughts had drifted such a long time that the soup was already boiling.
He immersed himself in the simple motions of placing the soup in a bowl, collecting a spoon and napkins, and filling a glass with water and a few ice cubes. He placed all the items on a serving tray and moved back into Starsky's bedroom.
"Room service," Hutch announced.
Starsky was on his back beneath the covers, and trying to brace against the mattress to push himself up. "God, every muscle aches," he gasped. "My wound especially."
"Hang on, so I can help you." Hutch placed the tray on the nightstand, while pushing other items away. Then he turned to the bed. It had taken all these weeks for Starsky to have full motion of his shoulder, and now the flu had brought the pain of that particular wound back, along with creating a host of other unpleasant physical annoyances.
Hutch leaned down. "Here, left me try to lift you." He maneuvered his hands beneath the covers, and smelled his partner's sweat, as he grabbed Starsky's buttocks as well as he could, and then lifted, feeling the strain on his back.
Starsky grunted, pushed with his feet, and when Hutch felt some movement, he let go, and then gratefully straightened. "There."
Starsky was trying to reach to the pillows behind him, and and as Hutch moved to assist, he said, "You're rank, partner. Maybe we ought to put you in a hot bathtub later, since you no longer have the trots." Thank goodness.
The only reply was another grunt. Now that the pillows were supporting Starsky's upright position, Hutch turned to grab the tray. He placed it across Starsky's lap.
Starsky didn't waste any time in taking the spoon and dipping it into the bowl. He blew on it a moment, and then slurped.
"Take your time," Hutch cautioned. Since his partner was past the diarrhea, maybe he was also past the vomiting.
Starsky muttered, "Throat's so dry." He picked up the glass and drank.
Hutch sat on the bed, next to Starsky's legs, and watched his partner continue to sip. Eventually, Starsky glanced up. "Seems like you're here all the time. You not going into work?" He dipped the spoon back in the bowl.
Hutch was heartened that Starsky was improved to the point of being able to think beyond his own misery. "I turned in a week of vacation days."
Starsky abruptly looked up. And frowned. "Then we won't be able to take our vacations together, next time."
Hutch quickly countered, "When do we ever actually go on vacation, anyway?" Then, more softly, with a weary shrug. "It doesn't really matter."
He had Starsky's full attention now, for his partner was gazing at him in the near darkness.
Hutch felt himself bristle under that penetrating stare. "Come on, finish your soup before it gets cold."
Evenly, Starsky asked, "What's going on with you?"
Hutch ran his hand along his leg, his head bowed. "Nothing."
"Don't give me that crap." Starsky's voice gentled. "Hutch, I know it's been a real pain in the ass having to take care of me so much."
Hutch quickly waved a hand, hating to hear those words. "It's all right," he said softly. "When you're off your feet, for any reason, I'd just as soon be taking care of you th-than worried." He knew Starsky would catch his stutter.
Puzzled, Starsky said, "Surely, you knew this flu wasn't going to do me in."
Hutch gazed at the bedspread, wondering how he could ever express what was inside him. He wanted it to come out.
After a long silence, Starsky pleaded, "Talk to me, Hutch." He took the tray in both hands, and then turned toward the nightstand.
Hutch quickly rose to take the tray from him, and then carefully set it down.
Starsky watched him, and patted the side of the bed, near his hip. "You know, I guess we've never really had a chance to debrief each other about that night in the restaurant."
Hutch could hear the distant hint of a question in Starsky's voice, as though the other wasn't sure he was on the right track.
Of course, his partner was on the right track. Hutch sat back down on the bed, facing Starsky. "Well, you know, all the details are in the report."
Starsky tilted his head. His voice was a gentle scold. "It's just me here, Hutch. What's on your mind? I feel better now," he said firmly, "so now it's your turn to receive some attention."
Even as his heart flipped over at his partner's compassion, Hutch had no idea where to start.
Starsky said, "I know all I was that night was a burden."
Hutch squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. "Please don't ever call yourself that."
"I'm just stating a fact. You're the one that saved my life that night. Saved the lives of all those innocent people. Even Vic Monty." Starsky's voice was suddenly choked. "You're my hero."
Hutch drew a quick, sharp breath, his gaze lowered. He wondered why he was both touched and bothered that Starsky saw him that way. After a long moment, he drew another breath and said, "It's hard not to keep wondering about the ''what ifs' that night." He looked up, and saw Starsky gazing at him with the penetrating glare that could send others scurrying away, while it only made Hutch want to move closer. But he resisted the temptation, and returned his gaze to the bedspread. "You know, what if Theresa hadn't thrown that tray at just the right time? What if that gun had jammed?" His voice quavered as he looked away. "Things could have turned out so much different."
Gently, quietly, Starsky said, "But things turned out just fine, thanks to all your bravery, cool-headedness, and intelligence."
Hutch quickly shook his head, feeling the nearly suffocating weight from that night. "It could have so easily gone another way," he said in a small voice.
Through the corner of his eye, he watched Starsky study him.
Starsky prompted, "Okay, it could have gone another way. And?"
Hutch felt his breath quicken. "A-a-and then you would be dead. Because I couldn't figure everything out. Couldn't-couldn't take care of you and figure out how to stop them and watch the clock, because time was ticking away, and make sure nobody else got hurt, if I tried something. And had to count on Theresa to do her part. And-and-and-and hope the gun worked." He could feel tremors running through his body. He wondered what Starsky thought of him. Hardly the hero now, am I?
"Hutch." So soft. Compassionate.
Hutch stared at the bed spread, feeling the weary firmness of his jaw.
The soft voice continued, "It was all on your shoulders, wasn't it, pal? You had to figure everything out. I couldn't help. Was yet another problem for you to solve. And when we were all out of there, safe and alive, you could give all your attention to me. And that's where your attention has stayed."
Hutch felt a mouth corner twitch. He looked at Starsky. "I'm so glad you're all right."
Starsky slowly nodded. "I'm just fine, thanks to you." His hand patted the bed once. "Your turn. Your turn to not have to be the tough guy."
Hutch felt his throat catch, as relief came over him, merely from the words spoken.
Starsky shifted away from the edge, no longer complaining about his own pains. "Come 'ere. I mean, if you're going to catch this bug from me, it's already in your system by now."
Hutch didn't care about any of that.
Starsky assured, "If you get sick, I'll take care of you."
Of course, he would.
Starsky patted the bed once again.
Hutch thought he should pretend that he didn't know what Starsky wanted. But his own wanting was too strong.
Starsky reached out. "Come here, buddy boy. Let me take some of that weight now."
Hutch could justify what he so badly wanted, because it was what Starsky demanded.
He slid along the mattress, and started to shift, so he could rest back against the headboard, next to Starsky.
"Uh-uh," Starsky scolded. Then, gently, "I want to take your weight, buddy boy." He tugged on Hutch's shirt, and then, whisper soft, "Let me hold you for a bit."
Hutch could foresee a myriad of complications, but he was eager to obey. He shifted again, and draped himself over Starsky's torso, feeling relief at the arms went around him. Then his head landed nicely on Starsky's chest.
"Relax, Hutch," Starsky beckoned. "You're so tense that I could string a bow with ya."
Hutch took a deep, deliberate breath, and then released it. He let his body sink, sink, sink....
A hand rubbed along his back. "That's my Hutch. Just let go of it all. I'm right here."
Hutch closed his eyes, wallowing in the motion of the hand.
Fingers furrowed into the strands of his hair.
He relaxed even more. The more he let peace settle through him, the more he wondered if he'd ever be able to take on any burden again.
"You mentioned giving me a bath," Starsky said quietly. "Maybe I should give you one."
Hutch didn't want to move. "No," he pleaded in a small voice.
"Okay," Starsky readily agreed.
Hutch felt the hand continue to move, so slowly, along his back. He didn't even mind anymore that Starsky smelled rank.
"Take all the time you need."
From the time Hutch had had a growth spurt as an adolescent, he'd had a lanky build, and was even embarrassingly clumsy at times. Yet, despite his partner being shorter than he was, Hutch fit so nicely into this strong man's arms. Such a marvel, that.
Starsky said, "You're good medicine, Hutch. You being here is the best thing for me."
Hutch knew Starsky didn't just mean right at this particular moment.
Starsky's voice got very soft. Tender. "Is there anything more you need to tell me?" The fingers in Hutch's hair massaged along his scalp.
Hutch was surprised that an answer easily came to mind. "If I had to do it all over again, I don't think I could handle it."
He was squeezed closer, and Starsky breath was at his ear. "If someone would have described to you what was going to happen ahead of time, you probably would have said you couldn't handle it. Neither could I. But you did. You had to, and you did."
While Hutch tried to come up with a response, Starsky added, "Don't go doubting yourself, when there's nothing to doubt."
Hutch felt his eyes water, as he rubbed his cheek against the soft cotton of Starsky's pajamas. "At that time, all I could think about was the next step. There wasn't any room for anything else."
"You made room for me," Starsky countered gently. "Despite everything going on, you took such good care of me, Hutch."
Hutch couldn't wallow in that statement, because he desperately needed to make a confession. "Looking back, I realize now, I was so scared." He heard the quaver in his own voice. "I couldn't acknowledge it then, because there was so much I had to think about. But since you've gotten better, it's like I can't get past feeling it now. C-C-Can't get past feeling that I need to figure everything out, because something terrible is going to happen, if I don't."
Arms pressed him even closer. Just as Starsky began to speak, Hutch anticipated what he was going to say and explained, "It's different, than like when we're in a shootout on the streets, and we both know that our lives our at risk. It's different from that. This is just so bone deep...."
Fingers were removed from his hair, and a hand pressed against the back of his head "Then let yourself have some bone-deep relief right now, Hutch." Then, with love, "You've gotten all tense again."
Hutch drew another deep, deep breath, and released it slowly, letting his body sag.
"That's it," Starsky encouraged. "Let me take it for a while."
Hutch closed his eyes, hoping that his weight was distributed in a way that didn't aggravate Starsky's shoulder.
After a long moment -- perhaps more than a moment -- Starsky began to shift. "Sorry, buddy, but I need the head."
Hutch was reluctant to let him up, but it was easier to move with the motion of Starsky's hand pushing him to one side.
"Just stay right there," Starsky insisted. "Don't go anywhere."
Hutch lay on top of the covers, his cheek against the bedspread. He kept his eyes closed to block out the light left by the partially open door of the bathroom.
He must have dozed, because he was next aware of the bed rocking, and the covers moving. When he opened his eyes, it was dark again.
"Just stay right there," Starsky muttered, "where you look all comfy."
Hutch was willing to obey.
Covers were pulled, yanked, while is a hand pressed against him, here and there.
Finally, Starsky settled with a sigh. Hutch felt covers draped around him, and then Starsky sidled up close behind him. His voice was less nasal, when he said, "Don't worry. I'm harmless."
Hutch knew he was expected to chuckle, but that would take too much energy. Instead he asked, with his eyes closed, "Did you take your pills?"
"Yes, mother. Didn't throw any soup up, either." More seriously as he settled close to Hutch, "I'm a lot better. Maybe I can return to work in a couple of days, and you won't have to take as much vacation time."
Levelly, Hutch reminded closed eyes, "We never take vacation time, anyway."
"We intend to."
Hutch sighed. "But never do."
"Well, maybe not," Starsky relented. "So, why don't you consider this a little vacation, and just blank your mind, and sleep, or whatever."
That sounded nice.
Subdued, Starsky added, "But if you need to talk about something...."
Hutch didn't want to think about talking.
There was a long pause, and then Starsky said, "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me, Hutch."
Hutch felt his heart beat softly in his chest.
The mattress started to rock again, and there was the movement of covers. "Even with all the stuff you do that drives me crazy, you're still...," a think swallow, "You're still good medicine. The best. For me."
Hutch drifted into sleep.
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