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ACFS: Afterward

Written by Valerie Wells

"I think your friend's going to make it."

The doctor might not fully appreciate what those words meant to him, but to Hutch they were the most beautiful words in the world.

"I think your friend's going to make it."

Hutch looked down at the gurney where Starsky lay. Still too pale. Still out from the drugs they'd given him earlier to ease his pain. But alive. Thank God. Alive.

A couple of orderlies came to take Starsky to a room. He'd be out for a few hours yet. And the doctor wanted to keep him under close observation until the drugs wore off. They'd given him some powerful painkillers and it was possible he could have a reaction to them. At the time – Hutch winced at the thought – they'd thought they were easing the end for him. That it was better to take a chance on giving him something too powerful, even if it meant he'd never be conscious again.

No. Don't think about that. It was over. He was going to live, not die.

Hutch glanced at the wall clock. It was 6 a.m., 9 a.m. in New York. Time to make the phone call he didn't have to dread anymore.

When they'd first brought Starsky in, and the doctor had told Hutch he'd better notify any family or close friends, Hutch had thought he'd rather face a firing squad than call his best friend's mother to tell her that her son was dying. It would have been easier.

"Rachel? It's Ken."

"Ken? What's the matter?" She knew. Whether it was something in his voice or the fact that he was calling so early and it wasn't a Friday, he didn't know. But she knew.

"It's David."

A moment of silence. A long indrawn breath. "How bad is it, Ken?"

"He's been poisoned." No point in trying to break it "easy." How the hell did you break news like this "easy," anyway? "They don't know if...if he's going to make it. But there's an antidote out there, and I'm going to find it no matter what it takes. Try not to worry." Oh, smart, Hutchinson. You've told her that her boy's been poisoned, then you tell her not to worry. Right.

"How long does he have?" She'd been a cop's wife. She was a cop's mother. She could take it on the chin, no matter how much she might cry alone later.

"A little less than twenty-four hours."

"Oh, my God." That was all. No wailing. No crying. "Should I come?"

"No. I'm taking care of him."

"That's not what I asked you. I can get a plane and be there in a few hours."

"No, Rachel. Stay there. Pray. I'll be with him. I'll take care of him. And I'll find that antidote."

"All right, Ken. Tell him I love him." Unspoken, but communicated just the same was "And I love you because he does."

~*~*~*~

This call would definitely be easier.

"Rachel? It's Ken."

Again, the long breath. He could almost see her bracing herself for the words she dreaded to hear.

"He's okay, Rachel. He's gonna make it. He's resting now."

Now, the tears she'd held back before. He could hear the ragged breathing, too ragged to allow her to speak. "Rachel, take it easy, okay? He's fine. He's going to be fine." Until now, Hutch had been able to hold his own tears at bay. He'd needed to be strong for Starsky. He'd needed to focus on finding the one responsible for poisoning him. Even in the squad room, even when Starsky had tried, in his own unique way, to say "I love you" –

 "If this was a cowboy movie, I'd give you my boots. You're my pal, Hutch."

Hutch hadn't dared trust his voice then. And when Starsky had reached out his hand, Hutch had given his. They didn't need words. But even then, Hutch had held it in. He couldn't afford the luxury of giving in to either his fear or his pain, not while Starsky needed him.

Now he could. Alone in the hospital hallway, with the sounds of Rachel's crying in his ear, Hutch leaned his forehead against the pay phone and let the tears come, washing away the terror of the last twenty-four hours, the hollow aching pain of facing a future without his partner.

Finally, Rachel could speak. "You're sure he's going to be all right?"

"Yes," Hutch said. "I'm sure."

"Thank you, Ken."

~*~*~*~

Hutch sat in the visitor's chair in Starsky's room and watched over him, waiting for him to come to. Other than the occasional nurse who came in to check his vital signs and make notations on his chart, he was alone with his partner. Standing vigil.

Death had come too close. Had stood toe-to-toe with Hutch, daring him to fight it and win. But he had. They had. He would never, ever forget hearing the sound of that Beretta behind him on that rooftop, watching Bellamy fall, and knowing that Starsky had, in effect, given his life to save Hutch's. If he'd ever doubted the depth of Starsky's feelings for him, he never would again. And he'd never again take for granted their unique partnership.

Me and thee.

Finally, Starsky's eyes opened. He was groggy and confused. Hutch was leaning over him in an instant, stroking his hair back and looking into eyes he'd thought were closed forever a few hours ago.

"Welcome back, partner."

Starsky blinked a few times. He was weak, too weak to lift his hand, but he tried, and Hutch took the hand in both of his. "You've been crying," Starsky said at last.

"Nope," Hutch said, shaking his head. He thought he'd removed all traces of tears when he'd splashed his face with water as cold as he could stand before coming into the room.

"Yes, you have," Starsky said. "It's too late, isn't it? How much...." his voice failed, whether because he was weak or overcome, Hutch couldn't tell. Starsky tried again. "How much time is left?"

He doesn't know. He doesn't know he's going to be all right.

"You're not going to die," Hutch said. "We found him. We got the antidote. It was Cheryl's father...never mind. I'll tell you when you're stronger. You're gonna be okay."

Starsky turned his eyes to Hutch's and searched his face for several unnerving moments – trying to discern whether Hutch was fibbing to make him feel better? – before, apparently satisfied, he closed his eyes and drew a deep, shuddering breath. The hand that still held Hutch's tightened convulsively for a moment and one tear rolled into the pillow. "Thanks, partner," he said, so softly it was little more than a whisper.

I did it for me, too.

"Good partners are hard to find," Hutch said, his voice trembling in spite of all his effort to keep it steady. "I couldn't lose mine."

~*~*~*~

There had been times during this day, which had simultaneously seemed far too short and impossibly long, when Hutch had thought that was exactly what was going to happen. When Starsky had collapsed outside Janos' so-called studio, for instance...

Writhing in pain in Hutch's arms, yet still trying to joke. And pulling himself together to go in there and find out if Janos was the one. Hutch would venture to wager that neither Janos nor any of his "crew" had a clue that anything was wrong with Starsky. Holding his head up and putting on a convincing show until they came outside. And then a few moments when he let his guard down in front of his best friend.

"Oh, it hurts, Hutch. Oh, God, it hurts."

He hadn't mean his physical pain, though Hutch knew that glazed, clouded look in Starsky's eyes. What hurt was dying before he was ready. Watching his life ebb away with every tick of the clock. Unprepared to go so soon.

Helpless to do anything else, Hutch had pulled him into his arms and they'd sat there, holding each other, Hutch resting his face against the curly hair while Starsky curled into his chest and squeezed his eyes shut in a vain attempt to hold back his tears.

But Hutch heard the choked-back sob and tightened his hold a little.

And even though time was so short, Starsky was simply too weak to go on without at least a short break. Hutch had loaded him back into the Torino and taken him home and fixed him some food and made him eat it.

  And Starsky had, though he'd tried again to make a weak joke: "The condemned man's last meal?"

Such a bolt of raw pain had shot through Hutch at that remark that his knees had actually almost given way.

Starsky had seen the look on his face – he knows me so well. Nobody, nobody knows me that well. I won't let anybody know me that well – and his eyes had grown dark with compassion. "This ain't no easier for you, is it, buddy?"

Hutch mutely shook his head.

"Hutch, I gotta say something and I want you to let me finish, okay?"

Hutch nodded, afraid to trust his voice.

"If I don't make it, if we don't find the guy in time..." Starsky paused, wiped sweat from his forehead, and took a deep breath, "will you take care of things? So my mom doesn't have to?"

"Starsky–"

"You promised to let me finish."

Hutch bit back the protest and nodded again.

"We gotta face the possibility, buddy. Time's passin'. We ain't no closer. I..." Starsky stopped as tears threatened, but he resolutely blinked them away and went on, "I don't want Ma to have to make arrangements. It just about killed her, too, when Dad died, and if it hadn't been for Joey Durniak...well, she had me and Nicky. But Nicky ain't good for much anymore and if I'm gone...I know it won't be easy for you, buddy, but will ya do that one last thing for me?"

"Oh, God, Starsky–" Hutch closed his eyes tight against the pain and bit his lower lip to still its trembling. "Of course I will..." but he couldn't go on.

And this time it was Starsky who rose, who put his arms around his partner, and held the blond head against his chest. Hutch listened to the beating of Starsky's heart, still reassuringly strong in his ear, and prayed it would keep on beating.

~*~*~*~

"Hey," Starsky's voice, a little stronger now, brought him back to the present. "It's over. We made it, partner. You did it."

"No, we did it."

"Okay," and Starsky's blue eyes, so much clearer now than they had been earlier, twinkled. "We did it. Long as it got done, huh, Blondie?"

Amen, brother. And I do mean brother.

"Hutch?"

"Yeah?" Hutch sat on the edge of the bed. He wanted to be close. In fact, he wanted to gather Starsky up and hold him tight against him so he could feel his breathing and the warmth of a body still living. But Starsky hated "soapy scenes..."

"You look tired," Starsky said. "I know you ain't had no sleep. Why don't you got home and rest up, huh, buddy? I ain't goin' anywhere."

"I'd rather stay."

Starsky's eyes softened, and he reached up again, this time finding the strength to touch Hutch's cheek. He didn't say anything. He didn't have to. Hutch knew. He lifted his own hand to cover Starsky's.

The End

 

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