Author: Rebelcat

Rating: G

Category: H/C, Challenge Fic

Disclaimer: They ain't mine!

Beta: Nik Ditty did the honors this time.


Working Memory

The past is never dead, it is not even past. ~William Faulkner

It was the smell that got to Starsky.

The stench of burnt flesh kicked him in the stomach and made him gag. He hung onto Hutch and tried to believe that of all the places to get your hand nearly blown off, the hospital parking lot had to be the best. “Easy, easy...” he said, but Hutch was beyond hearing.

He was rocking back and forth in Starsky’s arms, with his eyes squeezed shut. He had his uninjured hand wrapped around his wrist and he was holding on so tightly his knuckles were turning white.

“C’mon! We need some help here,” bellowed Starsky, even as an orderly parked a wheelchair beside him and knelt to look at Hutch. Another orderly and a doctor arrived a moment later and Starsky was pushed aside.

Starsky wrapped his arms tightly around himself as he watched them examine Hutch. He knew that smell. Burned meat, sure, but it was something else, too.

“Is he allergic to any medication?” the doctor asked him.

Starsky couldn’t look away from Hutch. The orderlies were lifting him into the wheelchair, and he still hadn’t opened his eyes. “Uh... uh, no. No, I don’t think so... No.” Hutch’s damaged hand brushed the edge of one orderly’s white jacket, barely touching it.

Hutch screamed.

Starsky lunged to his feet and tried to reach for Hutch. But the doctor had him by the arm, and the orderlies were already wheeling Hutch away.

“I need to know if it’s safe to give him morphine,” said the doctor, urgently.

“He gets hay fever,” said Starsky. His brain finally kicked into gear and he added, “No, morphine’s terrific. Do you have anything stronger?”

But the doctor didn’t answer. He had walked away as soon as he heard that Hutch wasn’t allergic to morphine. Starsky managed to follow him as far as the burn unit, where a nurse intercepted him.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t go in there,” she said.

“He’s my partner,” protested Starsky. “We’re cops.”

“Oh, you’re cops,” she said, in a tone of revelation. “Well then, you’ll have to go down to emergency and fill out the proper paperwork.”


The nurse pointed down the corridor. “Emergency is that way.”

With one last look at the swinging doors though which Hutch had vanished, Starsky turned and trudged down the corridor.

The nurse at the desk in Emergency handed him a clipboard full of forms and directed him to a nearby bench.

“You don’t understand,” said Starsky. “He’s my partner. We’re cops.”

“The rules are the same for everyone,” she said. “When they’re done treating your friend, someone will come along and tell you how he’s doing.”

“You see, ma’am, the thing is—”

This nurse, clearly cut from the same cloth as the first, pointed at the bench. “Sit!”

Starsky sat. He stared blankly at the forms. Eventually the words began to make sense, and he filled in the blank spaces. All except for the bits he couldn’t remember, like whether or not Hutch still had his appendix. He was pretty sure Hutch didn’t have high blood pressure. A family history of mental illness? Well, the few things he’d said about his dad weren’t complimentary, but that didn’t mean the old man was crazy.

It was later, while staring into a Styrofoam cup of cold coffee, that Starsky finally identified that smell.

Overcooked liver. Like Aunt Rose used to make. The stuff that was nearly black on the outside and so dry inside that it was almost impossible to swallow. But she said it was good for growing boys, full of vitamins.

Starsky rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth as his stomach lurched again. The scent of coffee combined with the memory of Aunt Rose’s Liver Surprise and he tasted sour vomit in his mouth. He swallowed and thought of Hutch struggling in his arms, his heels gouging deep holes in the grass as he tried to escape from the pain.

Starsky tried to think about the case. He tried to focus on catching the guy who’d planted the bomb. But all he could think about was Hutch, right here and now. He hoped Hutch wasn’t hurting any more. That the morphine had worked. That the doctor hadn’t made him wait for it.

What if he loses his hand?

“Mr. Starsky?”

Starsky started, nearly spilling his coffee. “Yes? Can I see him now? How’s he—”

The nurse smiled at him. She was bottle blond, and looked like she should be someone’s mother, serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Tang in the kitchen. “Your friend is fine. He’s anxious to get out of here and he’s been asking for you.”

“Get out of here?” Starsky blinked, trying to process what she was saying. “He doesn’t have to stay?” He jumped to his feet and began to head in the direction he’d last seen them take Hutch.

The nurse snagged his elbow and steered him into a hallway and up a flight of stairs. “He’s in Recovery right now. I’ll take you. Your friend will be just fine. He’s a little dopey because of the painkillers, but—”

“How’s his hand?” interrupted Starsky.

“It’s a nasty burn,” said the nurse. “But it’s not deep.”

“But he was hurting so bad.”

The nurse stopped him outside a door and gave his arm a reassuring pat. “Believe it or not, that’s a very good sign. Surface burns hurt like a son of a bitch, but they heal well. It’s the deep painless ones that we worry most about, because that means the nerves have all been destroyed.”

Starsky couldn’t quite process everything she was saying. Moms don’t say “son of a bitch,” he thought, irrelevantly. He wondered if she served her kids burnt liver too, and told them it was good for them.

Then it dawned on him that she had said Hutch was going to be fine, and also that he could go home today.

Starsky suddenly grinned. He grabbed the nurse and kissed her enthusiastically on the cheek. “Thank you! That’s great!” While she was still gasping he turned toward the door. “Is he in there?”

“Yes,” she said, blushing. “Go on!”

The sight that met Starsky’s eyes was anti-climatic. Hutch was sitting on the edge of a bed, staring at the white bandages encasing his hand with an expression of bemusement. In his other hand he held some prescription slips.

“Hey, partner!” said Starsky.

Hutch looked up and smiled. “Hey.”

“I hear you wanna ditch this joint.”

Instead of answering, Hutch jammed his prescription slips into his pocket and then slid off the bed. He staggered as he tried to walk.

Starsky caught him. “Whoa, there.”

Hutch looped his good hand around the back of Starsky’s neck and steadied himself. “I don’t know what they gave me, Starsk. But this is... Wow.”

He didn’t sound happy.

“Morphine, I think,” said Starsky, as he navigated Hutch to the door.

“I thought it felt familiar,” said Hutch. His good hand slipped down Starsky’s back to his belt. “Wish I’d known. I would have...” He frowned. “I don’t like this.”

“Why not?” The hospital pharmacy was on the first floor. Starsky spotted an elevator and started to lead Hutch in that direction. Then abruptly it hit him, like a two-by-four between the eyes. He stopped in his tracks. “Oh, hell. Hutch, I’m sorry! I didn’t think.”

Hutch’s hand was shaking as he patted Starsky’s cheek. “It’s okay. I know it’s not really the same, and I won’t get hooked... but it feels almost the same.”

Starsky could have kicked himself three ways to Sunday. He was a moron. A thoughtless, mush-brained, blockheaded moron. “Here,” he said. “Lemme see those prescriptions.”

Hutch handed them over, but Starsky couldn’t make head or tails of the chicken scratching that passed for handwriting. “We’ll track that doctor down and make him give you something different.”

“I thought I just wouldn’t take it,” said Hutch, diffidently.

Starsky stared at him, horrified. “You’ve got to take something Hutch!”

“Well, I mean, it’s not that bad. It’s only first and second degree burns.”

“Don’t you remember how much pain you were in?” Just saying the words, the memory hit Starsky with frightening force. The smell, the sound... Hell, the tracks of dried tears were still visible on Hutch’s face.

But Hutch evidently didn’t remember anything of the sort. He was staring at Starsky with polite incomprehension in his bloodshot eyes.

“You’re getting painkillers,” said Starsky, firmly. “We’ll just have to track your doctor down and get him to give you something different. Like... extra-extra strength aspirin, or something.” He turned and headed back up the hall, dragging Hutch behind him.

How could he have forgotten about the heroin? Less than a year ago, Hutch had been sweating it out of his system. Morphine was made from the same stuff.

Starsky stopped again as a new thought hit him. “Hutch, what do you want me to tell him?” Obviously he couldn’t say that Hutch had an allergy. He didn’t. But the heroin was a secret. It would mean the end of Hutch’s career as a cop if it ever got out at work.

“I don’t care,” said Hutch, wearily. “I can’t... You figure it out, okay? Tell him I’m a junkie. Whatever it takes.”

“Hutch!” Starsky was appalled.

Hutch gave him a faint smile. “Well, I’m sure you’ll put it more tactfully than that.”

Starsky grabbed Hutch’s shoulders and pushed him up against the corridor wall. He could feel the curious stare of a nurse as she passed, and he dropped his voice. “Don’t say that shit. You’re not a junkie!”

Hutch’s eyes were excessively blue, his pupils shrunk nearly to pinpoints. “I sure wouldn’t trust myself in the back room of the pharmacy right now. You have no idea what this feels like, Starsky.”

“But you were still going to throw away your prescriptions...”

“Well, I was going to take the antibiotics,” said Hutch, mildly.

“...and sweat it out, rather than risk getting hooked again. What kinda junkie does that?”

They both fell silent as another nurse passed them in the corridor. When she turned the corner, Starsky let his head drop forward to touch Hutch’s. “You’re not a junkie,” he said, in a fierce whisper. “Anyone says that crap about my partner, I’ll kick his ass. Even if he is my partner!”

Hutch’s fingers threaded their way into his hair at the back of his head. “Okay,” he said. “Okay. But can I sit down now? While you find the doctor?”

Starsky’s chuckle wasn’t far from a sob. He pushed himself back from Hutch and smiled at him. “You’re one hell of a schmuck.”

“You won’t hear me disagree.”

“But what you got to remember is that you’re my schmuck,” said Starsky as he helped Hutch fold himself down onto a bench. “And I’m not letting anyone give you any more of this stuff, okay?”

“Hopefully it won’t come up again,” said Hutch.

“In this job?”

Hutch paused, and then nodded, acknowledging his point. He leaned back and closed his eyes. “Hurry up, will you?”

Starsky headed for the nurse’s station, going over the problem from all angles. They’d gotten off easy this past year, with Starsky himself clocking most of the hospital time. That kind of luck couldn’t continue forever.

Absently, he rubbed his shoulder. The nurse at the station was on the phone and held up one finger when she saw him. Starsky leaned against the desk as he waited.

What if Hutch was brought in alone? Or what if they both got hurt and Starsky couldn’t tell anyone not to give him morphine? He’d have to get them to put something in Hutch’s medical file. Those things were supposed to be confidential, weren’t they?

But what if Hutch ended up in a different hospital, and they didn’t have access to his file? It was complicated.

Never mind: he’d figure it out. The important thing was that he wouldn’t forget again.