A Heavy Fall
Hutch to Dobey (about Starsky's 'superstition'): "All I know, Captain, is that every time he does it, the bad guy takes a heavy fall, and in this business if something works, stick with it."
The sun glared off something metal by the side of the dusty road and Hutch winced. Not for the first time that day he wished for his sunglasses. Anything that would keep the sun out of the headache threatening to split his eyes apart. He took his brain off Marcus for a second or two to consider where they might be.
Probably at Starsky's, sitting on the counter-top in the kitchen. He had a dim memory of waving them around that morning while he ragged on Starsky's choice of tie for court. Another jolt of pain hammered through his eyes and Hutch bit down. Couldn't think about that right now, his glasses were back in that other life and that's where they would have to stay. He needed coffee, coffee and aspirin. And then he wouldn't think of his sunglasses and where they were.
Hutch pulled over at the first diner he found, he figured he had about twenty more minutes until he hit the outskirts on his way back to the city. He waited for his coffee and his whole body resisted the stillness it forced on him. Did these people not know that every moment counted? How could anyone move so fucking slowly? His fingers drummed and his thoughts went to the black van. Finding it on the hillside should have given him a spark of hope, he was on the right track at least, and his hour long drive had not been wasted. But the moment had been a bleak one.
"The sentencing doesn't matter, Captain. They're going to kill Starsky anyway."
As the words left his lips, the truth of Simon Marcus had hung there in that dry mountain air.
"I dreamed Starsky's death and he's already dying."
And Hutch knew at that instant on the hillside that there was nothing to negotiate, and no one to negotiate it with. Almost at a run, he had left Dobey and the uniforms foraging through the grass and set off in the Torino again. The quest he was on required movement and action, even if it was indiscriminate. If he stopped, Starsky would die. If he stopped, Starsky would die. Like a mantra it drove him forward, for in his exhausted mind and heart it had truly become that simple.
Finally the coffee came. He threw some money down and moved as fast as the hot beverage would let him. Once back in the Torino, he opened the glove box and rummaged. He found the aspirin, but his haste spilled out the crumpled trivia book Starsky had been driving him insane with and his brain froze.
"Did you know, Hutch, that a pig's orgasm lasts for 30 minutes?"
"Starsky . . ."
"Yeah right, not much fun for Mrs Pig, but 30 minutes, man!"
"What? You never heard of 'hog heaven'?"
"Ha-ha, Hutchinson. Like you knew that before I told you."
"Like I cared before you told me."
"Nothing Starsk, could you just put that damn thing down?"
"Sure, but did you also know that an Ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain?"
"Well, that one I believe, buddy. And not just about the ostrich."
"Meaning what? Why you gotta be mean about this stuff, huh?"
"Starsky, don't pout . . ."
"No, I mean it, here I am with all these wonderful things that I know you don't know, college boy, and all you wanna d-"
Hutch slammed the glove box shut before his paralysis became permanent. He couldn't allow such memories, such distractions. That way lay a sorrow which would take him under and lock him out of his head and his plans.
His plans. Hutch gulped down three aspirin with the last of the coffee and tossed the empty cup and the trivia book in the back. What fucking plans? The only one with any plans in this unholy mess was sitting in a police lock-up dreaming dreams awake. And Hutch had already been there, done that, and come up empty. He scrubbed his left hand over his face and willed himself to focus. Back to the warehouse? To Huggy? To the precinct? Or to a madman to have his hope flayed open again?
Time ticked forward without him while he sat there, caught in his indecision. His breathing harshened as the panic of inaction skittered up his spine. His right hand had gone to his pocket at some point and now he was aware of it, clutching tightly to the badge Dobey had handed him that morning. Starsky's badge.
"Trust me, Hutch, if anyone can rescue you and this hunk'a junk, it's Merle."
As if burnt, he pulled his hand from the badge and gripped the wheel hard. He had to stop doing that. It was almost as if to save Starsky he couldn't think of him anymore. A strange twist of sound left his lips as his forehead came down to touch the steering wheel. He should tell that to Marcus, Marcus and his fucked–up sense of irony would sure get a kick out of that one.
Hutch lifted his head. Marcus. Of course. The first time he had gone in as negotiator, not realizing there was nothing Marcus wanted. This time he could do something different, maybe draw out his ego and get him to reveal something in a boast, or even try and reach back to the kernel of humanity there must have been once upon a time.
Hutch gunned the engine and left in a squeal of dust, despair receding as he took himself forward again. As he pulled out into the road a sound distracted him from the back seat and he glanced in the mirror. Never the tidiest of creatures on a good day, the back of the Torino now resembled a junk-yard thanks to Hutch's inability to throw anything out of a window or into a paper bag. He had been surviving on coffee and take-out since the courthouse and their remnants littered the seat. If he ever got Starsky back, his partner would kill him...
Hutch gasped and slammed on the brakes, lucky that he was still winding down through a fairly remote area and that the road was deserted.
Where had that ' if' come from?
His stomach turned the coffee to acid at such a casual betrayal.
How fucking dare he?
Mindless of the fact that he was stationary in the middle of a road, Hutch got out and yanked open the passenger door with an unnecessary fury. He spilled it all out to the side of the road; the coffee cups, a couple of greasy take-out bags, napkins, an apple-core and the hideous jack-in-the-box which he knew was evidence but which he never wanted to lay eyes on ever again. Only the tie and trivia book remained. He rolled up his tie and put it in his left pocket, and he shut the book into the glove box. He spent a minute or two more sweeping out every single crumb, front and back, and was unsurprised to feel his heartbeat slowing as he did so. This was not a waste of precious time. This meant that he had a clean car to give back to his partner and it would be one less thing for Starsky to pout about.
With a grunt of satisfaction, Hutch straightened and surveyed the interior one last time. He picked a couple more pieces of imaginary fluff off the back seat and then closed the door, this time with a quiet reverance which almost closed his throat.
As he set off one more time, he found his hand had gone to the badge again, his thumb drifting backwards and forwards over the smooth leather. No memories rose to the surface and for that he was grateful. It was nonsense and it was an illusion, but he had found another mantra to keep himself upright and his partner alive.
The next morning. . .
"Still think you're putting way too much faith in the medicinal power of hot water, Starsk, but be my guest." Hutch lifted his arm toward the bathroom and made to move aside.
Starsky took the time to slow his step and squeeze his partner's arm on his way past. He knew it had taken every fibre of Hutch's being not to take the left turn to Memorial on the way to his apartment, and for that he was grateful. But he knew also that there would be consequences. Without a doctor officially saying the words, 'Starsky is okay' in earshot, he knew he was going to have his work cut out for him getting that worried look off Hutch's face. Which he was confident he could do. It was the haunted one he wasn't sure of.
"Might wanna think about feeding me sometime soon," Starsky called over his shoulder on his way to the bathroom, "been a while."
He hesitated at the door. There were some things in his world that were truly fixed; presents on Christmas morning, rain at Thanksgiving and getting Hutch to stop worrying about him by asking for food.
"Uh... yeah, sure. Okay."
There it was, the tone he was after. A little uncertain, but relieved and willing. A simple thing to know about another human being, but the unexpected comfort of it paused him at the doorway.
"Omelette okay, Starsk?"
He swallowed. "Yeah, fine."
He raised his voice. "Lotsa onions!"
He was just closing the door when Hutch hailed him again.
There was a silence.
"Kinda in a hurry here, Hutch."
"Uh... don't lock the door, okay?" Hutch's voice was suddenly quieter because he was closer. "Just in case."
He had a snappy comeback ready when he swung the door back open, but the naked concern on the face before him took his heart for it away and he fumbled. The tense set of Hutch's shoulders and the tightness of his jaw were enough. The last twenty-four hours were still way too close to the surface for his partner to handle deflecting quips.
So instead, he waved a casual arm and turned away. "Whatever. Just go cook, I'm starving."
As he snicked the door shut, he returned his attention to the task at hand and realized that Hutch's suggestion had some merit when the room unexpectedly tilted. He was almost light headed with anticpation of how good hot water and then clean clothes would feel. Hutch was not the only one the last twenty four hours were catching up with.
He had yanked the robe over his head as soon as Hutch let go of him near the ambulance. If he'd had the strength and presence of mind at the time to trample it into the dust, he would have. He sighed and came back to the here and now by examining himself in the small bathroom mirror. Not too bad. The cut on his head was tender, but that was from the paramedic cleaning off the congealed blood. Now it seemed small and unworthy of causing him to lose consciousness. He looked down at his hands, flexing them. His wrists were the worst, he decided, sore and swollen. In addition, his stomach was still spasming occasionally and his face stung through the gel. But it all came a pale second to the grime and dirt he had endured in that fucking robe. His skin had crawled with the filth and the scratch of it, and the ridiculous dip in the tub had only made it worse.
It felt skull deep, even after the robe came off, and it was all he could do not to scratch himself raw in the car. But if he did that in front of Hutch, he'd be in Memorial faster than the words 'just an itch, buddy,' left his lips. So he had crossed his arms over his chest, buried his fingers deep in the blanket he was wrapped in, and tried to focus on the fact that he was free, with his partner and in his car. He caught Hutch staring at him more than once, and was about to bite when he realized he had started to rock himself backwards and forwards. Aware of how it looked, he stopped immediately and tried to smile.
"Just get me home, Hutch." He read the uncertainty gnawing at his partner and had brought a hand out from under the blanket to rest on Hutch's knee. "You gotta trust me to know what I need."
And Hutch had nodded at that, tight-lipped. Not fully understanding, Starsky was sure, but too grateful to do anything other than comply.
In the car he couldn't give in, but in the shower he could and did. He scrubbed his scalp until his abused wrists made him stop and he stayed under long enough for the soap to wear down and the water to run cool. It was indeed a cleaner man who stood and watched the last of the water swirl away before stepping out.
"Hutch, you're gonna have to do my wrists, you lucky..."
He came out from towelling his hair to find his partner unnaturally still and unresponsive at the kitchen counter-top. He glanced around. The eggs were beaten and ready to go, the onions and tomatoes lay chopped, but the would be chef was hunched over with his back to him, both hands on the counter.
"Hutch?" He took himself forward to his partner's right side and placed an enquiring hand on his back as he tried to read the tense profile. "Hey," he called softly, "you in there?"
In answer a hand came out and took hold of his right wrist, which he had rested on the counter next to Hutch's.
"Just give me a minute," Hutch's voice was strangled and Starsky's heart pitched sideways to hear it. Now it was his turn not to fully understand. He bit down as his wrist began to pulse under Hutch's grip, but there was a reason for this in that blond head, so he would shut up and stay where he was for however many minutes Hutch might need.
He kept his voice light and eased closer. "Whatever you say, buddy." He began to move his left hand up and down Hutch's back in what he hoped was a soothing gesture.
It came to him then, in the quiet of his kitchen with the two of them locked in this strange tableau, that it was Hutch who had had the harder time, not him. He had been knocked out and tied up by a bunch of weirdos with a bear and an odd taste in fashion, but his obstacles had all been practical. Escape and survive, survive and escape. One foot in front of the other.
But the same could not be said of Hutch. From the little Dobey had told him near the ambulance, and the lot he already knew about Marcus, it seemed that Hutch had been cut adrift in a nightmare. Left without a map in a world where the rules of kidnapping and normal human behavior no longer applied. A world where all Hutch had to cling to were the mind games of a madman and, knowing his partner, the certainty that he would fail. Starsky began to understand. He began to understand the haunted look and why his wrist was being held.
A long breath shook its way out of the bowed head and he took his cue.
"Hey, I'm here. Not goin' anywhere." He swept his hand up Hutch's back and leaned in. "You did it, you know, you found me."
That got him a sound of sorts and the briefest of glances his way.
"Not quite. Huggy was the one who got the whole Stony Black thing." Hutch's gaze went down again. "I spent the whole day dancing around to Marcus's looney tunes, and it was Huggy who got me there in time."
"Yeah, well, Huggy's gonna get his pat on the back for that, but between you, me and Dobey," Starsky lowered his voice, "Huggy wouldn't know a symmonym if it jumped up and bit him." He swept his hand all the way up to Hutch's neck and left it there. "So don't you tell me you didn't save me, Hutch."
His voice cracked on the name and he saw Hutch's throat work. Unsure of what else to do, he thought about stepping away. They were really both too damn tired to do this now and his wrist hurt.
"It's synonym, moron."
The smile and the shine in his partner's eyes took the sting out of the words as finally, a little more of the old Hutch looked his way.
He let go of a breath, his wrist forgotten."Course it is." He leaned back a little. "Now, let go your sunglasses before you break them. You clutch them any tighter they'll snap, cut you, and we'll both be patchin' each other up."
His hand drifted but stayed on Hutch's back.
"You gonna make me my omelette now?"
Hutch cleared his throat, let go of the sunglasses in his left hand, the wrist in his right, and moved off toward the stove.
"Oh, I see. I liberate you just so I can cook for you, that it?"
"Absolutely, and that's nowhere near enough onions."
He got his onions, Hutch got some equilibrium, and little time was spent talking as each polished off the first nutritious meal in quite a while. Pleased that his stomach had allowed it, Starsky stretched and let his eyes follow his partner as he scooped up the plates and headed for the sink. Still wasn't saying that much, but Hutch's eyes seemed to have rediscovered their ability to rest on something for more than a second or two, and he knew to take it as a sign for calmer waters.
Hutch dumped everything in the sink and brought the bandages and antispectic cream to the small kitchen table. He slid back into the chair and gestured for Starsky to give up his hands.
He swallowed, suddenly self-conscious. He had almost forgotten them and now as he thought of them, they throbbed. Hutch said nothing, merely looked at him and smiled, hand still outstretched. He slowly brought his arms out to rest on the table, palms upwards, for his partner to lean over and inspect.
Hutch bent over and set to work with a quiet concentration Starsky could hear in the steady in and out of his breathing. It was that he chose to focus on, not the feel of fingers igniting nerve endings on his wounds, and he found that if he closed his eyes he could almost match his partner, breath for breath. He opened his eyes when he felt Hutch looking at him.
"Got to rub this in a little now, you ready?"
"C'mon. Get you ice-cream when I'm done."
"Ow!" He glared at the top of his partner's head. "Can't. Don't have any." He grouched because he was expected to. Hutch was being as light as he could.
"Said I'd 'get' you some, buddy. There must be some of that godawful brown sludge you like somewhere in this neighborhood."
"Chocolate-double fudge to you, Hutchinson, and you-" He winced as Hutch tied the knot of the bandage on his left wrist. " –will most definitely go and get me some."
"Almost done, buddy."
"And raspberry sauce. And a shake."
"Pushing it, Starsk. It'll end up in the toilet, I'll be out of pocket, and for what?" He finished the last knot on the second bandage and pressed it gently into place. "There."
Something changed in the air when Hutch's hands drifted away. Each man's gaze stayed on the upturned wrists.
"Says you," said Starsky, quiet as he felt the throb start up under the bandaging. He looked like a failed suicide attempt.
"Says I," said Hutch, just as quiet.
He was going to pull his wrists away from the table and get up, but Hutch surprised him by suddenly reaching out to cover both his upturned hands with his own, palm to palm, fingers curling around each of his thumbs with the gentlest of touches. It was such an intimate gesture, even for them, that it kept him in place, his pain forgotten as his eyes threatened to fill.
He waited, wondering what was coming while Hutch struggled to find words.
"He got in here, you know? For a time." Hutch took his right hand off Starsky's to tap his temple. "Marcus." He added unnecessarily. His hand drifted back and Starsky took hold, ignoring the answering flare in his tendons.
"Told me he dreamed your death awake and I believed him. Called me the White Knight and said I wouldn't hurt him" Hutch shook his head then turned his eyes back on his partner. "Never seen eyes like it. Black. They were black, the only black eyes I've ever seen." Hutch was lost in a moment of terrible reverie. "He had no soul, Starsk." Hutch's eyes glazed and Starsky chilled to see it. He tightened his grip on the hands in his as much as he dared in an effort to bring Hutch back to the here and now. He waited until his partner's eyes came back to him and then leaned across until he was inches away.
"Yeah, well. You're my white knight, I got you back now. I ain't dead, and there's no room for anyone else in that brain of yours, 'cept me and thee anyway. So Mr No Soul can take a running jump, and you can take care of me by getting my ice-cream..." He eased up out of the chair and at the last second slid his hands from under his partner's. On impulse he bent to leave a feather-weight press of lips on the troubled blond head as he moved past, "...and I'll do the taking care of thee, Hutch." He walked quickly into the kitchen before the whispered words had him doing something even more soapy.
Nothing further was spoken between them and true to his word Hutch left the apartment some ten minutes later in search of Starsky's favorite ice-cream. But Starsky's eyes could stay open no longer. He lay down in the early afternoon sunshine of his bedroom, relieved it wasn't night. He was bone-weary and felt reasonably sure he would not dream because of it, but he also knew it was easier to feel surer of that in the sunshine than in the shadows.
He did indeed sleep the dreamless sleep of the truly exhausted and woke, slowly and carefully, squinting at the waning sunlight. He looked at his watch. 5.55pm. Four hours straight. He sat up and flexed his wrists. Stiff, but the swelling under the bandages was already down and when his fingers touched the burn on his face it felt cooler.
Judging from the absence of noise in the rest of the apartment, Hutch was probably asleep on the couch. Or maybe he had slipped out and gone home. Not liking the sudden hammer in his chest at the thought, he lurched to his feet and tried not to run into anything on his way out the bedroom door. He needn't have worried. Hutch had showered, changed into the sweats they always seemed to have at each other's for emergencies, and was sprawled on the couch. His sleep looked as deep and as boneless as his own had been.
Starsky took the time to contemplate the relief he felt at seeing Hutch still there, then gave it up and threw the afghan over him. It didn't take a genius to work out his fears and besides, there were more important things to think about. Like dinner.
The noises and smells of Starsky making spaghetti woke Hutch, as he had intended them to. His partner ate with a seldom seen relish, all the while making expected comments about Starsky and his love of all things Italian. He gave back as good as he got and then stunned Hutch by pouring raspberry sauce over both their ice-creams. Hutch scraped his off and called him a peasant. Starsky licked both their spoons to prove him right. It was, he reflected later, in front of a cop show Hutch was tearing to pieces, almost business as usual.
But of course it was not, and that night the demons came.
Starsky jerked upward in the dark, heart trying to climb out of his chest. He had no idea where he was, only that some terrible noises had stopped. A harsh, rasping sound reached his ears and it took a second to realize it was his own breathing.
He gulped down some air so he could speak
A soft light flooded the room from the doorway as Hutch clicked on the overhead in the living-area.
Starsky's heart rate slowed. Hutch and lamplight could do that to a person. But his mouth was flooded with something bitter, and cold sweat shivered him from head to toe.
He sat up a little straighter as Hutch came forward and perched on his side of the bed.
"Peachy." He tried a shaky smile.
Didn't work. Hutch frowned.
"Bad dreams, huh?"
"Well, I did warn you."
Hutch's gentle tone was just what he needed and the knot between his eyes loosened. He knew his partner would sit there for as long as he wanted him to and not push him to explain, and for that he was thankful. The jumble of images and sounds was already fading and he couldn't have expressed it coherently if he'd tried. But there was something about the way he had woken up that was still scrambling for attention...
"Hutch, did I say something?"
Hutch looked puzzled.
"Just now, I mean, how were you at the door so quick?"
"You were thrashing around, buddy. We've only been asleep a couple of hours, so I didn't want to wake you, but didn't want you to fall out of bed, either."
"So, I didn't say anything."
"Not that I heard."
"Oh." In his mind he had screamed himself awake. To escape the noise. He tried to think about it more, but that was all he had.
"Hey," Hutch's hand on his arm broke in. His worried face floated before him. "What can I do for you, Starsk?"
Turn the clock back, Hutch. Make it so that you and I never heard of Simon Marcus, make it so that I never got thrown into a pit and you never got to think I was dead. Make it so the noise that woke me goes quiet.
"Read to me," was what came out of his mouth. Real life didn't work like that, you had to take what you could get in the here and now to make it all go away.
He smiled, more sure, and put some conviction into his voice. "Read to me, Hutch."
"You mean like a story or something?" Hutch was obviously amused. "Want some cookies to go with that?"
But Starsky was deadly serious. "I...I need another voice in my head, Hutch." He looked at his partner, willing him to understand without making him say it. "To fall asleep to. I just need another voice."
Hutch squeezed his arm and nodded, and Starsky knew that he understood at least some of it, and would take the rest on faith. It was how it always was between them.
"So, what'll it be, pal?" Hutch eyed the eclectic mix at his bedside table. Stephen King's latest, something about motor mechanics and a Batman comic.
"Tell you what, if I'm reading, I get to choose." Hutch stood and extended a hand down. "So I'll go check out your bookshelf, you go wash your face and we'll meet back here. I'll be the one in the rocking chair."
Hutch made sure he was steady on his feet before leaving the room, and it did not escape his notice that Hutch went before him, flicking on every light in his path. He shook his head. Demons of the night did not really stand much of a chance against Hutch. It galled him that Marcus had been so right about his partner. But Marcus had not been right about everything. He had underestimated the White Knight, and that was something Starsky never did.
The warm milk became a shot of bourbon each, which Hutch balanced on the hardback book he brought back into the room. Every light was off now except the one on his bedside table.
"Why, Grandma, what strange milk you have."
"All the better to knock you out with. Now shut up and take these before I spill them."
"'A River Runs Through It'. And how did you get this? Don't even think this is in the stores yet."
Starsky smiled. "Daphne."
"Ah, yes," smiled Hutch back. "Daphne the librarian."
Daphne had arrived in Starsky's life in a flurry of books and had left much the same way when it became clear that his passion was for her body, not her world views on contemporary literature.
"So how come she left this one behind?"
"Was propping up the TV table at the time." He shrugged. "It got fixed and I put it back. So, what's it about?" He downed the bourbon, grateful his stomach had prevented him from taking any meds. The warm glow of it as it went down and the anticipation of what was to come was blowing the last twenty-four hours further and further away. He closed his eyes and settled into the covers with a sigh.
He cracked open an eye.
"Fly fishing. It's about fly-fishing, Starsk."
"And there was me worried about getting to sleep. Gee, thanks, Hutch."
"I read, I choose, remember? Now close your eyes and trust me."
In the end it took Starsky much longer to fall asleep than it should have. He found himself struggling to stay awake, rather than sleep and miss out on the rhythyms of the lyrical life in Montana which Hutch's honey tones were indeed perfect for. It all sounded so beautiful.
"Something within fishermen tries to make fishing into a world perfect and apart – I don't know what it is or where, because it is in my arms and in my throat and sometimes nowhere in particular except somewhere deep. Many of us would probably be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time waiting for the world to become perfect."
He would re-read the book often after that night. And if he could have seen into the years, to another room, to another bed with him in it, and to an older Hutch reading it to him in quiet desperation, he might have taken comfort. But for that night, that was the paragraph that finally let him go, the last one he remembered Hutch's voice saying to him. And not even a whisper rose to the surface to disturb him.
In the morning when he woke, the book was next to his bed with his badge. He knew the badge had been taken from him and wondered at the fork in the road that had somehow brought it back. He got to his feet and reached for it, enjoying the smooth feel of the leather between fingers which were no longer sore. He smiled at himself. The world was not perfect, far from it. But he would take what he could get in the here and now, and on this new day it felt damn good to be in it.
"Hey, Blondie, you awake and making me breakfast? Don't we have to pick up your hunk'a junk this morning?"