Summary: After Terry's death, Starsky finds himself unable to cope, but the solution that presents itself is worse than the pain.
--the face of everyone he knew, everyone he cared about, adorned the body in the coffin. It began with Terry, always with her, made its way through his mother, his father, Huggy and others, but finally ended up, as always, with Hutch. Hutch, lying there so cold and still, but not peaceful. The dead man held a look of intense agony, and reaching his hands up to cover his own face, Starsky realized the agony was mirrored there. He felt the despair start slowly in his gut, then increase to tremendous proportions as he finally allowed himself to believe Hutch was gone. The scream built inside him until he could contain himself no longer--
He wasn't certain if it had been the dream that awakened him, or the feeling of the drops trickling into his ears. Sitting up, swearing under his breath, Starsky turned on the lamp and wiped the tears from his face.
"Damn," he said aloud, looking around the empty room. "Damn, damn, damn." He caught sight of the clock reading 3:13 a.m. and bit back a more profound obscenity.
Collapsing back onto the pillow, he rubbed his eyes wearily. So much for sleeping aids, he thought grimly. Another so-called cure for insomnia bites the dust.
Experience had taught him that trying to sleep again would be nothing more than an exercise in frustration, so after one more muttered, "Damn!" he rolled out of bed and stumbled toward the shower.
He dressed and went into his usual awake-in-the-middle-of-the- night routine...coffee first, then a run. So far it hadn't helped to dispel the grief any, but at least his feet pounding the pavement gave him something to focus the anger on.
And he could always fantasize about meeting up with Prudholm in a dark alley somewhere.
After his run, a hot shower cleared his head a little, but he still felt fuzzy from the medication he'd taken. After brushing his teeth and shaving, Starsky picked up the bottle, read the directions on the label again, confirmed he'd done everything right, and dropped it into the trash.
"What the hell happened to you, Starsk? You look awful."
"G'mornin' to you, too, Bright Eyes."
Hutch took a good look at his partner as he climbed into the passenger seat of the Torino. Starsky's eyes were shadowed, the circles beneath them even deeper than the day before, if that was possible. His friend's skin was pale, and Hutch could tell by the way the dark haired man gripped the steering wheel tightly that he didn't want to have a discussion about it.
Hutch didn't really give a damn. It had gone on too long already. He was tired of seeing his friend looking like death warmed over. Or in this case, just like death served up at room temp.
"Still not sleeping?"
"Well," Starsky sighed as he pulled the Torino into the street, "it seems the sleeping pills only help you fall asleep. Apparently if you wake up before you're ready, you're screwed. Guess I woke up."
"That's not how they're supposed to work."
"That's how they did work."
Hutch gave him a sidelong look. "Sleeping pills?"
"Relax, Ma, it's just over the counter stuff."
The blond man studied Starsky, and Starsky made a point of studiously ignoring his gaze.
"I still don't like it."
"Nobody's askin' you to like it."
"Starsk, if you need some help--"
"Look, Hutch, I don't need any help. It's only been a month. I'll be fine. Just gimme some time, okay?"
"Sorry. Don't mean to nag. I'm just concerned about you. And me. I depend on you, you know."
"Dammit, Hutch," Starsky said, but without any real heat. "If I couldn't back you up--if I didn't know without a doubt that I'm capable of backing you up--do you think I'd let either of us out on the streets?"
Hutch gave a small sigh, one he thought his partner didn't hear. "Guess not."
Starsky heard. "Look, we still have a lot of paperwork to finish up on the Hedelman case. You wanna spend the morning in the squad room, that's okay by me."
Hutch's answer was interrupted by the radio.
He watched Starsky from the corner of his eye even as he responded to the call, but his partner just listened to the address of the 211, then screeched the Torino around a corner and took off. Just like he always did. Nothing different today from the past few years, except Hutch knew underneath it all, Starsky's heart was broken into bits. And sooner or later, it was bound to affect them both.
Weeks later, more concerned than ever, Hutch watched as Starsky pushed french fries around on his plate. It was obvious the guy was still in terrible pain over his loss, and Hutch felt completely helpless.
Other than getting Starsky to tie one on occasionally--a temporary fix at best--there was no way to get through to his friend. Starsky had become quieter, more reserved, and while he couldn't be classified as reckless, Hutch thought there were moments when Starsky would almost welcome death at the hands of one of their enemies. Those thoughts were only brief flashes, but the fact that they were there at all scared the hell out of him.
"You gonna eat that fry, or just mangle it a bit?"
In answer, Starsky opened his mouth and popped the morsel in, making a great show of chewing. "There. Ya happy? You about done with your rabbit food?"
"It's been three months."
The abrupt comment was like a kick in the gut to the curly-haired man, and Hutch felt guilty, as if he'd deliberately hurt his friend. In the next moment he told himself to stop. This had to be dealt with.
Starsky pushed the hamburger away, giving up on the pretense altogether. Hutch was glad the bullshit was over. Surely Starsky had realized he couldn't hold his partner off forever.
"I know how long it's been," he sighed. "Three months, four days--you want me to tell you the number of hours and minutes, too? Seconds?"
"I just don't wanna talk about it."
Hutch reached out and grabbed Starsky's wrist, physically preventing the withdrawal he knew was coming. Starsky had become more and more distant with him of late, and Hutch was sick and tired of it.
"Tough," he replied, forcing a note of harshness into his voice. "This time you don't have a choice."
Startled, Starsky looked into his friend's endless blue eyes. It might have been the fear and concern he saw reflected there that made him go almost limp in the booth. He leaned against the back of it, as if suddenly exhausted by the strain of pretending everything was all right.
"Okay," he muttered. "Okay, I guess you deserve that. But not here, Hutch, please."
The raw begging in Starsky's voice caught Hutch off guard. My God, he wondered to himself, what have I been missing? This is more than normal grief for a lost loved one.
"Fine. Let's go back to my place. I've got some beer in the fridge." He offered a hand to help Starsky up, and was surprised when his friend accepted. "Let me drive, okay? You don't look in any shape--"
"I'm fine to drive, Blondie."
"Sure you are," Hutch replied after a few seconds. "But it would make me feel better if you didn't."
"You just want the chance to get behind the wheel of a real car, admit it."
"Yeah, you got me on that one, Partner."
Hutch waited, hand outstretched, and breathed an inner sigh of relief when Starsky reluctantly dropped the keys into his palm.
"Be careful with her."
"You're telling me to be careful with your car?"
He expected a comeback, but Starsky's reserves of banter seemed to have been depleted. He climbed somberly into the passenger seat and waited while Hutch positioned himself behind the wheel. The radio squawked, and Hutch switched it off without a second thought.
"Hutch?" It was unlike either of them to ignore a call for help, even in their off-time.
"We're off duty, buddy," Hutch said firmly. "And right now, what we're doing is more important than any robbery, rape or murder."
"The robbery, rape or murder victim might not agree," Starsky muttered, but made no move to switch the radio back on.
"The way I see it," Hutch commented as he carefully guided the Torino into traffic, "there are a hundred cops out there tonight who can deal with that call, but you and I are the only ones who can deal with this."
"I'm tellin' ya, there's nothing to deal with."
"Don't try and snow me, Starsk. I know you better than your mother does. I've let you hide behind a mask for three months, but that ends tonight."
"I'm sorry if it hurts you. I don't want that."
"S'okay," Starsky murmured, his eyes closed as he leaned back against the seat. "It hurts all the time anyway." Hutch heard the choked-back sob in the words, and reached a hand out to touch his partner's shoulder. In spite of Starsky's efforts, a tear slid from each eye, and he wiped them away angrily. "Oh, Hutch, it still hurts so much," he whispered. "All I wanna do is crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head and be unconscious for a few years. Long enough for the pain to become bearable."
Hutch had nothing to say. The rest of the drive to Venice Place was accomplished in silence, broken only by an occasional hitching breath from the suffering man at his side. He wondered briefly if he'd have to actually help Starsky up the stairs, but once they parked in front of Hutch's building, his partner seemed to pull himself together a bit. He exited the car and made his way up to Hutch's front door slowly, but steadily.
Once inside, Starsky collapsed on the couch, and Hutch could tell the months of not enough sleep had seriously taken their toll on his partner. It was as if, having finally admitted there was a problem, all Starsky's defenses against it had crumbled.
"I'm gonna call Dobey in the morning and ask him to give you a few days off," Hutch called from the kitchen.
Starsky started to protest, but Hutch ignored him.
"You've earned it," he insisted. "We both have. Too much damn overtime lately, with the most horrible cases--it's no wonder you can't sleep."
"It ain't the cases, and you know it."
"Still, they can't be helping. Seems like the whole city has lost its mind lately."
He sat down next to Starsky, his leg brushing the other man's in silent comfort, and handed him a beer. Starsky took it and opened it mechanically, draining half of the bottle in one go, and Hutch wondered if he should begin to worry about another type of problem.
"Okay?" he asked tentatively.
"Just thirsty. Don't worry, Mom, I'm not going for the hard stuff yet."
"Although I've thought about it."
"Have you?" Hutch asked after a moment.
Starsky twisted the beer bottle in his hands, tearing absently at the label. "I kinda go through phases, you know?" he said at length. "For a while, everything will be fine, and I'll think I've got it licked. Then, for no reason I can identify, I get all depressed again and I can't sleep. I have dreams..."
"Dreams about Terry?"
Starsky shrugged. "Dreams about everyone I've ever loved dyin'. You, mostly."
Hutch took a long pull on his own beer. "I'm here, Starsk."
"I know that now, dummy. But when I wake up in the middle of the night after a real screamer, sometimes it's all I can do not to call and check up on you. Then I tell myself you're here, sleepin' like a baby, and that you need all the rest you can get before we hit the streets again. So I get up, fix myself some coffee, and watch whatever I can find on the tube until time to get ready for work."
"How often does that happen?"
Another shrug. "Couple of times a week, I guess. Sometimes more."
"Next time it happens, call me."
"Hutch, I don't wanna wake you up for nothin'--"
"Starsk, if you call me and talk to me, see for yourself that I'm alive and kicking, maybe it'll help you get back to sleep. Didn't you ever think of that, you moron?"
Starsky just gave a grimace that could almost have been mistaken for a fleeting grin. "It's the kicking I'm afraid of."
Hutch acknowledged the feeble attempt at a joke with a grin of his own. "So is it falling asleep you have trouble with, or staying asleep? Is it just the dreams?"
Starsky shrugged yet again, and Hutch found himself wanting to grab those shoulders and either shake them or embrace them.
Anything to stop the pretend nonchalance that he knew his partner even didn't begin to feel.
"Both, I guess."
"Sometimes I can fall asleep, no problem. Especially if we've had a hard day at work. I fall into bed and I'm just exhausted, and I find myself hoping I'll manage to stay asleep for more than a few hours. Usually doesn't happen, though. Once in a while, I guess, if my body's just at the end of its rope. But other times..." He looked away from Hutch, and the blond could tell Starsky was fighting back the tears again. "Sometimes I close my eyes, and I just--I can't leave that hospital room, Hutch. I'm there with her all over again, watching her die and not being able to do a damn thing to stop it--"
"Starsky. Stop. Stop doing this to yourself."
"I'm not doing it to myself, Hutch, it's just happening!"
"You need to get some help for this--"
"No shrinks," Starsky said firmly.
"I just mean--"
"I said no."
"Starsky, people go to college to study how to help people dealing with these types of problems! They know what they're doing."
"College, my ass. Unless they've had the woman they loved murdered, had to watch her die right before their eyes, how the hell can they help me, Hutch? Huh? Tell me that! And knowing it was my fault doesn't help any, either!"
"It wasn't your fault!"
"So you keep telling me. But somehow, that doesn't make it all go away, Hutch."
There was nothing to say. There was nothing Hutch could do but hold onto his friend and wish the pain away, so that's what he did.
"Crash here tonight," he offered after a bit. "You're too tired to drive."
"I'm all right."
"Starsky, I'd only worry about you. If you want me to get any sleep tonight--"
Starsky leaned his head against the back of the couch, his eyes closed. Hutch saw the deepening lines of weariness etched on his friend's face and wanted to slam his fist into the wall. Damn Prudholm! And damn the circumstances that had let the crazy bastard back onto the streets.
Mentally tamping down on his anger, Hutch went into the bedroom and gathered up a blanket and a pillow. When he returned, he almost believed Starsky had fallen asleep where he sat. His breathing was slower, and he looked more relaxed than he had all week. Hutch was about to spread the blanket over his friend when Starsky opened one eye.
He handed over the pillow, and once Starsky had settled his head there, tossed the blanket over him. Starsky was silent as Hutch moved about the apartment, turning off lights and making sure the place was locked up. He pulled his shirt over his head as he entered the bedroom, and then was struck by a thought.
Starsky opened both eyes this time, to see his half-naked partner standing beside the couch, unbuckling his belt.
"Not tonight, honey, I have a headache."
"Very funny. I was just going to tell you...nah, never mind."
Hutch started to walk away, and Starsky sat straight up.
"You can't do that!"
Hutch stopped, looking over his shoulder with an odd expression. "Can't do what?"
"You can't start a sentence like that and then refuse to finish it! How do you expect me to get any sleep if I'm lyin' here all night wondering what you were gonna say?"
Hutch couldn't help laughing at the indignant expression on his partner's face.
"Starsky, I was just going to say that if you have any upsetting dreams tonight--feel free to check my pulse." He grinned and disappeared around the corner, barely missing the pillow Starsky threw at him.
If Starsky hadn't been forced to retrieve the pillow, the blond man would never have heard the half-whispered, "Thanks, Hutch."
"Drop your weapon!" Hutch ordered the tall, thin man with the black mustache. "Come out with your hands up." All the while he said the words, some part of his mind wanted to laugh hysterically--they sounded so cliche, and yet, they were perfectly appropriate for the situation. The guy had shot at the owner of a small grocery store--missing him, fortunately--and taken off with the money from the cash register just as Starsky and Hutch arrived. Hutch had followed the man into an adjoining alley, where the guy had taken cover behind a dumpster. Every attempt Hutch made to move closer had been thwarted by gunfire.
Starsky, having checked inside the store to make sure no accomplices lurked there, had exited the back way, and now was silently approaching the man from behind. Catching sight of his partner's curly head bobbing among the boxes and trash that littered the alley, Hutch did his best to distract the suspect behind the dumpster.
"If you come out now, it'll go easier for you," he offered, knowing he was wasting his breath. He'd gotten a good glimpse of the man's eyes when the guy took a potshot at him, and it was pretty clear their prey was stoned out of his head. Even if he'd been straight, he probably wouldn't have listened, but in his current condition, Hutch doubted if the guy even understood the words he was saying.
Starsky was almost there, stepping carefully over a pile of wood from a broken crate. Hutch waited, knowing the situation would end within a few seconds.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Starsky slipped, twisting his ankle, and Hutch saw the man with the gun turn toward his partner.
"No!" he yelled, hoping to draw the suspect's attention away from Starsky.
Starsky's gun slipped out of his grasp as he fell, skittering away on the concrete, and Hutch saw the look of abject fear in his partner's eyes as the suspect took aim.
He didn't have a clear shot, but Hutch fired anyway. Even if he couldn't bring the man down, it was his only chance of preventing what was about to happen.
Two shots rang out almost simultaneously, and for a terrifying moment, Hutch wasn't sure exactly what had happened. He heard Starsky's cry of pain, and the man behind the dumpster fell backwards. With his heart in his throat, Hutch immediately grabbed the suspect and jerked him to his feet. He'd winged him, and blood dripped from his arm. Hutch quickly cuffed the guy, risking a glance back at Starsky. His partner lay on the dirty pavement, too still. Blood was rapidly pooling around him.
"Get an ambulance!" he shouted when a uniformed pair joined them seconds later. "And take care of this guy." He shoved his prisoner toward one of the officers, not even stopping to see if the officer caught the guy. "And get his gun," Hutch ordered, pointing behind him to the weapon the suspect had dropped. His eyes were only on Starsky.
The wound was in his left thigh, Hutch noted with a small amount of relief, and not in the middle of the chest where the man had been originally aiming. If Hutch had fired a split-second later, or if he'd missed, Starsky would be dead right now.
He shut his eyes against the horror of that thought, gently gathering Starsky's head into his lap.
"Starsky? Hey, Starsk, can you wake up? Come on, Blue Eyes, let me see 'em."
Starsky stirred in his embrace, and groaned.
"It's all right, buddy. Just your leg. You'll get to play with all the beautiful nurses for a few days. And that vacation I threatened you with? Guess you'll be getting that now, too."
Hutch knew he was babbling, but he didn't care. The relief of knowing his best friend had slipped out of death's grasp one more time was so overwhelming that he hardly knew what he was saying, anyway.
He kept it up for another couple of minutes, until finally Starsky gasped, "Would you--shut--the hell--UP!"
Hutch laughed then, he couldn't help it. The sirens wailing ever nearer told him the ambulance would arrive shortly.
"You're gonna be okay, Starsk. I promise."
"You--I'm worried--about." In spite of his words, Starsky reached out a hand, groping for a second until he found Hutch's, and then held on tight.
"Does it hurt, buddy?"
"Nah. Piece o' cake."
"Right. Here come the good guys."
Hutch backed away and let the paramedics work on Starsky, but knowing his friend would grow nervous without his presence, he kept up a running banter so Starsky would know he was near. When they loaded the injured man into the ambulance alongside the perp who had shot him, it was all Hutch could do not to let loose with a stream of insults and profanity. His partner was lying there in agony because that jerk had needed a fix. Clenching his fists tightly, Hutch slipped behind the wheel of Starsky's tomato.
He'd have to rib his partner later about driving his car for the second time in as many days. Later, when Starsky woke up. When the bullet was safely out of his leg and he was pain-free.
The surgery didn't take long. The bullet had nicked Starsky's femur, and that resistance had prevented the clean through-and-through wound that would have been desirable in this situation, but they'd gotten it out without any real trouble. Captain Dobey arrived just as the doctor emerged from the stainless steel doors leading to the operating area.
Hutch stood up expectantly. "Yeah, that's me."
The doctor smiled and held out a hand. "I'm Dr. Alexander. I'm happy to tell you, your friend is going to be fine. We'll want to keep him here a few days to make sure there aren't any complications with infection and so forth, but barring anything like that, he should be able to go home by Monday, at the latest."
Hutch's eyes closed in a silent prayer of gratitude. "Thanks, Doctor. When can I see him?"
"He'll be in recovery for a couple of hours. You can go in for a few minutes now, just to see him, but he'll be out for quite some time."
Hutch nodded, and barely heard his captain talking to the doctor as he stole through the doors. A kindly nurse pointed him in the right direction, and Hutch crept up next to the bed that held his partner.
"Starsk," he breathed, carefully taking hold of the hand that lay so limply against the sheets. "I'm here."
There was no response, but having been in Starsky's place on more than one occasion, he had a strong belief that his partner sensed his presence, and was glad of it.
"I can only stay a minute, but I wanted you to know I was here. We got the bad guy, too. And you're going to be fine." Hutch noticed the nurse hovering just outside the cubicle, and took his cue from her. "I have to go now, Partner. Your nurse wants to give you a bed bath or something. Better wake up soon, or you'll miss all the fun. I'll be back as soon as they let me in."
Hutch squeezed his friend's hand, hoping for an answering pressure even though he knew it was unlikely, and then rejoined Dobey in the waiting room. With trembling hands he took the cup of coffee the older man silently offered, and sank into a convenient chair.
"He's going to be fine, Hutch."
"You're still worried."
"There's no good way to take a bullet, Captain, you know that."
"Of course I know that. I also know that if you hadn't been there to back him up, we'd be making funeral arrangements right now. Good work, Hutchinson."
"Yeah," Hutch replied wearily, closing his eyes and savoring the warmth of the coffee. "Right."
"Summers gave me a report on what happened in that alley. Said you fired just in time to deflect the suspect's shot at Starsky."
"Well, I guess I didn't deflect it quite enough, now did I?"
"Stop it," Dobey ordered roughtly. "You saved your partner's life. I doubt Starsky will complain."
Hutch had to grin at that one. "Of course he will, Captain. Have you ever known Starsky not to complain?"
Dobey, his mission accomplished when the smile surfaced, patted his detective on the shoulder and took his leave. "Let me know when he wakes up," he ordered just before disappearing around the corner.
One blue eye peered through slitted lashes, and then another. Hutch sat next to his bed in an uncomfortable-looking chair, his head at an uncomfortable-looking angle. He was going to have one hell of a crick in his neck when he woke up.
"Hey," Starsky muttered in a scratchy whisper.
Hutch opened his eyes, and Starsky grinned.
"Hey." Taking note of the roughness in Starsky's voice, Hutch automatically reached for the cup of ice chips provided by the nurse. This part of the recovery routine was so familiar that either of them could have performed it in their sleep.
"How you feeling?"
Starsky considered for a moment, opening his eyes wider as he accepted the ice. "Floating, right now."
Hutch smiled. "That's good. The alternative wouldn't be nearly as much fun."
"Shut up." He shoved another spoonful of ice between Starsky's lips in order to help him accomplish that task.
"Did we get him?"
"Yeah. Clipped him in the arm. He'll be healthy enough to stand trial."
Starsky nodded, and yawned.
"Falling back to sleep already?"
"Got a lot of catchin' up to do." The last words were barely audible as Starsky slipped under the influence of the drug again.
Hutch stroked the curls gently, made sure the blankets were straight, and almost laughed at himself for his maternal instincts. Taking care of Starsky just came so naturally to him. He picked up the phone to call Dobey, and settled himself back into the uncomfortable chair at Starsky's bedside. It was going to be a long night, but there was no way he was going to allow himself to be dislodged.
Fully dressed, Starsky lay on his hospital bed and waited for Hutch to arrive. He had everything packed already, but his partner had been called in to work earlier, and wouldn't be there for another half hour. He fingered the prescription for painkillers in his jacket pocket. The leg didn't really bother him all that much anymore--it had been four days since the shooting. Occasional aches, but nothing he could't handle.
Nothing as bad as what he'd handled in the past without the aid of medication.
But...Starsky stared at the ceiling and let the thoughts of Terry come. Somehow, they weren't unbearable when he was floating on a codeine sea. It was nice, somehow, remembering her and how much fun they'd had together--not completely without pain, but with more of a dull ache in his gut than a sharp knife through his heart. After living with the sharp knife for so long, any relief was welcome.
And he hadn't had the nightmare even once since the shooting.
His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of his partner, followed by a nurse with a wheelchair.
"Ready to blow this joint?"
"Get me outta here."
He had a half-formed plan to try and drive his Torino to the drugstore, but Starsky didn't really believe it would work.
There was no way he'd persuade Hutch to leave him alone tonight, and he didn't feel comfortable asking Hutch to stop and fill the prescription on the way home from the hospital. He'd already made a show of telling him how little pain he was experiencing.
After giving his best effort to the cause, Starsky got a pillow and blanket for Hutch and watched him bunk down on the couch. "You don't have to stay, you know. This is gonna kill your back."
"I'm fine, Starsky. I can't leave you alone yet, you can barely walk."
"That's why they gave me crutches."
"Go to bed."
Starsky rolled his eyes and gave Hutch a mock salute. "Yes, sir." He turned toward the bedroom on his crutches and nearly tripped over the chair. Before he could hit the floor, Hutch was there to catch him.
"See?" the blond demanded. "If I hadn't been here--"
"If you hadn't been here, I'd have landed on my ass. Then I'd have gotten back up again."
"With a lot of pain and effort."
"Right." Starsky wiped the sweat from his brow. His leg had banged against the arm of the sofa, and the pain he was experiencing now was nearly as bad as when the bullet had first hit, but he had no intention of letting Hutch know that. "Could you just help me to the bed, minus the lecture?"
"What's the magic word?"
"Screw you." Starsky let Hutch take him around the waist and half-drag, half-carry him toward the bed.
"You're not my type," Hutch panted. "I like redheads."
"Kiss my ass." Starsky tried to help by putting weight on the injured leg, and gasped. He clutched at his partner and Hutch gripped him even tighter.
"Not on your life." They reached the bed at last, and he settled Starsky down onto it, raising his legs as gently as possible.
"Dammit!" Starsky hollered, feeling a knifelike pain shoot straight up from his leg all the way to his shoulder. "Thanks, Hutch."
Starsky jerked awake, and rubbed at the tears rolling down his face.
"Damn!" he whispered to himself. The dream, snatches of images that he'd just as soon forget forever, still tormented him. He struggled to his feet and grasped at the crutches, making his way carefully to the sofa. Hutch lay there, sound asleep, his chest moving up and down in rhythmic breathing.
Alive. Still alive. Hutch was alive, but not Terry.
And that awful ache was back.
Starsky closed his eyes against it, forcing himself to push the memories of her away. He didn't want to forget her, God no, never that, but it just hurt too much. The crushing pain in his heart had returned with the dream, and he opened his mouth in a silent sob of despair. Would it ever end? Would he ever manage to live with the grief? People lost loved ones all the time. Surely not everybody who had lost someone they loved had to live with this kind of pain. It wasn't natural. It wasn't normal.
He needed help.
And then, almost of their own accord, his eyes drifted to the bookshelf. '1000 Ways to Win at Monopoly' stared back at him in the dim light reflected from the bedside lamp, and the tears began again.
He eased himself into the wicker chair, breathing deeply against the agony that wanted to crush him. Gone. She was gone, and he could never get her back. Could never laugh with her again, or hold her...would never call her his wife, or see their children. They would have had such beautiful children, with his dark blue eyes and her gorgeous hair...and Prudholm had stolen it from him. Sometimes--not often, but on happy occasions--stolen merchandise was actually returned to its original owner. Starsky had seen the faces of people who'd had their jewelry returned to them... once a treasured antique car...but no power in the world could restore the woman he had loved with all his being. Prudholm could die, or he could live for another thirty years in a miserable mental institution, and it wasn't enough. It would never be enough because there was no fixing what he had broken. There was no way to return what he had taken.
Starsky covered his face with his hands and tried not to sob aloud. Hutch stirred briefly, and Starsky held his breath, not wanting his partner to wake up and find him here.
And then the ache in his leg began--just a little ache at first, but it didn't take a lot of mental trickery to convince himself that it was quickly becoming unbearable.
He picked up the prescription from where he'd carelessly dropped it on the coffee table, and studied the doctor's scrawl in the dimness. He couldn't read a word of it, but he knew what it was. Standard, default, codeine-based painkillers that everybody received after surgery. A prescription for a drug that Starsky had rarely taken in his life before this hospital stay. He'd always hated the doped-up feeling it gave him, and had been willing to endure a little pain in order to maintain his mental faculties.
Now, mental faculties didn't really seem all that important. After all, he wouldn't be going back to work for another few days, and even then he'd be on desk duty for a while, until he could run again.
So what would be the harm in taking a little relief? It would help him sleep, and God knew, he needed the sleep. And his leg did hurt, so this was a legitimate use for a legitimate prescription written by a legitimate doctor. Right?
One more glance at the bookshelf convinced him he was right.
"Hutch?" Starsky used one crutch to poke at the bare foot peeking out from under the blanket.
"Hutch, wake up."
Awake all at once, Hutch sat up. "What is it, Starsk? You okay?"
Starsky held out the prescription with a trembling hand. "I need a favor. Could you go get this filled for me? There's an all night pharmacy around the corner on Belvedere."
Hutch blinked. "I thought you said the pain wasn't bad anymore."
"It wasn't," Starsky sighed, "until I tripped. Now it's killing me. C'mon, Hutch, please."
Hutch gave Starsky a puzzled look, but didn't argue. He just slipped on his pants and shoes and left. Starsky heard the sound of his car engine fading down the block, and smiled. Relief was only a few short minutes away.
It didn't take Hutch long to accomplish the task, and when he returned with the bottle of pills, Starsky gripped it like a dying man would a cure for a fatal disease.
"Let me help you into bed," Hutch said. "Then I'll get you some water and you can take one."
Starsky wanted to yell at him to give him the damn pill NOW, and he could dry-swallow it...anything to make the agony in his heart disappear--but realized how ridiculous that was. Hutch would be all over something like that, and knowing his partner's power of perception where he was concerned, he just might take the pills away. And by now, his leg was throbbing in time to his heartbeat. He knew he didn't have the stamina left to argue.
"Okay," he agreed, allowing Hutch to help him rise. "But hurry, would ya? I'm dyin' here."
Hutch slipped his arm around Starsky's waist and acted as his crutch while they stumbled back to the bedroom. Once he had Starsky safely tucked beneath the blankets, he went to the kitchen, returning with a glass of water and the plastic bottle.
Starsky's eyes were glued to that bottle, but Hutch was so preoccupied with his partner's pain that he didn't notice.
"Here," he said, shaking one of the tablets into Starsky's trembling hand. "You must be really hurting," he observed, watching as Starsky threw the pill down his throat and gulped at the water.
"You have no idea," Starsky agreed, handing Hutch the now-empty glass. "Thanks a lot, buddy. I owe you one."
"You owe me a hell of a lot more than one, but we'll settle up your tab later. Do you need anything else?"
Starsky shook his head sleepily, closing his eyes and waiting for the euphoria and relief to begin creeping up on him.
"Then I'm going to get some more sleep. And Starsk? If you need me again, just yell, okay? Don't get up."
Hutch was safely snoring on the couch by the time the drug hit Starsky, so he was able to lie back and enjoy the memories without the accompanying ache.
Thoughts of endless Monopoly games he'd lost to her, and long walks in the park, and of passionate nights in each others' arms. Even the memory of her last words filled him with comfort rather than the usual heartache. Words he would treasure for the rest of his days--at least, he would treasure them if he was able to bring himself to recall them.
He owed that much to Terry. The pills were just a way to help him fulfill an unspoken promise. And Starsky always kept his promises.
Starsky waited until Hutch left the squad room to get their lunch before he called his doctor. He just hoped he wasn't put on hold, because if he was, he'd never finish the call before his partner returned.
"Yeah, David Starsky," he said, mentally cheering when the nurse he'd requested answered after only a minute. "I called this morning about a prescription refill."
"Oh, yes, Mr. Starsky. I talked to Dr. Alexander, and I'm afraid he said he can't refill that for you. If you're still having enough pain to warrant narcotics, he'd like to see you again."
"Look, there's nothing he needs to see me about--uh, what's your name?"
"Well, Sarah, everything's healing up just like he told me it should. The only problem is, sometimes it hurts like hell. I just need one more refill, that should take care of it."
"I'm very sorry, Mr. Starsky," she answered firmly, "but Dr. Alexander has already given you more than he thinks should have been necessary, and he really wants you to come back in to see him if you're still in that much pain."
"Fine!" he growled. "I'll make a damned appointment."
"Hold on, please, and I'll transfer you to the receptionist."
As soon as she put him on hold, Starsky slammed the phone down with another muttered curse.
"Everything all right?" Hutch had just entered the squadroom, balancing his tuna salad and Starsky's meatball sub on a tray.
"Damn doctors," Starsky groused. "You tell 'em what you need and all they want to do is poke and prod at you!" He took the sandwich from Hutch and bit into it almost angrily, wiping away the sauce that dripped down his chin.
"Well it's obvious you're not sick," Hutch observed wryly, watching his partner eat. "So what's the problem?"
"It's just my damn leg. It still hurts, but the doc won't give me a refill on my pain medication. Says he has to see me."
Hutch stared. "You're still taking that stuff?"
Starsky looked up to see concern in his partner's eyes, and something else--fear? All at once, he realized the mistake he had made. He smiled, hoping to deflect Hutch's suspicion.
"Relax, Blondie. It's only on rare occasions. Must be the damp weather."
"Starsk, if you're still hurting after all this time, you might ought to listen to the doctor. There could be something wrong that you don't suspect. You don't want to jeopardize your chances of getting back on the street, do you?"
"My chances of getting back on the street are just fine," Starsky snapped. "Dobey's already told me next week. I can walk, I can run, and I can cover your ass. So don't worry about me." Seeing the confusion on his partner's face, he softened. "I'm fine, Hutch. Really. I'll just take some aspirin or something when the pain bothers me. Don't worry."
Hutch didn't say anything else about the incident, but Starsky knew he hadn't fooled his partner. They always could read each other like a book, and it was clear the blond was thinking things over way too much for Starsky's comfort.
He'd damn well better start being more careful. Beginning with finding himself another doctor. They had three days off starting tomorrow, and he was going to be on the phone first thing in the morning.
The little bottle in his pocket only held two more doses of grief relief.
"You're in a good mood," observed Hutch, opening the door to admit his best friend and the large pizza he carried.
"The best. And for you, no anchovies."
"You're all heart. Speaking of hearts, what kind of artery-clogging toppings did you get?"
"Pepperoni, naturally. Is there anything else?"
"Starsk, you know I can't eat that!"
"You can pick yours off and I'll eat 'em."
Hutch opened the box and smiled when he saw that half the pizza was the vegetarian special, light on the cheese.
"What time does the first movie start?" he asked, fishing a couple of plates out of the cupboard.
Starsky accepted the greasy mess Hutch handed him, and grabbed two beers from the refrigerator.
"Seriously, Starsky, I haven't seen you this happy in a long time."
Starsky grinned. "Maybe I've turned a corner."
Hutch put a hand on his shoulder briefly. "It's a good corner. I'm glad you came on around it."
They settled onto the couch with the pizza box between them and Hutch tuned the television to the monster movie marathon Starsky had wanted to watch. It wasn't his idea of great programming, but just the opportunity to have a good time with Starsky was too precious to turn down. There had been so few good times lately.
Since Terry's death, his partner had been moody and depressed, with mood swings that had become almost frightening at times. Starsky had developed the disturbing ability to go from placid calm to earthquake-like anger in two seconds. Hutch had learned to read the signs and avoid most of the explosions, but others had not been so lucky. And Hutch was damned tired of walking on eggshells around Starsky all the time. He wanted his friend back.
For the past couple of weeks, he'd almost seen a return to the old Starsky. Not entirely--there were still some tense moments-- but progress was being made, and for that, Hutch was grateful.
It was nearly midnight when Hutch realized Starsky had fallen asleep leaning against the arm of the sofa. With a smile, he turned off the television, cleaned up the mess from their dinner, and threw a blanket over his partner.
"It's good to have you back, buddy," he whispered before heading into the bathroom to get ready for bed.
Their conversation had been full of the friendly arguments and banter that had always characterized their relationship, and Starsky had even mentioned Terry a time or two. There had been no held-back tears, no anger, no despairing looks...just fond memories of a person they had both loved dearly. Hutch was profoundly relieved.
The morning sun shone in his eyes, and Starsky yawned and stretched. He heard a muffled, "Morning," from the bedroom and responded in kind. Starsky waited until Hutch disappeared into the shower to pull the bottle from his pocket. Dr. Timberlake had been quite accomodating when Starsky had sat in his office the day before and pathetically mentioned how much his injured leg still pained him. He had told the whole story of the shooting, and it was clear the young doctor had considered Starsky some kind of hero for protecting the public. He'd written the prescription Starsky wanted with no hesitation, and Starsky had noted with satisfaction that he had also given him two refills.
"You won't need all of this, I'm sure, Detective," the doctor had said when he handed him the desired piece of paper. "Just take them as needed. And if the pain doesn't get better soon, you'll want to consider seeing the doctor who treated you originally, if you can. It doesn't look like there was a problem with the healing, but there are things I can't tell from a cursory exam here in the office."
"If I need another exam, I'd rather come to you," Starsky had said, turning on the charm full-blast. "I wasn't really impressed with that other guy, but I can tell you know what you're doing."
Dr. Timberlake had actually blushed. It was funny as hell, but Starsky had managed to keep a straight face.
"My sister is dating a cop," the doctor offered. "I know some of what you guys go through on a daily basis. I just want to thank you."
Starsky gave a little grin. "Just doing our jobs, doc, same as you."
And he'd left the office whistling. As soon as he'd gotten the prescription filled, he'd shaken two of the tablets into his hand and tossed them down, taking a drink at the store's water fountain to help them on their way.
He knew it wasn't a good sign that his body had built up a tolerance now, and required two pills where it had previously only needed one. He knew it wasn't a good sign that they didn't knock him loopy the way they used to. He was able to drive, read, concentrate, even chase down suspects while under the influence, and it wasn't affecting his performance at all--at least not that he could tell, and Hutch certainly hadn't complained. He hadn't complained one bit when Starsky had rescued him from that pair of dope dealers who were about to waste him last week.
Starsky knew in his head that the signs weren't good, but in his heart, he just didn't give a damn. He'd tried giving up the pills after Dr. Alexander had been so uncooperative, but the nightmares had returned full force, along with a jittery, unsettled feeling that left him pacing the floor night after night. He'd had to space them out far more widely than he'd wanted--one a day, and for the last two days before he was able to see Dr. Timberlake, he'd had none at all. By that time Starsky knew his flashes of temper had worried his partner and alienated half the department. He didn't care about that, either. All he cared about at the moment was making the pain go away, and these little tablets were like a miracle cure.
Ought to recommend them to every grieving family member we see, he thought as he swallowed the medication with a glass of the orange juice he found in Hutch's fridge.
"You want something to eat?" he called to Hutch when he heard the shower cut off.
"I'll make it," Hutch hollered back. "Fix yourself some eggs or something if you want."
Starsky shook his head, knowing his friend was going to mix up that disgusting health drink he had every morning. He poked around in the refrigerator and dug out three eggs, some onions, cheese and a jar of hot sauce that he knew Hutch must have put there for him. When Hutch emerged, Starsky watched him add one disgusting ingredient after another to the blender, as he ate an omelet smothered in the sauce.
"Thanks," he said around a mouthful of egg.
"Oh." Hutch shrugged. "I don't know how that got into my shopping cart. Some kid must have dropped it in while I wasn't looking, or something. Didn't notice it until I got home."
"What do you want to do today? Any plans?"
Starsky thought for a bit while he finished his omelet. "How about some basketball?" he asked after a while. "We haven't been over to the Center in months. I'd kind of like to see the kids again."
"You sure you're up to that?"
"You bet. It'll be fun, don't ya think?"
Hutch drained his glass while Starsky watched with a pained expression.
"Yeah. I guess we could do that."
"I gotta go home and shower, though. Meet you there at ten?"
"Okay then." Starsky put his plate in the sink and fished his car keys out of his pocket. He touched the bottle there, feeling reassured. The dose he'd taken earlier would last him a couple of hours, and he'd take another just before he left for the Center. It would be all right. He'd promised Terry he'd look after the kids, and that was one promise he intended to begin keeping right now.
"Starsk? It's good to have you back."
Starsky grinned on his way out the door. "It's great to be back, buddy."
"Can you give me one good reason why I shouldn't put the word out to my colleagues about you?" Dr. Snyder asked roughly. "If I do that, no doctor within a hundred-mile radius is going to prescribe anything stronger than baby aspirin for you, I can assure of that, Mr. Starsky."
Starsky closed his eyes, willing the nightmare away, and then opened them to face the music. After burning through three different doctors, it seemed he'd been well and truly caught. Deep inside, he'd known it was bound to happen sometime. They couldn't all be fools.
"Please don't do that, Doc. Please. I'm...asking."
"Why shouldn't I?"
"Because it would destroy my career. Destroy me."
"You're destroying yourself already."
Dr. Snyder observed the pale, shaking man from his six-foot-four-inch height, arms crossed disapprovingly over his chest. The guy looked scared--no, absolutely terrified--and it occurred to Snyder that this man wasn't your typical user.
"What kind of work do you do?" he asked, his voice more pleasant than it had been since Starsky had first voiced his request.
Starsky looked up hopefully, trying to read the doctor's intentions in his eyes, but failed. Defeated, he dropped his gaze to the floor tiles once more.
"I'd rather not say," he answered softly. "Just...believe me, if this gets out, it'll be over for me. Please, Doc. Just gimme another chance. I swear I'll stay away from the stuff."
"No you won't. Not unless you get some help. You're addicted, David. Do you know what that means?"
More than you can guess, Doc! Starsky thought, but settled for a slight nod.
"Now I know this isn't what you normally think of as a street drug, but believe me, it will kill you just as surely as heroin or cocaine. It might take longer, but there's only one end to this road. The body isn't designed to endure what these types of drugs put it through on a long-term basis. That's why you can't buy them at your local pharmacy without a prescription."
Starsky didn't respond, and Dr. Snyder threw up his hands in a gesture of defeat.
"Why am I telling you this?" he questioned rhetorically. "I'd be willing to bet you already know it, anyway."
He almost had to lean down to hear the curly-haired man's reply.
With a sigh, Dr. Snyder took a seat beside his patient. He waited for a few moments while the tense man relaxed a bit, and then invited, "Tell me why you started."
He thought Starsky wasn't going to answer at first, but after a long minute, he did. "My fiancee died. I couldn't sleep. It hurt bad. I had nightmares. Then I was--I had a job related injury. They gave me the pain pills, and for the first time in six months... Well, let's just say it made things bearable that I didn't think I'd be able to bear on my own."
"Have you talked to anyone? Psychiatrist? Counselor?"
Starsky shook his head slightly.
"Then I'm going to make you an offer, David." He pulled out a notebook from his pocket and began scribbling. "I'm giving you the name of a friend of mine, a psychologist who specializes in depression. You make an appointment with her office before this day is over, and I'll let you off the hook. Once," he emphasized, holding up a warning finger and looking so much like Hutch that Starsky almost smiled. "You make the appointment, and you keep it. And you go to her until she says you don't need to come back. If I hear from her that you haven't kept up your end of the bargain, your name is going to be mud in every doctor's office in southern California. Clear?"
"Clear," Starsky agreed, taking the paper with a profound sense of having just averted impending doom. "Thanks, Doc."
"Don't thank me yet, David. You have a long road ahead of you. After you've seen the psychologist, I'll consult with her. I may be able to prescribe a non-addictive sleep aid if you still need it, but I'd prefer you try her methods first. Here, take this." He opened a drawer and extracted a small booklet, handing it to Starsky.
"A road map," the doctor replied with a grin. "It'll explain what you need to expect from withdrawal." His smile grew wider. "You're lucky you came to me. You won't find too many physicians who will actually tell you how to deal with that."
"How come you do?" Starsky asked, genuinely curious.
Dr. Snyder shrugged. "It's a much more common problem than most people realize. I find it's better to deal with things straight on than to ignore them and hope they go away. It won't be easy, David, but I promise you it will be worth it. And another piece of advice for you: tell someone."
"Someone you trust. Someone who can help you over the roughest patches. There are going to be some, believe me. It'll help you a lot if you have someone you can call on. Don't try to go through this alone. You'll be setting yourself up for a fall."
"Sounds like A.A.," Starsky muttered.
"In many ways, it's very similar. You need a support system."
A support system. Hutch was the obvious choice. But how could he tell Hutch what he'd done to himself, after Hutch had endured something so much worse at the hands of others? How could he face his best friend, his partner, and tell him that he had willingly walked into the darkness?
"Sure," Starsky agreed, folding the paper and stuffing it into his jeans pocket. "Good idea."
Dr. Snyder sighed again. "You're not going to do it."
At that, Starsky looked up, startled, and saw such concern in the black eyes that he very nearly crumbled. How could this man care so much what happened to a total stranger? But isn't that what we do every day? he asked himself. We care. It's what makes us good cops. Maybe it's what makes this guy a good doctor.
"Anybody ever tell you you're way too perceptive?" he grinned.
"All the time." Dr. Snyder offered his hand, and Starsky shook it. "David, consider following my advice. You'll find it makes recovery so much easier if you have someone you can lean on. And I promise you, I meant what I said."
"I know you did, Doc. And I'll call her as soon as I get home. Thanks."
Starsky did call, and he even made an appointment for the following week. He didn't mention the drug addiction to the receptionist, but he was pretty sure the shrink--Marianne Brovard by name--was going to get a full rundown from Dr. Snyder that afternoon.
Sweating again, he swiped a hand over his face and reflected upon just how damned lucky he'd been. Now he only had to hope the doctor would keep his word, but Starsky didn't really worry about that. As long as he kept up his end of the bargain. Went to Dr. Brovard. Didn't take any more pills.
Stopped sleeping again. Began the nightmares again. Started to feel the terrible, empty, killing ache again.
He picked up the empty prescription bottle and shook it almost unconsciously, as if hoping to find he'd missed one last tablet, then realized what he had just done.
"Shit!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, flinging the bottle into the kitchen. It bounced off the refrigerator and landed on the floor, rolling quietly for a few seconds before coming to a stop.
The feeling of restlessness was almost too much to endure, and he began pacing the apartment, knowing he was acting like a caged animal, but unable to stop himself. His limbs felt jittery, as if he'd consumed a dozen cups of coffee on an empty stomach, and the vague nausea he'd been coping with all day was becoming more pronounced.
He stomped into the bedroom and threw himself in the middle of the bed, trying to will himself to relax. It was a fruitless exercise, and after a minute he began to laugh, choking, harsh laughter that wanted to turn to sobs. He flung out his arm and accidentally knocked the phone off the bedside table.
Hutch, his tortured mind screamed. Just call him! He'll understand. He'll know what to do, how to help.
He'll be disgusted, his inner voice argued. Betrayed. Devastated. It will be the end of our friendship, and what are you going to do then, Davey old boy? Hutch is the only true friend you've got. What will you do after he looks at you with revulsion and anger, and walks out of your life?
It'll just be you and those little white tablets then, for as long as you can manage. And then....
And then, nothing. Because there'd be nothing left of him without Hutch, and Starsky knew it.
"All right," he chattered nervously to himself, jumping up and resuming his pacing. "All right, this is nothing like heroin addiction, right? I mean, sure, I'm jumpy and kinda sick feeling, but Hutch was in agony. He needed someone else to help him kick it. Nobody could do that alone. But this--this is different."
He vaguely remembered a witness once telling them about a friend of hers who was kicking the heroin habit a little at a time. "It hurt like hell, but she was doing it," the girl had said.
"Well, if she could do that, I can do this. This ain't even really an addiction compared to that. This is like--like Withdrawal Lite. Nothin' to it. Piece o' cake."
But in order to beat the pills gradually, he'd still need a supply. And even Withdrawal Lite suddenly seemed too much to handle cold turkey. Alone. Because there was no way in hell he was dragging Hutch into this. His friend deserved better from him.
"All right. One time," he told himself at length. "Other side of town. Leave the badge and gun at home. One score, and I'll be set." He'd ended up in the bathroom, and studied his pale, thin face in the harsh overhead light. "ONE!" he told the man in the mirror fiercely. "One score, and you'd better win this game, because there ain't gonna be no do-overs."
Starsky parked his car half a mile from where he planned to make his buy. The neighborhood here was a little less rough, a little less frightening, and a little less likely to trash his Torino if his back was turned for two minutes. The place he was headed was not so nice. Starsky knew he was taking a risk--an enormous risk, in fact--by going alone into this place where he was a stranger without even his gun to back him up, but he had no other option. If he was moderately lucky, and there was no reason why he shouldn't be, he'd make his buy and get back home within an hour. Hutch would never know. And in a couple of weeks, he'd be clean again, free from the pills.
Trapped by the memories, but free from the drugs. What a choice to have to make. What a screwed up, ugly little situation he'd gotten himself into.
Die slow or die fast, he thought grimly. Guess I owe it to Hutch to die slow. But it sure as hell ain't gonna be easy.
He approached the warehouse district where he knew plenty of drug dealers hung out, feeling automatically for the safety of his gun and wincing a bit when he remembered he was without it. Truly alone on this one, he told himself. Get the stuff and get out.
He spotted a likely candidate, a young black man in his early twenties, wearing a coat with big pockets. Starsky hung back and watched while two teenaged girls, probably prostitutes judging from the way they were dressed and that street-hardened look on their faces, approached the boy. They were obviously regular customers--he didn't even have to speak to them. He took their money and slipped them each a small packet, then turned away without a word.
That was it, then. Starsky took two steps toward the young man and felt himself jerked back by the shirt collar.
"Look what we have here, boys," said a voice into his ear, a voice so cold it made him shiver. "Whitey don't belong in this here neighborhood. Whatcha doin' here, white boy?"
Starsky held his hands out to show he was unarmed, noting with alarm the four Chicano men who now surrounded him.
"Look, I don't want any trouble," he said.
"Tough shit, white boy. You got trouble anyway."
Moving suddenly, Starsky was able to break free of the kid who held him, but his treatment of their friend only angered the other three.
"He broke Emilio's nose, man!" one of them said as Starsky was grabbed by all three and wrestled to the ground. "You're gonna pay for that, mister."
And Starsky did pay. He paid with his ribs, his face, his legs, his belly... He managed to avoid screaming until one of the punks stomped on his left hand with a massive boot. After that, he just tried to curl into a ball and disappear.
Finally, when their victim had stopped moving, the boys left him and wandered on down the street, completely unconcerned about being apprehended. The drug dealer, the prostitutes and anyone else who might have been hanging around had disappeared, and Starsky was alone.
He lay there, out cold for several minutes, but then the pain in his entire body reminded him he was still alive. With effort, Starsky managed to open his eyes. It was still dark, but now he was completely alone. He rolled onto his back, groaning when agony shot through his torso, and tried to look around.
At first all he could see was the street, the buildings, the alley, but then--something silver gleamed in the streetlights, and he prayed he wasn't simply hallucinating. A phone booth. It was a phone booth, there on the corner, ten feet from where he lay. He rolled again, landing on his stomach this time, and couldn't help crying out at the pain. Definitely broken ribs, his mind told him in a detached sort of way. Possibly internal bleeding, too. Gotta get to that phone. Gotta call Hutch.
Single-mindedly, eyes on the prize, Starsky inched his way toward the beacon that towered above him. He could only crawl along the pavement-- sitting up had proven too painful to contemplate, and standing was asking for the moon. So crawl he did, one agonizing foot at a time until he finally felt his hand brush the half-opened glass door. Fighting with it, pushing with all the strength he had left, Starsky managed to open the door. Then he collapsed onto his back, gasping for breath, and stared up at the black savior above him. It was a million miles away.
He closed his eyes just for a moment, and when he finally opened them again, was vaguely aware that more than a moment had passed. It could have been minutes or hours. All he knew for certain was that he still hadn't managed to call for help, and every second he lay here, he ran the risk of his attackers returning to finish him off.
With a herculean effort, Starsky rolled over once again, forcing himself to balance on his hands and knees. When the dizziness from that subsided, he reached up to grasp at the metal shelf below the phone. His left hand was useless, but the right was still in working order, so with muscles straining, he hauled himself up to a halfway-standing position.
He stared at the phone for several seconds before he realized he had to put money in it. Feeling in his back pocket with his good right hand, Starsky came up empty. He hadn't even noticed the bastards had robbed him. His license, gas credit card, and most of this week's paycheck were gone, but the worst of it all was that they hadn't even left him a dime to call Hutch.
His fingers still hooked in the empty pocket of his jeans, Starsky wanted to cry. Then a thought occurred to him, and he grabbed the receiver off the hook, breathing a sigh of relief when he heard the welcome dial tone. Forcing himself to focus, he pressed the "0" button.
"Yeah--Operator...I need...need to make a col-collect call. Kenneth Hutchinson." He gave her his name and Hutch's number, then crossed his fingers and begged the gods to let his partner be home.
Finally, something went right for him. Hutch answered on the second ring, and after accepting the charges, asked, "Starsk? Where are you? Is everything all right?"
"Starsky!" His partner's voice sounded frantic. "Where are you? What's happened."
"Corner of--corner of Beach and Rosemont," Starsky breathed. "Help, Hutch, please."
"Beach and Rosemont? What the hell are you doing way over there?" Hutch asked, but didn't really expect an answer. "Starsky, just sit tight. I'm going to call an ambulance--"
"No! No ambulance. You come...please...Hutch..."
Starsky had nothing left. He let go of the phone and slumped to the floor of the booth.
Hutch was out the door before his partner hit the ground.
"Starsky!" Hutch jumped out of his car and ran to the form which lay half-in, half-out of the phone booth. He pulled his partner into his lap and brushed the blood-caked curls back from Starsky's forehead. "My God, buddy, what happened to you?"
"Hutch...guess I...got beat up...by the bad guys."
"I'd say so," Hutch answered, assessing the damage as best he could. "Starsk, you need a hospital."
Starsky seemed lucid, at least, only incredibly weak. He was favoring his left hand, and when Hutch reached for it he winced. At least two fingers were broken, maybe more. He helped Starsky to his feet and managed to get him to the car by mostly carrying him. Starsky made a valiant effort to help, but it was wasted. He simply didn't have the strength.
After settling his partner in the passenger seat, Hutch jumped behind the wheel of his LTD and screeched away from the curb. He glanced over at Starsky, but the darker man was leaning wearily against the seat, eyes closed.
Hutch concentrated on getting them the hell out of this neighborhood, wondering what his partner was doing there alone.
"You'd better have a good explanation for this, Starsk," he threatened, looking over at the pale face of his friend. "Starsk? Starsky?"
Starsky didn't move, didn't speak, didn't acknowledge Hutch in any way. Hutch reached over and lightly shook his shoulder. Still no response. Feeling like a complete bastard, he gently squeezed the mangled left hand resting on Starsky's lap. When there was still no reaction, Hutch realized his friend was unconscious. With that knowledge, his plans changed at once. No way in hell was he taking Starsky home like this. Memorial Hospital was only twenty minutes away, and they knew both detectives there.
He drove as fast as possible, keeping a close eye on Starsky the whole time to make certain the other man didn't stop breathing.
"Hang on, Starsk," he found himself saying over and over. "Hang on for me, buddy. Almost there."
Hutch screeched to a halt at the Emergency entrance and ran inside to alert the staff, then was forced to stand back and do nothing while they loaded his still unconscious partner onto a gurney. They disappeared into a cubicle with Starsky, and Hutch felt a gentle hand on his arm.
"They won't let you in until they're finished examining him," the pretty young nurse said. "Why don't you come sit down with me? I'll get you a cup of coffee, and you can give me some information."
Hutch allowed himself to be led over to the desk, where the nurse offered him a chair. She put a cup of hot coffee in his hands, and began gently asking him about Starsky.
He answered all her questions in a daze, his attention focused solely on the curtain behind which Starsky was being examined. He could hear voices emanating from within, but couldn't make out any words, and the suspense was about to drive him crazy when a doctor finally emerged.
Hutch stood up at once. "How is he?" he asked without preamble.
"He's been badly beaten," the doctor answered. "Three fingers on his left hand are broken. He shows signs of a mild concussion, and we suspect some fractured ribs. All things considered, your friend was very lucky. We don't believe there's any internal bleeding, but we'll want to keep him here for at least a day just to make certain. We're going to do some x-rays and then he'll be moved into a room."
"Can I see him?"
"You can go in with him until the x-ray tech gets here. Then you'll have to step outside."
Already ducking behind the curtain, Hutch barely heard the last sentence.
Starsky lay on the gurney, pale as the sheets except for the bruises which covered his face and torso. His fingers had been wrapped. On his forehead, just high enough so his curls would cover the scar, Hutch could see where the doctor had taken several stitches.
What were you doing there? Hutch wanted to scream, but Starsky looked so vulnerable that he didn't have the heart to even ask the question quietly. He just moved closer and took Starsky's uninjured hand in his. His partner's eyes fluttered open, full of pain and accusation.
"Sorry, Starsk. You passed out. I couldn't wake you. I had to bring you here."
Starsky gave a tiny nod, just enough to let Hutch know there were no hard feelings, and slipped back under.
Starsky woke up gradually, floating on a haze of the good stuff. He smiled to himself. There had been no nightmares while he was out. In fact, as best he could recall, there had been no dreams of any sort. He could live with that.
Slanting his eyes to the left, he saw a sleeping Hutch, once again living in that uncomfortable chair.
"Hutch." It came out only as a whisper. He tried to swallow, but there was a tube down his throat that made that activity uncomfortable. He tried to whisper louder. "Hey. Hutch!"
This time the blond stirred. "Starsk? Hey, buddy, it's about time you woke up. How you feeling?"
"Lousy. Want this tube out."
"Your doctor should be in pretty soon. You can try your sob story on him."
Starsky surveyed Hutch carefully. Finally he decided his partner wasn't angry, exactly, but that he was very, very curious. And a curious Hutch was a dangerous thing. The man was relentless when in search of information. He tried to deflect the questions he knew were coming by closing his eyes again.
"You going back to sleep?"
"Uhn." A non-committal answer. He wasn't sure if he was going to fall asleep again, or just enjoy the cloud he was riding on.
He heard Hutch pick up a magazine and start flipping through it, way too fast to be reading, and zoned out for a while. When he came back to reality, the doctor was there.
"Good morning, Mr. Starsky. Are you with us?"
"He was a few minutes ago, but then he--" Hutch stopped when Starsky opened his eyes.
"Good," the doctor said approvingly.
"Can you get this tube out of me?"
The doctor laughed. "Well, that's a good sign. How's your stomach this morning? Any nausea?"
After examining Starsky from head to toe and writing notes on his chart, he patted the patient's shoulder gently. "I'll have the nurse remove that tube now. It's not necessary any longer. From everything I see here, there's no evidence of any internal bleeding. I know you're still in a lot of pain, but I don't see any reason why we can't discharge you tomorrow morning. Will you have someone to stay with you?"
"I'll be with him, Doctor," Hutch spoke up.
"Good. I'll give you a list of signs to watch for, and you'll need to bring him in if any of those symptoms appear, but I doubt he'll have any trouble. Rest is the only thing for you now, Detective Starsky. I don't want you back at work for another week."
Starsky nodded sleepily. He'd known it would be something like that. There wasn't a lot he could do in his condition anyway.
After the doctor had gone, and the nurse had removed the nasogastric tube, Hutch was left alone with a drowsy partner.
"You want to tell me what you were doing in a part of town I wouldn't even patrol?" Hutch asked lightly.
"But you're going to." Hutch's tone brooked no argument.
"After we get you home."
"I'm not waiting any longer than that, Starsky. I want to know what you were doing there."
"Okay," Starsky replied quietly, his eyes not meeting the questioning blue ones above him. He had entertained the notion that once he was released from the hospital with a prescription for painkillers safely tucked in his pocket, he could do Withdrawal Lite on his own without involving Hutch. Now he realized that had been a pipe dream. Hutch wasn't going to let him off the hook, and he'd know if Starsky tried to lie. There was no dodging the truth this time.
He sighed. And prayed Hutch would find it in himself to understand.
Feeling the haze tugging at him, he closed his eyes again, but before he could fall asleep a thought struck him.
"Already under control. Huggy took care of it. He had it towed back to your place."
"How'd he know where--"
"Are you kidding? That tomato stands out like a sore thumb in a nice neighborhood, Starsky. Over in that part of town, it was practically a beacon."
"Is she all right?"
"Fine. You were beaten half to death, but your car didn't sustain a scratch."
With a small smile, Starsky finally was able to rest.
A quick stop at the pharmacy to fill Starsky's prescription, and they were on their way. Hutch dropped the white paper bag into Starsky's lap and backed out of the parking spot.
Starsky opened the bag with trembling fingers, extracted the small brown bottle and held it out to his partner.
"I need you to hang onto these for me."
"What?" Hutch looked over at his partner, noticing for the first time the desperation on Starsky's face. He reached out his hand and let Starsky wrap his fingers around the pill bottle. "Why?" he asked after a few moments.
Starsky wouldn't look at him. "That's what I've got to tell you, Hutch," he said quietly, staring out the window.
A cold fear, coupled with unreasonable anger, began to creep up on Hutch. The phone call to Starsky's doctor all those weeks ago had never really left his mind, and he hadn't believed Starsky's lame excuse for a minute. Now that, plus a million other little things Hutch felt he should have noticed about his partner, began to gel together and before they stopped at Starsky's apartment, an ugly picture had begun to form.
How could he? Hutch wondered, furious at what Starsky had managed to do to himself. After Forrest, how the hell could he!
One look at Starsky's miserable form, valiantly climbing the steps to his apartment, and Hutch tabled his anger for now.
There was an explanation, he knew, and it had better be a damn good one. At the moment, his primary concern was getting Starsky back in shape. There would be plenty of time for anger and recriminations later.
He caught up with Starsky, putting a hand under his elbow, and the look of grateful relief on his partner's face was nearly Hutch's undoing. Whatever Starsky had done, and for whatever reasons, this was still his best friend, his other half, and he knew he had no choice but to help him through it.
He could kick his butt later. And had every intention of doing so.
He helped Starsky into the bedroom and got his partner settled on the bed. Starsky lay back against the pillows, his face too white.
"Are you hurting?"
"Starsk, don't lay here in pain. The doctor gave you these for a reason."
"You don't understand what I'm trying to tell you, Hutch, I--"
"Sure I do," Hutch cut in with barely controlled fury. "Somehow, for some stupid reason, you've managed to get yourself addicted to these little beauties. We'll talk about how and why, and how to deal with it later. For now, all I know is you were badly beaten less than forty-eight hours ago, and you're in pain. You need rest, and you're not going to get any if you lay there hurting."
Starsky closed his eyes obstinately.
"I need you to help me, Hutch!"
"And I will. But it's not going to help for you to fight broken ribs and fingers with no pain medicine. Look, I'll keep them. I'll give them to you as I see fit. Will that make you feel better?"
Starsky exhaled a small breath of relief. "Yeah."
"Good. Then you just do exactly as I say, and everything will be fine."
Hutch went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of water. He shook one of the tablets into Starsky's hand and had to practically force it up to his friend's mouth.
"It's all right, Starsk. At least this stuff has a legitimate use."
"Yeah, but it's amazing how illegitimately it can be obtained," Starsky commented.
"Is that what you were doing that night? Making a buy?"
Starsky nodded. "But the bad guys got to me first. Took my wallet. Geez, Hutch, I had most of my paycheck in there."
"Don't worry about the money right now. I'm not going to let you starve, or get evicted. I want you to go to sleep, if you can. Rest.
For three days, Hutch doled out the medications--insisting upon them at times, when he could tell his friend was seriously hurting--but on the fourth day, it was obvious Starsky's pain had diminished to a manageable level.
It was time to talk. He wanted to start the conversation gradually, but he was just so tired, and so confused and hell yes, so scared of what they were facing, that his anger got the better of him.
"Why, Starsk? God help me, I just can't understand why!"
Hutch's anger was contagious, but whether the fury that ricocheted from Starsky was directed at the blond man or the dark was anyone's guess. Knowing Starsky, it was the latter.
"Because," he answered, his voice taut and even, "I found a way to make the pain go away for whole hours at a time, Hutch. Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?"
"I've lost people too, Starsky."
"Sure you have. But not like Terry. Even Gillian wasn't like Terry for you." Even as he said the words, Starsky realized how cruel they were. "God, Hutch, I'm so sorry, I--"
"No." Hutch held up a hand, and in spite of himself, Starsky stopped talking. "That hurt, buddy. It really did. But deep down, I guess I know you're right. It might have been that way for Gillian and me, if we'd had time. Knowing her past, it probably wouldn't have worked out, but it would have been nice to have a chance to find out for ourselves. But you're right, Starsk. I didn't love her the way you loved Terry. I wanted to. I wanted so much..."
This time it was Starsky who held his friend for comfort. "I'm sorry, Hutch. I never should have brought that up. I was just trying to make you understand...I just hurt so bad for so long. Hey, even a tough, macho guy like me can only take so much, y'know? When I was in the hospital, and I realized what the drugs were doing for me...well, I just wasn't strong enough to resist the temptation, I guess. Thought I could handle it. And then, once I realized it was a problem...well, by then it was a big problem."
"You could have asked for my help," Hutch said, a faint note of accusation in his voice. He didn't know what hurt more, that Starsky had allowed himself to be drawn into drug addiction, or that he hadn't wanted to allow his best friend to repay the debt he still felt he owed.
"Aww, Hutch, after what you went through, there was no way I could do that. I-I couldn't face you, for one thing."
"Couldn't face me?"
"Yeah." Starsky shook his head slowly, suddenly afraid to look up into the perceptive eyes of his best friend. "They did that to you against your will, Hutch. You didn't have a choice. Me..." He sighed heavily. "I took the coward's way out, I guess."
Hutch pulled him closer for a brief monent. "Starsk, one thing I know about you is that you're no coward."
"Yeah. Right. Tell it to the pills."
"Oh yeah, the pills." Hutch pulled the bottle out of his pocket. "Almost forgot."
Starsky looked alarmed as Hutch stood and walked purposefully toward the bathroom."
"Hutch? Hutch, what're you doin'? Wait! Don't--"
"Starsky," Hutch told him firmly, "your pain isn't that bad anymore. There is no way I'm going to let one more bit of this poison into your body. Now you asked for my help. Take it or leave it."
He emptied the bottle of painkillers into the toilet and flushed. It took several iterations to make all the pills disappear down the pipe, but at last he was successful. When he finished, he looked over at his friend. Starsky was leaning against the bathroom wall weakly, his face a pasty color. His eyes were glued to the empty bottle in Hutch's hand, and the expression of naked longing in his eyes frightened Hutch more than anything.
"C'mon, Starsk, you know it's the only way," he said gently.
"I-know, but I-" Starsky wet his lips nervously. "I was gonna do it a little at a time, you know, over a period of a few weeks..." He trailed off, noticing the look of determination Hutch wore. "No, huh?" he asked at length, his shoulders slumping in defeat.
"No." Hutch shook his head sadly. "If you can get me free of the heroin, I can get you free of this. We can do it together, Starsk, you know that."
"I know, but I--shit. Damn. I really didn't want to do this, Hutch. I'm scared."
Hutch was beside him in a second, leading him to the couch and helping him sit comfortably.
"I know. I'm scared, too. But I'll be right here every step of the way."
"I ain't got no right to ask that of you."
Hutch stared at Starsky as if he'd grown another head. "No right?" he demanded. "What are you talking about?"
"After what you went through--"
"What I went through might have killed me, Starsk! If you hadn't been there to help me--"
"That's what I mean!" Starsky interrupted. "It might have killed you. This isn't going to kill me, Hutch. It'll hurt, and I won't like it, but...Withdrawal Lite ain't gonna kill me."
"Withdrawal Lite," Starsky answered, dropping his eyes to the sofa cushions. "That's kind of what I've been calling it in my head. It's nothing like what you had to go through."
"Well thank God for that!" Hutch said fervently. "Surely you don't think I'd want to see you suffer that way. But this stuff is still derived from opium. It's not going to be easy, Starsk."
"That's what everyone keeps telling me. But somehow, my pathetic little painkiller addiction pales in comparison, don't it?"
"Not to me." Hutch draped an arm around Starsky's shoulders and pulled him over until the curly head rested on his shoulder.
"The way I see it, it's just another situation we have to get through. A tough problem, but not insurmountable. We can do it."
"Yeah. I hope you're right, Hutch. Damn, I hope you're right."
"I am right," Hutch said firmly. "I refuse to accept any other outcome. Now go make some coffee. I have a feeling it's going to be a long night."
Starsky obeyed, already feeling the jitters beginning to set in. "I think I'd better stick to water or juice," he told Hutch when the coffee was ready. "I already feel like I've had a gallon of this stuff, and if I'm right, it's only gonna get worse for the next few days."
In answer, Hutch emptied his cup into the sink, followed by the contents of the coffee pot. Starsky stared. "What'd you do that for?"
Hutch smiled. "Are you kidding? I know how much you love your coffee, Gordo. I'm not about to torture you by drinking it when you can't have any."
"Hutch, did anybody ever tell you you're amazing?"
"Sure," Hutch answered, slightly embarrassed by his friend's obvious gratitude for such a simple action. "People tell me that all the time." He rubbed his hands against his jeans nervously, realizing he had no idea what he was getting into. "Starsky, I need to know what to expect. We've seen street drug withdrawal. You knew just what to do for me. I don't know how to help you."
"It's not so very different. Less intense, probably, since I haven't been on the drug for that long. Over there." Starsky pointed to the desk in the corner. "Top drawer. There's a book the doc gave me. It explains it all."
"Did you read this?" Hutch asked after pulling it out and examining it.
"Three? You haven't studied anything that closely since the Academy."
Starsky gave a lopsided grin and emerged from the kitchen with two glasses of apple juice. "I thought I was on my own. Needed to know what to expect."
Hutch took the glass and stared over the top of it. "I don't know what amazes me more, Starsky. That you intended not to tell me about this, or that you have something as healthy as apple juice in your fridge."
Starsky's grin grew into a real one. "To clean living, partner," he offered, holding up his glass with a trembling hand.
"Darn right," Hutch agreed, steadying Starsky's hand with his own and clinking his glass to his friend's.
The good mood couldn't last for long, and by the time Hutch finished perusing the booklet telling him what to expect, Starsky was already beginning to exhibit more signs of the withdrawal.
The restlessness was the worst right now. Starsky could be a bit hyperactive at the best of times. Now he was ready to climb the walls. He was getting on Hutch's nerves already, and Hutch could tell Starsky knew it. He'd throw himself onto a chair, swing his leg over the arm for a few minutes, then he'd be up again, tossing the blond man an apologetic look.
After half an hour of this, Hutch wanted to throw something at him. Instead, he tossed the booklet aside and said, "Come here."
Starsky followed him into the bedroom, and flung himself on the bed where Hutch indicated.
"Take your shirt off," Hutch instructed, rummaging around in the drawer of the night table.
"You're not gonna get kinky on me, are you?" Starsky's voice was muffled from the shirt, which he then tossed to the floor.
"You wish. Just lie still."
Hutch dumped some of the lotion he'd found into his hands, warmed it, and began massaging the knotted muscles in Starsky's back. Over and over his hands stroked down the warm skin, and gradually he could feel his partner begin to relax. When Starsky finally had a look of contentment on his face and Hutch thought he'd fallen asleep, he stopped.
"Mmm?" Starsky mumbled.
Hutch grinned. "Thought you were out."
"Not quite. Have a headache."
"Want some aspirin?"
Hutch massaged some more, hoping to make Starsky's headache diminish, but all at once Starsky began to struggle beneath him.
"Let me up, Hutch!"
Hutch rolled off him instantly. "What's wrong?"
"Sick--" Starsky barely made it to the bathroom before losing his stomach contents.
It was starting for real now.
As Hutch listened to the retching from behind the bathroom door, he was taken back to that time a little over a year earlier when the situations had been reversed. "God, help us," he whispered. "Help us beat it one more time."
Starsky finally emerged from the bathroom, and his pallor was more pronounced than it had been during the worst of his pain. He was sweating, and the slight tremor in his hands had progressed to actual shaking.
"Yeah. No. I--" Starsky shook his head, confused. "I'm not sure."
Hutch closed his eyes for a moment, shutting out the images. It all sounded too damned familiar.
"Come here, Starsk. Get under the covers."
Starsky obeyed, and Hutch sat up next to him on the bed, leaning on a pillow propped against the headboard. He could see Starsky's eyes glazing over a bit, so he started talking. As he chattered endlessly about everything and nothing, Hutch stroked the damp curls. Suddenly Starsky gave a moan and curled into a fetal position, hands protecting his stomach.
"I hate to throw up, Hutch," he mumured.
"I know. It'll be all right. I'm here with you. You're gonna make it, Starsk." Another couple of minutes of babble, and Starsky was once more running for the bathroom.
"Huggy, I need your help. Starsky's...sick, and I'm taking care of him. I'd really appreciate it if you could come and spell me for a couple of hours."
"Sure, Hutch. I'll be right over. What's wrong with Curly?"
"I'll tell you when you get here." Hutch dropped the receiver back onto its cradle and pulled Starsky close. It had been twenty-four of the darkest hours of Hutch's life, and he was starting to despair of ever seeing the beginning of the end. The nausea had gotten worse, and by now Starsky was able to do nothing more than dry-retch. There wasn't even any bile left. Starsky's legs were beginning to twitch, and Hutch remembered reading something about muscle cramps in the pamphlet.
"Hutch?" Starsky groped for his friend, and Hutch gave him a hand to squeeze. Starsky did, hard.
"It's all right, Starsk. I'm here."
In answer, Starsky wrapped his arm around Hutch's leg and held on even more tightly.
When Huggy knocked, Hutch gently disentangled himself from his partner's grip.
"Shh. Be right back."
When Hutch opened the door, Huggy could only stare. "Was it a train, or just a really big truck?"
Hutch blinked. "What?"
"The thing that hit you, man. You look awful."
Hutch stepped back to allow Huggy to enter, and the black man followed Hutch into the bedroom. He stopped cold when he saw Starsky, curled into a shivering ball and clawing at the blankets.
"Look familiar?" Hutch asked, climbing back onto the bed so Starsky could grab at him once again.
"Are you saying someone did him this time?" Huggy gaped.
Hutch shook his head. "Not exactly, Hug. What we're dealing with here is more...sort of...ah hell." He ran his
fingers through his dirty blond locks. "Starsky managed to get himself hooked on prescription painkillers. The heavy stuff with codeine. I'm helping him kick it. It's not as easy as either of us had hoped."
"Naw, it ain't easy. I've seen this before."
"I was hoping you'd say that. Huggy, how do I help him?" Hutch's voice was desperate, and Huggy could only shake his head grimly.
"I'm afraid there ain't much you can do other than what you're doin'. He's gonna hurt for a few days. He's gonna puke and sweat and he's gonna curse you up one side and down the other."
"Well, we haven't gotten to the cursing part yet."
"You will." Huggy patted Starsky's shoulder, and Starsky shuddered slightly. "How did this happen?"
In as few words as possible, Hutch outlined the progression to Huggy, and Huggy nodded understanding. "So now you get to try different sides of the coin," he observed. "It'll be okay, Blondie. Starsky's just as strong as you were. You'll both get through it."
"I never knew what it was like for him. Never thought about how it must have felt to watch me go through it all. Oh, I did in an abstract sort of way, but I couldn't empathize, you know? Now--"
"Now you know it wasn't no picnic for your other half, either. Well, Hutch, that's the way of the world, I'm afraid. Now what do you need from ole Huggy Bear? You look like you could use a shower and a nap, and probably a decent meal, too. Want me to sit with Curly while you get it?"
"Thanks, Hug. You don't know how much I appreciate it."
"Sure I do." Huggy changed places with Hutch as gently as possible, hoping Starsky wouldn't notice his main comforter had left him, but as soon as the blond's warm presence was gone, Starsky began to whimper.
"Hang in there, Starsky, my man," Huggy urged. "The Bear will not let you down, I promise."
Hutch disappeared into the shower, trying not to feel guilty at leaving Starsky alone. He hurried through his shower, wolfed down a sandwich in Starsky's kitchen, and then returned to the bed.
"You need to sleep some, Hutch," Huggy insisted.
"I can't, Hug. Not while he's like this. He hasn't slept at all since this started."
"And neither have you."
"I can't leave him."
Huggy wanted to argue more, but the look on Hutch's face stopped him. There was no force on earth that was going to pull him away from Starsky as long as Starsky needed him, and Huggy knew that for a fact.
Starsky's pathetic moans and whimpers had subsided somewhat since Hutch had returned to him, so Huggy decided there was no point in messing with a sure thing.
"I'm going to fix some stuff for you to eat," he announced. "I'll leave it in the fridge, and you can grab it whenever you have a chance. You won't do Starsky no good if you collapse, yourself."
Hutch leaned against the pillow and closed his eyes, his arms wrapped firmly around his partner. "Thanks, Hug."
By the fourth day, things had improved somewhat. Starsky was no longer nauseous, no longer sweating, but he was irritable as hell. His muscles still ached and cramped, and he couldn't sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, if that. Hutch finally had to give in to Huggy Bear's demand that Hutch get some sleep of his own while he stayed with Starsky. Hutch slept for nine hours solid on Starsky's couch, which was a record for him.
By the time he woke up, Huggy had managed to coax Starsky through a hot shower and into clean clothes. His partner sat at the kitchen table, pretending to sip at a mug of hot soup. Hutch sat down at the kitchen table and accepted the soup Huggy poured for him.
"Feeling better, Blondie?"
"I'm fine. Starsk?"
"Good, because you look like hell."
Starsky raised his eyes for the first time and studied Hutch.
"No way I can look worse than you," he announced after a lengthy investigation.
Hutch grinned. "Seriously, how do you feel?"
Starsky shrugged. "My muscles still ache, but I don't wanna puke my guts up anymore. I have a killer headache. And my nose won't stop running. Feels like the flu or something."
"At least we're past the worst of it. I think. Four days of hell I never want to see again--from either side."
At his words, Starsky got a panicked look. "Hutch, what day is it?"
Hutch thought for a minute. "Huggy, what day is this?"
"Thursday," Huggy replied, putting a turkey sandwich in front of Hutch. "Eat that, it'll make a new man of you."
"Thursday the what?" Starsky demanded.
"Thursday the twenty-fifth. Why?"
Starsky rose and went to his desk, scrabbling through the papers stacked on top until he found the one he wanted. When he held it up, his relief was obvious. "It's not till tomorrow."
"What isn't?" Hutch asked.
"My appointment with the psychologist. If I didn't keep it, the doctor I saw last week was going to put the word out on me. There'd be no way I could ever keep that quiet. Goodbye, career."
"Don't worry. I'll get you there. What time?"
The crisis averted, Starsky tossed the paper aside and sank to the couch, exhausted.
"You going to be able to make it?" Hutch asked, concerned.
"I got no choice."
"Well, then, we'll make it." Hutch took another bite of his sandwich and yawned. "I think I could have slept for another day or two."
"You'll get your chance, Blondie. But for now I've got to get back to my fine establishment. Things fall apart when the boss ain't around."
"It's nothing." Huggy patted Starsky's shoulder on his way out the door, and Starsky gripped his hand for a few seconds in thanks.
"Well, it's just you and me," Hutch observed, rinsing off his dishes and coming into the living room.
"Hutch, I..." Starsky trailed off, and Hutch looked at him curiously.
Such a small word. Such an enormous meaning. A meaning Hutch knew intimately.
Three weeks later, and Starsky was almost back to his old self again. It was Hutch who was having trouble sleeping, and not because of any physical reason, either. He was, quite simply, worried sick about his partner. What if Starsky felt the need for an emotional crutch again? What if he was having the dreams again and just didn't want to mention it? Was he sleeping enough? Eating enough? Was he really, truly going to be okay?
It was only ten. Starsky wouldn't be in bed yet. Hutch tried to talk himself out of making the call, and at ten fifteen his phone rang. He snatched it up on the first jingle.
"Starsky. Uh...nothing's wrong, why do you ask?"
He heard Starsky's impatient sigh. "Hutch, you were wound up tighter'n a drum when I dropped you off this evening. I know you. You've been pacing your apartment, fretting over something. What's going on?"
Hutch fumbled for a reply and came up with nothing.
"If you're worried about me, don't be. I'm still seeing Marianne, and the stuff she's teaching me--well it took me a while to catch on, but now it's working like a charm."
"You're sleeping all right? Really?"
"Really," Starsky told him firmly. "Hardly ever a bad dream, and never the nightmare I was having. What about you? Are you sleeping at all, Hutch? Cause you've looked pretty run down this week."
"I guess I'm just..."
"Worried." Starsky sighed again. "I knew it. All right, Blintz, I'll just have to convince you. Let's go to Maui."
It took Hutch a minute to comprehend what his partner had said. Then his only response was an inarticulate, "Huh?"
"Maui. I've always wanted to go there, haven't you?"
Hutch recovered quickly. He still wasn't sure what Starsky was getting at, but he was fairly sure the next few days would not find them winging toward the islands. "You paying?"
"You kidding? You think I could afford that on my salary? It's bad enough having to pay Marianne, and I can't really file this on my insurance, now can I?"
Hutch was silent for a moment. "So how do you do this Maui thing?" he asked eventually, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.
He could hear Starsky's smile in his voice. "It's real simple. You close your eyes and think of a place--"
"--like Maui. And starting with your toes, you relax your muscles one at a time."
"One muscle at a time? Starsk, do you know how many muscles--"
"Just do it, Blondie."
Hutch closed his eyes, and a small smile played around his lips. "Ok, thinking of a place, and my toes are relaxed. Now what?"
"Imagine them sinkin' into the bed. Then move up to your feet, ankles, and so on, until you reach the top of your head. As you relax each muscle, just pretend you're sinkin' into a soft bed."
"This really works?" Hutch whispered.
"Better than the drugs, and it won't kill ya."
Neither of them spoke for long moments, but listening to Hutch breathing through the phone was distracting. Starsky found himself having to start over with his toes several times. Then his nose itched, and he had to scratch it. Maui flew from his mind and he opened his eyes.
"Be careful. This'll really relax ya."
Still no answer.
"Hutch? Unless you're planning to stay on the phone all night--"
He was interrupted by a gentle snore.
Starsky's eyes widened and he buried his laugh in the pillow. He thought about speaking loudly enough to wake Hutch, so his friend could at least hang up the phone, and then decided against it. It wasn't a long distance call, anyway.
Starsky pictured Hutch, long limbs spread out on his bed, looking so peaceful, so young...the years of worry falling away from him while he was asleep. He found himself remembering their younger days together. Days before they'd begun to lose their enthusiasm for the work. Before they'd had people they loved taken from them.
Back when they were still just kids.
And Starsky found it was kind of nice, remembering those days. "Sleep well, Hutch," he murmured, a fond smile touching his lips, and placed the telephone receiver to one side. Not hanging it up--not breaking the connection.
He adjusted his pillow and prepared to talk himself through the relaxation technique again, this time in a whisper so as not to disturb his exhausted partner.
Author's note: I have taken prescription painkillers, as I'm sure many of us have. I know how they can make you feel. I also know how tempting they can be when you hurt emotionally. I've never been addicted nor have I been through withdrawal. I did a lot of research, but I'm sure I got it wrong in some ways. I doubt any of us can really know what it's like unless we've been there. Please don't be offended by this if you've been there...after all, it's just fanfic.
Friendly feedback is always appreciated.