Author:  Rebelcat

Gen or Slash:  Gen with hugs.


Rating: PG-13, because there’s torture, and not just of the psychological variety

Category: Hurt/Comfort


Disclaimer: Like I keep saying, they ain’t mine.


Betas:  Nik Ditty and Elizabeth Helena!  Endlessly grateful to you guys.


Sensing Things


If you're going through hell, keep going.

Winston Churchill


THE FIRST TIME Starsky woke up, he was too looped on painkillers and sedatives to notice much of anything.  His mouth felt like sandpaper, and someone was running a dentist’s drill beside his hospital bed.  Or perhaps it was a jackhammer.  He blinked and tried to clear the gumminess out of his eyes, searching the crowd around his bed until he found the one face he was looking for.




This is his fault, Starsky thought, but the reason for this evaded him and he slipped back into the unsteady darkness.


The second time he awoke, he noticed the dark circles under Hutch’s eyes and the lines of strain in his face.


Hutch grinned at him, brought him a cup of ice chips, rearranged his bedclothes unnecessarily, and then attempted to undo the mess he’d just created.  Starsky squinted past the glare of the lights and realized that Hutch was talking to him.


Completely inaudible under the deafening mechanical hum and whine.


The world wobbled in a queasy way, and Starsky closed his eyes, suddenly feeling as if he might slip right off the planet and into space.  He clutched the sides of the bed, holding on.  Hutch abandoned the sheets and stroked his left arm, soothingly.


“Go home,” Starsky said.  He thought he said it.  He could feel the vibration of the words in his throat.


Hutch’s hand stilled.  Starsky pried his eyes open one more time.  Hutch looked awful.  The smile was gone and his face was colorless and drawn.


“Go home,” said Starsky again, firmly.


The third time he woke up, a nurse was fussing with his feet and it was dark outside his window.


“Where’s Hutch?” he asked, only belatedly remembering that he’d sent him home.


She smiled and said something, patting him reassuringly.


“Too much noise.”  But even as he said it, he realized that there was no drill, no jackhammer, no construction equipment anywhere.  He rolled his head to the side and felt a surge of nausea, as the bed lurched sickeningly beneath him.


The nurse patted him again, but her figure moving across his line of vision fractured the fragile control he had on his equilibrium.  With a groan, he folded in half and began vomiting onto the bed.


People rushed into the room, nurses and doctors, but the only person Starsky wanted was Hutch.  Mortification was swiftly replaced with a surge of anger at his partner’s continued absence.


Then a familiar hand grabbed his, and the world steadied.


Starsky scowled.  “Where were you?”


He couldn’t hear Hutch’s response, but he suspected he saw amusement in the man’s face.  Starsky’s last thought, just before the sedation kicked in, was: He better not be laughing at me.


By morning, Starsky was feeling better.  Whatever they had given him for the nausea had finally taken effect.  Though the world still felt unstable, he was reasonably sure that it and he would not be parting company any time soon.  The noise in his head continued unabated, but a nurse had written him a reassuring note explaining that it was a side effect of his concussion, and that his hearing would return soon.


And Hutch was still there, in the chair by his bed.  Still looking like hell.


“I told you to go home,” said Starsky.  He wondered what his voice sounded like.  It was strange, knowing that other people could hear him when he couldn’t hear himself.  He smoothed the surface of his bed, feeling the cool crisp linens under his fingertips.  His eyes were drawn to the neat white bandages around each wrist, and he chewed thoughtfully on the inside of his lip.  His mouth tasted sour, like the morning after an all-night bender.  He could smell antiseptic, and sickness, and something else that he could only classify as a scent unique to hospitals.


A sense of being utterly alone seized him, and he quickly raised his eyes, searching for and finding Hutch again.  “Did you get any sleep last night,” asked Starsky.


Hutch nodded, but Starsky saw his hands tighten on his knees and his gaze slide to one side.


“There’s no point lying to me when I can’t hear you,” said Starsky.


Hutch reddened.  Starsky felt a nasty sense of satisfaction at Hutch’s obvious discomfort.  His fault.


It occurred to him that if he was going to be angry at Hutch, he should know why.  Tentatively, he tried to think back, but the doctor came into the room with a nurse right behind him, and Starsky’s train of thought was derailed.


The doctor spoke briefly to the nurse.  Starsky attempted to lip-read without success.


“Hey,” he said.  They ignored him.


For all the personal attention Starsky was getting, he might have been a slab of beef.  His fist clenched, but before he could hit the mattress, a hand caught his.  He looked up to find Hutch regarding him with empathy.


As the nurse flipped back the covers at the bottom of the bed and began to efficiently assess the condition of his feet, the doctor picked up his chart and browsed through it.


“Hey,” said Starsky, again.  There was no visible response and Starsky wondered if the doctor could even hear him speak.  If a man couldn’t hear himself, how could he know with certainty that he was making any sound at all?


Starsky was about to try cursing, to see if that got any sort of reaction, when the doctor’s head suddenly snapped up and angled towards Hutch.  Following the doctor’s gaze, Starsky discovered that Hutch had risen to his feet.  He looked angry.


Yeah, you tell him, thought Starsky.


The doctor appeared annoyed, but he still took the notepad that Hutch thrust at him.  He wrote something quickly and then tore off the sheet, handing it to Starsky.


I am Dr. Simonson, your physician.


“Pleased t’ meetcha, Doc,” said Starsky, politely.


The doctor nodded at him, and then wrote something else on the pad.  Starsky took it, and read the scrawled letters.


What do you remember?


It was as if he’d just opened an overstuffed locker.  One that required only the slightest touch to fly open, spilling its contents onto the person unlucky enough to need something within.  Starsky felt a crushing weight settle on his chest.   He gasped for air as the room slipped out of focus.  The pad slid out of his hand.  He was vaguely aware of the nurse putting a blood pressure cuff on his arm.  Distantly, through the hum in his head, he thought he could even hear Hutch shouting at the doctor.


But these things were peripheral to the memories caving in on him now, threatening to bury him alive.

“Whose fault is it?”


Starsky could hear the tape recorder humming somewhere in the background.  He knew they were recording him.  He had heard the distinctive squeal of the tape being rewound, and then a sound which he assumed was the record button being pressed.  Every noise seemed amplified, hollow, the blindfold forcing him to put more emphasis on that sense than normal.


But he’d been silent too long.  He felt the – mouth-breathing, in-bred, half-wit – asshole move nearer, and he braced himself for another round.  Starsky was prepared for a blow to the head, or a punch to the gut.  He was not prepared for the molten agony that suddenly erupted in his left foot as the goon slammed his boot down on the toes of his sneaker.


Starsky yowled, and then cursed.  The recorder continued to turn, and he felt a knot in his gut form at the thought of Hutch having to listen to this.  Sorry, man. I’m no Hollywood hero … and this fucking hurts!


“Whose fault is it?”


“Yours!” snapped Starsky, defiantly.


This time the blow impacted with his ear, almost knocking him over, chair and all.  Hands caught him roughly from behind, and he was slammed back down into his seat.  He tasted fresh blood, and knew he’d bitten his lip again.  His shoulder loudly protested the harsh treatment, and his wrists twisted in the cuffs.  But another part of his brain was busy cataloging evidence.  There were three people in the room, one directing, one pounding, and one acting as spotter.


It was amazing what could be picked up and pieced together, even without eyes to see.  “Who” – he didn’t know who the goons were, but he knew who she was.  Not that she was trying to hide her identity.  “What” – well, that was pretty clear.  The “what” was pain.  “When” was now.  And even “why” required little speculation, though he wished they could have found some other way of tormenting Hutch.  Preferably something that didn’t involve broken toes. Especially his own.


The only part of the equation he didn’t have was “where”.  But from the echo of their footsteps, and their utter unconcern with keeping him quiet, he would guess they were somewhere in the warehouse district.  Before his nose had started to bleed, he’d thought he smelt salt in the air.  And before his ears had begun to ring he was sure he’d heard seagulls.  So, down by the docks.  Somewhere.


“Whose fault is it?”


He was so rattled that it took a moment for the question to register.  They didn’t give him time to think of a response.


“Take off his shoes.”  Her voice was cool, collected.


Starsky’s breath caught in his throat and he yanked on the cords binding his ankles to the chair legs.  “What-- what are you doing?”


They didn’t answer.  His shoes and socks were yanked off and he heard them tossed to the side.  The ground was hard and cold against his bare soles and his left foot throbbed.


A snap followed by the acrid smell of lighter fuel increased his terror exponentially.  He heard her move closer, tracking the rustle of her polyester pant suit and the click of her heels on concrete.  A small spot of heat seared his cheek, and he yanked his head to the side, pulling against the ropes.  He breathed in the caustic smell of singed hair mingled with the scent of her perfume.


A gentle hand touched the back of his neck, and her breath was painfully warm against his stinging cheek.  “Detective Starsky,” she whispered.  “Please remember that this is not personal.  My argument is with your partner, not you.”  Raising her voice, she said, “Untie his right foot.”


Starsky panicked.  “No, no don’t…”  Hutch, I told you there was something not right about her.  Why don’t you ever listen?  You keep playing the White Knight, and look where it’s got me.


“Whose fault is it?”


He told her what she wanted to hear.  “It’s Hutch’s fault!”  But he couldn’t stop there.  His words tumbled over each other, as he tried frantically to yank his foot out of the grip his unseen tormenter had on his ankle.  “Hutch is responsible for the famine in Africa too, ‘cause he stole all their violets for his greenhouse.  He started the Spanish Inquisition, and the Hot Pants craze, and I have a strong suspicion he’s also the Boston Strangler.”


Starsky screamed as the bottom of his foot was seared.  His head hit the back of the wooden chair and his seat tipped once more. He heard the man behind him curse.


“No, really,” protested Starsky, hoarsely.  “He could be the Boston Strangler.  I don’t know where he was all those nights.  He’s a bad man!  He’s always stealing change out of my piggy bank, and he throws his used coffee cups in the back seat of my car.  Sometimes they aren’t even empty!”


They burned him again.  He choked on his words, and was left shaking, bile in his throat.


“He’s a real bastard,” whispered Starsky.  He could feel the blindfold turning clammy against his skin, and knew he was crying.


Because the truth of the matter was, it really was Hutch’s fault.

Starsky pulled in a long, shuddering breath and looked up at Hutch.  “Buddy, you got crummy taste in women.  If my feet didn’t hurt so damn bad, I’d kick your ass.”


He saw relief and guilt chase each other across Hutch’s face. Starsky assumed that the tortured expression Hutch finally ended up with was supposed to be something politely sympathetic.


The doctor finished his examination quickly and then left, glaring at Hutch, whose look in return was cold enough to freeze a good chunk of Hell.


Starsky held onto Hutch’s hand while the nurse changed the bandages on his feet.  It hurt.  He caught Hutch wincing once, and tried to ease his grip, but Hutch’s hand tightened on his, wordlessly reassuring him that it was all right.


It’s not all right.  I don’t like being this angry -- not at Hutch.  I don’t want to feel like this.


When the nurse finally left the room, Starsky lifted his head off his pillow and began the long process of pulling himself up in order to inspect the damage.  He felt a hand on his shoulder, and Hutch’s worried face moved into his line of vision.  “I want to see,” said Starsky.


Hutch refused to release him, and Starsky glared.  They didn’t need words for this particular argument.  Finally, Hutch capitulated with a toss of his hands and a shrug that said as clear as if he’d spoken, Fine.  You want to cause yourself more pain?  You go right ahead.


“Thank you,” said Starsky.  He reached for his left foot.  It was less heavily bandaged than the other.  They had obviously topped up his pain meds at some point, because everything in the room had taken on a languid golden haze.  He glanced to the side one more time.  Definitely a glow-y Hutch.  But not a happy Hutch.


“So, did you shoot her?” asked Starsky.


Hutch shook his head.  His eyes told Starsky other things as well, clearly speaking his regret and pain.


“’Lectric chair or Cabrillo State, d’ya figure?” Starsky looked away as he spoke, uninterested in the answer.


He investigated his big left toe.  The nail was mottled red, purple and black.  “Wow.  Look at that.”  He poked at it with his index finger.  “Hey!  My toenail wiggled.”  He touched the nail again, and was rendered speechless when it flaked off completely, like an old scab.


Something bumped against the side of his bed, jostling him, and he looked up just in time to see Hutch, his hand over his mouth, making a break for the door.


Shit, thought Starsky.  Under ordinary circumstances, he would have gone after Hutch.


His feet lost their fascination and, discontented, he settled back in bed.


Eventually, boredom inspired him to begin experimenting with closing his eyes.  He noted how the ringing in his ears got louder each time, and how he could vary pitch and volume by clenching his jaw.  But he didn’t leave his eyes shut for long.


It was one thing to be blind and to have to rely on your hearing.  It was another matter entirely to be cut off from both sight and sound.  Touch and smell alone weren’t enough.  He could lose himself if he wasn’t careful.


Starsky wondered how long he could go without sleeping.  Just the thought made him feel desperately weary.


He couldn’t hear Hutch loitering just outside the door.  But he could see the way the nurses paused on their way past, talking to someone unseen.  And he could see the shadow that crossed the doorway.


“Hutch,” he said, and Hutch was there, just like that.  Constant, steady, dependable Hutch, whose only crime was that he gave his heart away too readily and loved too easily.  That much empathy could kill a man, if he didn’t have back-up.


“Don’t wanna kick your butt,” said Starsky.  “I was wrong.”


Hutch gave him a questioning look.  Starsky reached up and snagged him by the sleeve, and tugged.  When Hutch didn’t move immediately, he tugged again.  “C’mon.”


With a wry smile, Hutch disentangled himself and lowered the bedrail.  Then he sat down - too carefully, too hesitantly - on the edge of the bed.


This wasn’t at all what Starsky had in mind.  Ignoring the protests from his bruised body, he launched himself at Hutch and grabbed on.  The earth tilted at an alarming angle, but he hung on fiercely, knowing that he was anchored.  Finally.


Starsky could have stayed where he was indefinitely, but after a few minutes Hutch gently disentangled himself.  Starsky allowed Hutch to ease him over until he was stretched out on the hospital bed, but all the while a small part of him was panicking.  What if Hutch was planning on leaving?  Hadn’t he told him to go home?  I’m not mad anymore, honest.


But then the edge of the mattress dipped again, and Hutch slowly lowered himself down onto the bed next to Starsky.  As soon as Hutch lay back against the headboard, Starsky flung his arm across the man’s stomach.  He pressed his cheek to Hutch’s chest.


Starsky could smell Hutch’s aftershave, masking the harsher chemical scents of the hospital.  He could feel the warmth of Hutch’s body, and the steady beat of his heart.  When Hutch spoke, he felt the deep rumbling vibration move through himself as well.  He examined Hutch’s hand, resting on his own.  He memorized the pattern of fine blond hairs, glinting in the light from the window, and noted the new scabs on Hutch’s knuckles.  The hands of a fighter.  Fighting for him.


I was wrong, he thought, it’s not his fault.


It occurred to Starsky that some things are easier to say when you can’t hear yourself say them.  “I love you,” said Starsky.  “I’ll never stop.  Not if you date a thousand psychotic women.  Not even if you are the Boston Strangler.”


Hutch begin to shake in his arms, and Starsky felt a brief stab of alarm.  He pushed himself up, only to see Hutch laughing.  His head was thrown back, and there were tears in his eyes.


Smiling, Starsky settled back down against Hutch’s chest.  Here, in Hutch’s embrace, he could close his eyes and not lose himself.  And he knew that as long as he held on, Hutch would never move.  Which meant that sooner or later, Hutch would get the sleep he so desperately needed.  I should have done this in the first place.


“Love you,” said Starsky again, as he drifted off to sleep.