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Postscript

Part Five, Chapter Nine

Over the past few days Hutch had been through enough to make any reasonable man belligerent.  So when, less than twelve hours after the birth of his son, his temperature began to rise and his leg swelled and grew hot to the touch, he might have been forgiven for thinking the universe was playing a cruel trick on him.

Dawn and the baby went home to be fussed over by both Starsky and Becky’s respective mothers, while Hutch remained behind in the hospital.

Hutch still faced an inquiry into the circumstances of Reginald Malcolm’s death, and he’d hardly had a chance to even lay eyes on his child before the bacterial infection had set in.  He’d had to endure pain, both physical and emotional, and the Demerol interfered with his sleeping patterns, causing disturbing dreams that occasionally veered into outright nightmare.

But in the end, Hutch concluded, it may very well have been the sudden reversal of roles that unsettled him the most. 

For the last eighteen months, he’d been the caretaker, the problem solver.  He’d been paddling as hard as he could, trying to keep the entire life raft from sinking, trying to keep the sharks from dragging them under.  He’d been doing it for so long, he’d almost forgotten there was any other way of living.

Then he’d gotten that knife in his leg, and despite all the hospital’s efforts, an antibiotic-resistant infection had set in, and he suddenly found himself utterly unable to swim.

I’m a selfish bastard, thought Hutch, staring morosely at his freshly bandaged leg, suspended in a sling above the hospital bed to relieve the pressure on his wound.

The back of his thigh throbbed with a sickly pulse, and he could still perceive the stench of old bandages mixed with iodine, though the nurse had already removed the trashcan.  It was the kind of smell that seemed to settle deep into the memory centers of his brain, persisting even in the absence of any legitimate cause. The IV catheter was a constant irritant in the back of his hand, which was turning yellow, thanks to the combination of antibiotics he’d been receiving over the past week.

Starsky’s healthy.  He’s got a wife, and a job he likes.  And what are you doing?  Sulking, because he doesn’t need you anymore.

The sound of a familiar voice greeting the nurse as she left his room warned him of the imminent approach of the subject of his thoughts.  Hutch quickly closed his eyes, and allowed his breathing to lengthen into what he hoped was a reasonable facsimile of sleep.

I don’t want to talk.  I don’t want you trying to cheer me up.  And I’m getting damned sick of your half-baked attempts at psychoanalysis.

He heard the creak of the door, followed by a pause in the footsteps and a quiet exhalation of breath.  In his mind, he could clearly see the expression on his partner’s face, the tightening of his lips and the narrowing of his eyes, the small lines of his face deepening in amused forbearance.

There was a significant pause, the sounds of the hospital receding into the background, as Hutch stubbornly maintained the fašade of sleep.

Starsky said, “You can stop pretending.  I know you’re awake.”

Hutch didn’t move.

“Because the only people who don’t breathe,” said Starsky, with deliberate solemnity.  “Are either dead, or faking it.”

Hutch blew out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and opened his eyes, rolling his head to the side so that he could take in the whole image of his partner as he moved into the room.

Automatically, he began running through the usual checklist.  Starsky’s color was good, and he settled easily down into the chair with his cane on his knees, showing no signs of stiffness or strain.  His mood appeared positive, and his eyes were bright and clear.  The overall impression he gave was of a man who was relaxed and rested.

Starsky fought to keep a straight face, as Hutch silently scrutinized him from the curls on his head down to the toes of his blue Adidas sneakers.  He was tempted to stand up, put his arms out, and do a pirouette so as to properly present himself for inspection, but he suspected Hutch wouldn’t appreciate it.  And, come to think of it, he’d likely land on his ass if he tried.

He could always stand at attention and salute…  But no, Hutch would probably think he was making fun of him, or something. 

He can’t help himself, thought Starsky.  Even laid up in bed, he can’t help worrying about me.  This has got to be driving him nuts.

Figuring that turnabout was fair play, Starsky leaned back in his chair and made no pretense of the fact that he was assessing Hutch’s condition in return.  His partner was still sweaty and tousled, but he was definitely looking better than he had yesterday.  He also looked most decidedly disinclined to talk.  That stubborn jut to his jaw made it clear that meaningful conversation would have to wait.  That was okay.  Starsky could be patient.  Eventually the silence would grow to be too much, and Hutch would crack, say something, and give him an opening.

There was a newspaper on the side table.  Starsky reached for it.  Under different circumstances, this sort of behavior from Hutch would lead to a fight.  And in fact, that was probably exactly what Hutch was angling for right now.  Starsky would normally have obliged him.  Just, not today.  Not when he was feeling so good.

The doctor said the fever was finally coming down!

It didn’t matter what Hutch said or how much he grumped, today Starsky couldn’t feel anything but gratitude and relief.  His partner didn’t know, and he probably would never know, just how close he’d come to losing that leg.  Only Starsky had overheard the worried consultation between the doctors, and he’d kept the information to himself.  No point in getting stressed over might-have-beens.

If that last round of antibiotics hadn’t kicked in…

But it had, and Hutch would be making a full recovery with just one more scar to add to his collection.  Starsky stopped, correcting that thought.  Not even one more scar.  It was more like an expansion or a lengthening of the wound he’d got when that train had derailed.  So, in the end he’d have just one little souvenir to remind him of the last three months of playing cat and mouse with Reg.

I don’t think we were the cats this time…

Dismissing that uncomfortable speculation, Starsky shook out the folded newspaper.  A quick sideways glance revealed that Hutch had closed his eyes again.  On the front page was a vaguely familiar picture of a curly-haired young man in running shorts.  He was listing to one side, and closer examination revealed an artificial leg.  The headline trumpeted, “Terry Fox’s Inspirational Journey.”

Jeez, thought Starsky.  If anyone had tried to inspire me with this story last year, I think I would have socked them in the nose.  He made a private decision to see that the paper disappeared from Hutch’s room before his partner could read it.  Regardless of whether Hutch knew that he could have lost his leg, an uplifting story of hope and perseverance against all odds wasn’t going to fare well against his innate cynicism at the moment.

“You should be at home with Becky,” said Hutch.

A wary peek over the top of the newspaper revealed that Hutch still had his eyes shut.  There was a challenging note in his voice, which Starsky interpreted as: Don’t waste your time on me.

Man, when Hutch feels moody he can put a prima donna to shame.  Deliberately keeping his tone light, Starsky said, “She’s been seduced by that devastatingly handsome son of yours.  I don’t think she even notices whether I’m there or not.”

That wasn’t quite true, though there was no denying that Becky was absolutely besotted with the new baby.  She’d all but moved in with Dawn, on the pretext of helping out the new mother.  However, she’d also been undeniably disappointed at not being able to spend more time with her new husband.

“I understand,” she had told him.  “Hutch needs you, right now.  You should be there for him.”  But there was a note of wistful courage in her voice that made Starsky feel awful.  I’ll make it up to her, once I get the blond one sorted out.

Having provoked no response from his partner, Starsky tried again.  “Hardly more’n a week into my marriage and I’ve already been tossed aside for another.”

That garnered him a small snort.  Oh well, at least I know he’s listening, thought Starsky.  He decided that was as much of an invitation as he was likely to get today, and now was as good a time as any to bring up the question that had been foremost on his mind ever since he’d stepped through that door.

“How did the interview with Simonetti go?”

Hutch groaned dismally and threw an arm across his face.

Starsky’s heart sank.  “That bad, huh?”  He couldn’t understand it.  He’d been so sure the department would support Hutch.  After all, it wasn’t as if he’d had any choice in the matter, not really.  Reg’s surrender wasn’t real.  He hadn’t given up, and he wasn’t going to stop coming after them.  And besides, no one but himself and Hutch, and maybe Dobey, even knew that he’d said he was giving up in the first place.

“No, not bad,” said Hutch, still sounding pained.  “Just insane.  I mean, the man hates me, hates us, and yet there he was, standing in my room this morning, looking at me like I’m some kind of goddamned hero!  Says as far as he’s concerned it was clearly justifiable, though of course there will have to be a formal ruling on the matter.  And then that idiot he’s got for a new partner asks if I’ll be up for a citation.”  The corner of Hutch’s mouth twitched slightly in reluctant amusement.  At least that comment had inspired some small return of the Simonetti he knew and loathed.  The internal affairs officer’s lips had thinned and he’d sourly replied, “I wouldn’t go that far.”

It was nice to know that at least some things hadn’t turned completely upside down and inside out.

Starsky was confused.  “But, but that’s good!  Isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” growled Hutch.  “Just fucking great.”

Starsky’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline at that very un-Hutch-like pronouncement.

Hutch sensed some of his partner’s shock, and pulled his arm down with an apologetic expression on his face.  “I’m sorry, Starsk.  I’m not trying to take it all out on you.  I mean, I know it’s just what we hoped for.  It’s the best of all possible outcomes, and honest to God, I really have come to terms with shooting Reg, and I’m not looking to punish myself for it or anything.  Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, he had it coming to him, for the greater good, and all that bullsh – um, stuff.”

He folded his hands behind his head and looked at the ceiling, taking a breath before continuing.  “It’s just…  Of all the people we know, I never thought I’d see Simonetti look the other way.  He’s been trying to bury us for years.  I’d have thought he’d jump at a legitimate chance to nail my hide to the wall.”  I thought he’d uphold the ideals of the service, even if only because I made him look like an incompetent fool that time I was framed for Van’s murder.  “To protect and serve.”

He didn’t realize he’d spoken those last words aloud until Starsky said, “But you did.  I mean, you protected your family.  You protected me. You protected an entire city of potential victims. You served justice.  Why do you think the department’s supporting you?  There isn’t a one of them who thinks you did anything wrong.”

Hutch’s voice was reflective.  “I’d like to believe I did it for all of you, and for a greater good, but I think maybe I was just damn sick and tired of being harassed by that lunatic.”

“Well…” said Starsky, slowly.  “If that was the case… then I still think you had the right of it.”  What he’d heard and seen personally had been bad enough.  What he’d learned later had been worse.

Hutch’s accounting of the fight under the docks had been dryly factual, and so sparse of detail, he’d had Dobey chewing on antacids like they were candy.  No mention of what had driven him to bite Reg, though the wound was unmistakable and Hutch had to have done it.  There was other evidence in the coroner’s report, of the physical pleasure Reg had been taking in torturing Hutch, which turned Starsky’s stomach every time he thought about it.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Hutch.  “Even if Simonetti’s getting sentimental in his old age, there’s still going to have to be a formal investigation…”

Starsky decided this conversation had gone on long enough.  “Hutch?”

“Hm?”

“Shut up.”  Starsky snapped his newspaper shut, and dropped it on the floor, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.  “I’m gonna tell you about your son, and you’re going to lie there and listen to me.  Did you know that kid’s turning out to be a regular party animal?  He sleeps all day, and stays up all night.  And he seems to think we ought to be entertaining him whenever he’s awake.  Dawn’s been trying to get him to listen to Mozart and Brahms and stuff like that, because that’s what her magazines say is supposed to be good for his brain, but he prefers George Thorogood and the Destroyers…”

A subtle change had been working over Hutch as Starsky spoke, a slight lightening of aspect.  Now he said, “Starsky, are you corrupting my kid already?”

“No, that’s Becky’s influence.  Now hush and let me talk…” Starsky rambled on, enthusiastically describing the little achievements and milestones, perfectly commonplace and ordinary in their essence, and yet which seemed so extraordinary to the adults who had fallen hopelessly in love with the newest member of the family.  As he spoke, he became aware of the tension gradually easing out of his partner.  Hutch was listening, and Starsky prayed it wouldn’t be too much to hope that he might even be beginning to hear what he’d trying to tell him ever since the shooting.

Even when it made no sense to keep on fighting, Hutch had never given up on his partner.  Sixteen months after he’d been shot, Hutch had still been clinging to the idea that Starsky would make it back to the street, fully healed.  If it hadn’t been for the review board’s final decision, Starsky could easily imagine Hutch keeping the faith for years without end.

It wasn’t sensible, but it was the way he operated.  Like that time when Bellamy had poisoned him.  Right down to the last few minutes of the last hour, Hutch had refused to quit looking for the cure.

Blind faith: that’s what it was.  Hutch had tons of it whenever the situation involved his partner, but he reserved none for himself.

And that was okay, because whenever he stumbled, Starsky would take up the cause and fight in his place.  Maybe they couldn’t win every battle, but he’d make damn sure that big blond Viking never quit the field. 

It’s my turn to take care of you, for a change.

“...lemme tell you some more about that kid of yours…”

“Starsky…” said Hutch.

“Did you know he hums when he nurses?  That’s definitely a breast man for ya…”

“Starsky!” shouted Hutch.

An innocently startled pair of blue eyes met his, the expressive hands stilling for a moment.  “What?”

“You’re insane.”

Starsky gave him a brightly lopsided grin.  “I’m no crazier than you are!”

Hutch felt something that might be happiness warming the core of him.  “Starsky…” He paused.  There was a lot he could say to his partner, but it would all be either redundant or inadequate.  They both understood already what words couldn’t describe.  So, instead, he said, “Enough about the kid.  How’s Dawn coping?”

 

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