Cripple Me

"I gotcha. It's all over, it's all over." Hutch rested his hand on the back of Starsky's neck with one hand as he took hold of his partner's arm with the other.

"What took you so long?" Starsky asked grabbing onto Hutch's jacket.

"That's a nice looking nightgown," Hutch quipped.

Starsky laughed as he held onto his best friend but it caught in his throat and he let out a sob. "Oh, Hutch."

"It's okay, Starsk. You're safe now," Hutch breathed out as he wrapped his arms around Starsky.

The uniforms gathered up Marcus' minions and took them into custody. Starsky kept his face buried in Hutch's shoulder until he noticed Bernie pull Gail up from where she sat beside him.

"No, no, she's…she…" he fumbled for what he wanted to say.

"Starsky, let them do their job."

"But she…" Starsky tried to focus but finally gave up and leaned back into his partner.

"We're going to get you fixed up, Buddy."

Starsky stiffened and looked up at Hutch. "No. No hospital, Hutch. I wanna go home. Please."

Hutch studied Starsky's face and winced at the blister below his right eye and the bruising along his hair line. His eyes didn't quite focus, making Hutch nervous and his lips were pale and cracked indicating dehydration.

"Starsky, listen. We just need to get you checked out. Make sure you are okay. I promise I'll take you home after that, okay?"

Starsky shook his head, his mussed curls, crusty with dried blood, rubbing against Hutch's chin. "No. No, please."

Dobey was suddenly beside them and stooped down. "Is he okay?"

"I think so. He doesn't want to go to the hospital but I'm not giving in on this one," Hutch said adamantly.

Dobey nodded grimly and went back to directing the men as they rounded up the rest of Marcus' people.

Starsky had stopped mumbling until the sound of the ambulance could be heard coming up the road. He tensed and moved to get up.

"Hey, partner, easy. Where do you think you are going?" Hutch asked quietly.

"Take me home, Hutch," Starsky begged and Hutch's heart broke.

"I will. I promise. Not just yet, though." He continued to rub the back of Starsky's neck to try to calm him. "Captain Dobey," Hutch called out fairly calmly although he wanted to scream.

Dobey hurried over as he recognized the urgency in Hutch's voice. "What is it?"

"Call off the medics."

"Hutch, you said yourself…"

"I'll bring him into the hospital myself," Hutch whispered. "I don't think he could take an ambulance ride right now."

Dobey looked at his two detectives. He saw how anxious Starsky was and trusted Hutch. "Okay. I'll let them know."

"Thank you, Captain," Hutch said with a weary smile. He waited until Dobey and the others had moved away then looked down at Starsky. "Hey, Buddy. You ready to get out of here, huh?"

Starsky didn't look up but simply nodded his head, his face still buried in Hutch's shoulder.

"Okay, come on." Hutch slowly stood up, never letting go of Starsky. He gently supported his friend as he rose to his feet and waited as Starsky wavered then steadied beside him. Hutch wrapped an arm around Starsky's waist and took a few slow steps forward. Starsky stumbled along. "Watch your step here," Hutch said softly. They maneuvered out of the area and Hutch was glad to get away from the spot where his best friend was about to be…he swallowed hard then pushed the thoughts away instead focusing on the weak and shaking man beside him. He opened the passenger side of the Torino, never letting go of Starsky, and then movedd him into the seat, gently lifting Starsky's bare feet into the car.

"You okay, Pal? Starsky?" Starsky took a deep breath then nodded. "Okay, good. You just have to let go of me so I can get in the car." Hutch put his hand over Starsky's where it held tight to his lapel, the knuckles white. "Can you do that?" Hutch started to pry Starsky's fingers loose, being careful not to irritate the raw, rope-burned wrists. Finally free, Hutch carefully closed the door and ran to the other side. He climbed behind the wheel and reached out to take Starsky's groping hand in his. "I'm right here, Buddy." Resting Starsky's hand on his knee, Hutch started the car and headed toward the hospital.

On the ride, Starsky's grip on his knee relaxed and his head lolled back and forth as he dozed. Hutch wasn't sure if it was from exhaustion, drugging or head trauma. Maybe all of the above, he thought grimly. Fifteen minutes later, he pulled into a parking spot close to the emergency entrance and cut the engine. He slid out of his seat and went around to open Starsky's door.

"Come on, Pal. Let's get you fixed up," he said as lightly as he could.

Starsky came out of his stupor and looked up at Hutch then realized where they were. "Nooo," he moaned. "I said no hospital."

Hutch's voice lost its gently lilt as he spoke. "And I said I wasn't giving in on this, not this time, Starsk."

Seemingly too exhausted to argue, Starsky simply leaned back into the seat, defeated. Hutch reached down and pulled his feet from the car and set them on the ground. "Next stop is getting you out of this ridiculous get-up," he joked but Starsky didn't seem to hear him. Taking hold of Starsky's arms above the elbow he managed to get him on his feet and they began shuffling toward the entrance. Once inside, Hutch spotted a wheelchair and helped Starsky sit down.

"Do you need help, sir?" A young doctor asked, concern for Starsky evident in his face.

"Yes, please. I'm Detective Hutchinson of BCPD. This is my partner, David Starsky. He was kidnapped and injured. Could you help us?"

"Of course, I'm surprised you didn't bring him in by ambulance."

"He's a little…fragile right now. I thought this would be best."

"I see. Well, let's get him into a room right away," the doctor motioned toward a set of double doors that Hutch was all too familiar with. An orderly came to assist them but Hutch waved him away and took hold of Starsky's wheelchair himself.

Hutch leaned over as he followed the doctor and spoke quietly into Starsky's ear. "I'm right here, Starsk. I promise we won't be long and I'll take you home." Starsky stayed quiet, leaning heavily on the armrest of the chair.

Once inside the room, a nurse brought in a johnny and moved to help Starsky from the black robe. Starsky, who until now had been pliant and obedient, jumped back, his blue eyes flashing. Hutch was at his side instantly putting himself between his partner and the startled nurse.

"I'll take care of this, thank you," he said with a smile. The nurse nodded and left the room.

Hutch gently removed the ugly robe and tossed it on the floor in disgust. He slipped the johnny onto Starsky's arms then tied it at the neck. "That's an improvement, right Starsk?" In response, Starsky laid down on the gurney and curled up on his side. "Good idea, Buddy. Get some rest." Hutch hunted around until he found a cotton blanket and draped it over Starsky before sitting down on the nearby stool to wait.

A few minutes later, the same doctor that spoke to them at the entrance came into the room with a chart in his hand. He handed it to Hutch. "Could you fill this out while I examine him?"

Hutch took the clipboard but as soon as the doctor approached Starsky, he woke up and stiffened at the sight of a stranger. Dropping the clipboard on the stool, Hutch came to his partner's side and took his hand in his own.

"Hey, Buddy." Hutch used his free hand to take hold of Starsky's chin and turn it so that they were face to face but Starsky's eyes remained on the doctor. "Hey, relax. Doctor…"

"Craven," the doctor supplied.

"Dr. Craven is just going to check you out, okay?" Hutch's soft voice lulled Starsky and he relaxed. "That's it. Just take it easy." Hutch nodded at the doctor to indicate he could start his exam. Hutch kept hold of Starsky's hand the entire time.

Placing his stethoscope over the back of his neck, Dr. Craven let out a breath. "Well, he has definitely been drugged. I'm going to order some blood work. He has a welt above his hairline here and I think he has a mild concussion. I don't see any sign of broken bones but he's pretty banged up. I'm going to order an I.V. as he is rather dehydrated.

"No, no I.V," Starsky mumbled, becoming agitated.

"Hey, hey," Hutch soothed. "It won't take long. You are going to feel so much better after it." Starsky continued to move his head back and forth slowly, his eyes pinched shut.

"Doc, do you see any reason to keep him here?"

"He should be kept for observation, Detective."

"Yes, but are you saying that just as a precaution? What I mean is, he has been through hell the last twenty-four hours and I think he'd do much better at home. I-I'll be with him."

"I really don't think that is wise. He's had a head injury…"

"But you said it was mild. Look, we've both been through this before. I know the routine: wake him every two hours and check his responses. Am I right?"

Dr. Craven looked at Hutch and then at Starsky. He noted how good Hutch was with his partner. "I really don't recommend it but if that is what he wants, I will give you some instructions and some supplies."

"Thank you. Thank you very much, Doctor."

"I will have them set up the I.V. and do the blood work. If there has been no change for the worse, I'll allow you to take him home."

"Thank you," Hutch repeated.

Dr. Craven looked down at the cowering man on the gurney. "And I think you should make an appointment with a therapist. He's going to need to work through this. I'll give you some names."

Hutch nodded. He didn't disagree with the doctor but for now, he was all the therapy his partner was going to need. After the doctor left, Hutch patted Starsky on the thigh. "Did you hear that, Buddy? You got your way. I'll take you home soon."

Starsky again rolled onto his side and curled into the fetal position with his back toward Hutch but he kept a grip on Hutch's hand until he slipped off to sleep.

When a nurse arrived to take blood and start an I.V., Hutch managed to uncurl Starsky and get him onto his back without rousing him too much. He was happy to see hardly a wince when the needles were inserted. The nurse hung the I.V. bag, gathered her supplies and left.

"Thank you," Hutch whispered after her. She turned and smiled sweetly before closing the door quietly.

~S&H~

It was three o'clock in the afternoon by the time the doctor gave the okay and released Starsky from the E.R. The drugs had cleared from his system so he was more alert but still exhausted. After the nurse removed the I.V., she handed Hutch a set of scrubs.

"Here you go. I know he doesn't want to go home in that horrible robe."

"Thank you…Sara," Hutch said, reading her nametag. "We appreciate that."

"Here are the instructions from Dr. Craven and some supplies for you to redress his wrists and other wounds. He also included some names of some good psychologists in the area." She looked down at Starsky with a sad smile. "I hope he'll be okay," she said looking up at Hutch.

Hutch smiled back. "Me too. Thank you for everything." Hutch placed the scrubs on the stool and reached to help Starsky up as Sara left the room. "Come on, Starsk. Time to go home." Starsky opened his eyes and looked around the room nervously. When he realized where he was, he relaxed a bit and pushed himself into a sitting position. Hutch held out the scrub pants and wrestled Starsky's legs into them then helped him stand. Starsky's legs went limp but Hutch caught him and held on. "You okay?"

Starsky nodded. "Jus' woozy." He reached down and pulled the scrubs up to his waist. Hutch untied the johnny but Starsky pushed his hands away. "I can do it."

Hutch let go but didn't move back, staying alert in case Starsky's legs decided to not do their job. He watched as his friend fumbled trying to get his arm into a sleeve. "You sure you don't need any help?" Hutch asked with a smile. After a moment, he reached out and pulled the scrub top down for Starsky who seemed to be exhausted from the simple task.

Starsky brushed past Hutch and headed toward the door. Hutch grabbed the paperwork and supplies and followed closely behind his friend. "You should use the wheelchair, Buddy. You're still a little unsteady."

Starsky stopped but didn't turn to face Hutch. After thinking for a moment, he continued on toward the exit.

"Be careful of the stones out here," Hutch offered as he kept pace with Starsky.

"I know." Annoyance colored Starsky's voice.

"Just trying to help," Hutch said as he pulled the car keys from his pocket.

Starsky spotted the bright red Torino. "Why do you have my car?"

Despite the accusatory tone, Hutch was happy to hear Starsky string together a coherent sentence. "Mine is at Earle's place, remember?" Hutch unlocked the passenger-side door. Starsky seemed confused to not be driving his own car but obviously decided he wasn't up to the task – especially barefoot.

"Oh yeah," he said as he got into the car.

Hutch quickly jumped into the driver's side and backed out of the parking spot. "Feeling better?" he asked hopefully.

After a few beats, Starsky mumbled a reply. "I dunno."

Hutch pulled up to a stop light and rested his hand on Starsky's knee. "Well, you look better." He smiled but Starsky didn't look at him, his brow furrowed. Hutch wasn't sure if it was anger or confusion that darkened Starsky's face. "I'm starving, how about you? Do you have anything edible at your place?"

"I dunno."

Hutch chewed on his lip, not sure what to say next. The rest of the ride was made in silence. An occasional glance over at Starsky found him staring blankly out the windshield, his brow still creased. Hutch could only imagine what his friend had been through and what was going through his mind. He was determined to find out but he also knew he needed to take it slow.

Hutch pulled up to Starsky's apartment and parked the Torino. He hurried around the car as Starsky fumbled with the door.

"I can do it!" Starsky shouted angrily.

Hutch stooped down in the open door. Starsky looked away. "Look, Buddy, you've just been through hell, you've got a knot on your head, you've obviously been drugged…it's okay to need a little help. He flashed a grin when Starsky's eyes darted toward him.

"I just want to forget about it and…"

"And what, Buddy?"

Starsky seemed to go limp as he let out an irritated sigh. "I dunno."

And we are back to that again, Hutch thought as he pushed himself up. He took a step back to give Starsky some room then shut the car door behind him. Starsky struggled up the apartment building stairs, Hutch hovering protectively behind him.

Once inside, Hutch watched as Starsky headed toward his bedroom. "You really should try to eat something."

"And I told you I'm not hungry," Starsky snapped back at him. Seconds later Hutch heard the bedroom door slam shut.

Hutch rested his hands on the kitchen counter and hung his head. What am I supposed to do to help you, Starsk? His head shot up as he heard the bedroom door slowly open. He came around to see Starsky shuffling into the living room, a pillow and comforter tucked under his arm.

"Water bed…bothered my stomach," Starsky explained as he tossed the pillow and comforter onto the couch then slowly sat down.

Hutch searched around in the cabinets until he found a six pack of ginger ale he had stashed there for those mornings after they drank too much. He pulled out an ice tray from the freezer and dropped a few cubes into a glass and carefully filled it with the frothy soda. He liked his bubble free but knew that Starsky thought the bubbles were what settled his stomach, not the ginger. He dropped a straw in it and carried it into the living room holding it out to Starsky.

"Whazzat?"

"What do you mean what's that? It's ginger ale, you lunkhead."

"Don't want it," Starsky said as he settled into the comforter.

"Starsk, you have to drink something. You looked like you hadn't had anything in the entire time you were…gone."

Starsky's eyes again flicked up to meet Hutch's gaze then slid away. "They gave me…water."

Hutch watched as something painful passed over his friend's face. "Well, not enough so drink this. It will settle your stomach too."

Starsky remained stone still for at least a minute while Hutch continued to hold the glass out. Finally, with a grunt, he took it from Hutch's hand and sniffed it warily.

"It's okay, Starsk," Hutch said in almost a whisper. Starsky glanced over at him then took a small sip. "There you go." Hutch stood up and headed back to the kitchen. "Let me see if I can find something mild for us to eat. I saw some bread, how old is it? Will I find a science experiment in there?"

"Should be okay," Starsky said as he took another tentative sip of the soda.

"Good, I think dry toast would be a good place to start." Hutch quickly toasted some bread, leaving Starsky's unbuttered. He buttered his own piece and gulped it down hungrily, realizing he had nothing but a candy bar and coffee since the ordeal had begun. Placing the toast on a plate, he carried it into the quiet living room expecting to find Starsky asleep. Instead, he found him sitting just as he left him, staring off into the air in front of him.

"Here you go."

Starsky's gaze broke long enough to glance down at the proffered plate Hutch placed on the coffee table next to him.

Hutch sat down across from the couch and watched as Starsky reached out and broke off a piece of the toast and put it in his mouth. "I know it is bland but if that doesn't bother you, I'll make some eggs in a little while."

Starsky slowly nodded as he chewed. "Don't you have to get back to work?"

Hutch was taken aback by the question. "Starsk, it's almost 5 o'clock."

"Oh."

"Besides, I'm not going anywhere, Pal."

Starsky broke off another piece of toast but dropped it on the plate. "You don't need to stay here."

"I know I don't," Hutch regretted the anger in his voice and took in a breath to calm himself. "But I want to," he said more gently.

Starsky rolled onto his side, facing the back of the couch, and pulled the comforter up to his neck without saying a word. Hutch sighed quietly and got up to pull a book from the shelf. Settling back into his chair, he flipped open the book and prepared to pass the time until he could get his partner to talk to him.

It was almost forty five minutes until Starsky's breathing evened out and Hutch could tell he really was asleep. His heart ached for the suffering man. Having read the same paragraph a dozen times without actually comprehending it, Hutch placed the book on the coffee table and then slid down in the wingback chair, trying to get comfortable. He was asleep in minutes.

A crash jolted Hutch out of a deep sleep. His eyes flew open to see Starsky flailing on the couch, immersed in a nightmare. The plate with the uneaten toast was on the floor and the ginger ale glass was teetering. Hutch was up and around the coffee table in an instant, taking hold of Starsky's arms as he knelt down next to the couch.

"Starsk, hey wake up. Starsky! It's okay. You are safe. You're home."

Hutch's words finally pierced through the nightmare and made it to Starsky's consciousness. Deep blue eyes popped open and darted around still looking for the monsters from the dream.

"Shh," Hutch soothed. "You are home, Buddy. Shh."

"Hu-utch?"

"Yep, that's me. Right here with you, Pal."

"Where's…where's?" Starsky asked still looking around.

"Where's who?"

Starsky cleared his throat and pushed himself up. He leaned forward and scrubbed his face with his hands. "No one," he mumbled through his palms. "Just a dream."

"And a doozy of one," Hutch said lightly, resting his hand on Starsky's shoulder.

"Yeah," Starsky said simply as he moved to get up. "Gotta use the john."

Hutch smiled again and moved back to turn on a light. His neck and back twinged from sleeping in the chair. He picked up the toast and plate from the floor and brought them into the kitchen. He came back to wipe up the ginger ale that had spilled when the table got bumped. Starsky was shuffling back to his nest on the couch.

"This is warm. I'm going to get you another glass. Or would you like something else?"

"I don't care. Sorry about that."

"Hey, no problem. I think we were overdue to do a neuro check anyway," Hutch said, trying to lighten the mood. Bringing in a new cold glass of ginger ale, he put it down near Starsky and looked at him with a smile. "Who's the president of the United States?"

"Grover Cleveland. Look, I'm fine. Leave me alone, Hutch." Starsky turned his back to Hutch and laid down again.

"Drink the ginger ale, Starsk."

"Back off, would ya!" Starsky yelled as he whirled around.

Hutch waited a few seconds before answering to try to control his emotions. "Starsky, you will end up back in the hospital if you don't drink something. And if you don't answer my questions, I'll have to assume you don't know the answer."

"Ford. Ford is president right now and soon it will be Carter." Starsky nearly sneered at Hutch then picked up the ginger ale, downed it all, slammed the glass onto the table and rolled over and closed his eyes.

Hutch didn't move from where he stood but just stared at his best friend. "Oh, Starsk," he whispered then headed back to his chair after flicking off the light.

Hutch woke up a few hours later and groaned. He sat up and rubbed his sore neck as he checked on Starsky. The couch was empty, even the pillow and blanket were gone. Hutch jumped up and looked around the apartment before heading down the short hall to the bedroom. The door was closed but he could hear a voice – Starsky's voice – beyond it.

"Starsky? You should have told me you were going to bed, Buddy." Hutch heard the voice getting louder. Was he on the phone? Hutch tried the doorknob but the door was locked. He banged on it with his fist. "Open up, Starsky. Let me in."

Hutch heard a muffled scream and instinctively kicked in the door, reaching for his Magnum until he realized he had left it in the kitchen. "Starsky?" The bed was empty. "Starsky, where are you?" Hutch held his breath and listened. He heard ragged breathing coming from the other side of the room. "Starsky?" He rounded the end of the bed and found Starsky curled on his side, propped up on one elbow.

"I'm okay," Starsky said as he pushed himself up.

Hutch bent down and took hold of Starsky's arm and pulled him to his feet. "What happened, Buddy?"

"Fell," Starsky mumbled as he climbed back into bed.

Hutch pulled the twisted comforter from the floor and laid it out over his friend. "Another nightmare." Hutch didn't ask, he knew.

"No big deal."

"Why did you lock the door, Starsky? I think you are going to need a new doorknob." Hutch kept his voice calm.

Starsky curled into a ball under the blankets. "Doesn't matter."

Hutch watched Starsky for a minute then turned his back to him, leaning against the wooden side of the water bed. "Look, Starsk. I know you don't want to talk about this but you are going to have to." He heard a long sigh from behind him.

"Let it go," Starsky choked out.

Hutch turned around and laid a hand on the back of the brunett's head. "I will, for now. Get some sleep." Hutch pulled the door partially closed and went back to the living room. He stretched out on the couch and laid the back of his hand on his forehead as he stared up at the dark ceiling. He spent the rest of the night trying to figure out the best way to help Starsky.

~ S&H ~

The morning brought bright sunshine through the curtains. Hutch could hear the traffic sounds pick up as people made their way to work. Checking the clock, he put in a call to Dobey's house, catching him before he went to the station.

"How is he?"

"Physically, he seems okay."

"But?"

"But emotionally…I just don't know what to do for him, Captain."

"Give it time, Ken. He knows he'll have to see the departmental shrink so get him talking."

"I've tried."

"It hasn't even been twenty four hours since you found him."

Hutch nodded at the phone. "I know." There was a quiet knock on the door. "Look, Captain, I have to go. I'll check in later."

"Let him know everyone is happy he's okay."

Hutch smiled tiredly. "I will." Hanging up the phone, Hutch moved to the door and let Huggy in.

"Good morning," Huggy said as he walked into the apartment. He was carrying a large paper bag.

"Huggy, oh hey, I'm sorry I never called you."

"Don't worry about it. I actually stayed at the station after you and the good Captain ran out of there without a thank you. I heard firsthand how you saved the day."

Hutch chuckled, "I'm sorry. That was great police work."

Huggy pulled a face. "Don't let my friends on the street hear you say that, my man."

"It's our little secret. But I will tell Starsky if you'll let me."

Huggy nodded then asked, "How is he?"

Hutch shook his head as he ran a hang through his hair. "I'm not sure. They really did a number on him." Hutch's stomach flipped as he tried to imagine what his best friend had been through.

Huggy moved toward the kitchen. "I brought breakfast and lunch. You look like hell. Why don't you take a shower and I'll hold down the fort and make some coffee."

"Oh, that sounds great. I'll only be a minute."

"Take your time, Blondie."

Hutch smiled and headed into the bathroom, happy to hear his nickname from someone even if it wasn't from his best friend. Ten minutes later he came out to find Starsky sitting on the couch, wrapped in the same comforter from the previous night.

"Hey, partner. Glad to see you up."

Starsky gave a sideways glance over his shoulder at Huggy. "I don't need a babysitter."

Hutch looked up at Huggy who just shrugged and turned back to the kitchen. "Babysitter? Huggy came by with some food for us. I just thought I'd finally get a shower. I'm surprised you weren't complaining about…" Hutch stopped as Starsky stood up and dropped the comforter on the couch before striding into the bathroom and slamming the door.

Huggy sighed. "I've never seen him like this."

"I know. Sorry about…"

Huggy held up a hand. "Don't say another word. He and I will hash this out later. I'm going to get out of here though. No need to aggravate him anymore. I left breakfast in the oven and the lunch is in the fridge. If you need anything, just shout."

"I will and thank you, Hug."

"Keep me posted," Huggy said as he let himself out.

Hutch heard the shower running so he busied himself in the kitchen getting breakfast out of the oven. He set the table as Starsky came out of the bathroom in nothing but a towel. Hutch wondered if he would be returning as he went into the bedroom.

After a minute, he called down the hall, "Breakfast is ready, Starsk." He waited until he heard shuffling footsteps coming back toward him. Starsky was dressed in blue sweat pants and a gray NYU sweatshirt. Hutch sat down and spread his napkin on his lap. "Smells delicious, doesn't it?" Hutch dug into the food and ignored the figure standing just on the edge of his periphery. "Mm, tastes great." Hutch finally looked up as Starsky sat down heavily in the chair across the table. He watched his friend pick up a fork and poke at the breakfast burrito then take a tentative bite. Hutch relaxed a bit when Starsky cut off another chunk of the food. They ate in silence. Starsky drank the glass of milk that Hutch had poured for him, ignoring the coffee. He took a few more small bites before getting up and shuffling to the couch.

"You did pretty well, Starsk. I'll wrap this up in case you want more later."

"'kay," came the quiet response before the TV clicked on.

"I'll redress your wrists when I'm done."

"Already did that," Starsky replied.

"Oh."

Hutch cleaned up the breakfast and washed the dishes as Starsky mindlessly stared at a game show and then the local mid-day news. Starsky's head bobbed a few times until it came to rest on the back of the couch. Hutch wrapped the comforter Starsky was sitting on around him as best he could. Picking up the same novel he tried to read before, Hutch flicked off the T.V. with the remote and settled back to read, a hot cup of coffee at his side.

~S&H~

Starsky stirred as Hutch slid a cookie sheet with their lunches from the The Pits into the oven. Getting up, he picked up the comforter and shuffled away.

"Hey, where you going?"

"Bed," Starsky said, his voice thick with sleep.

"What are you talking about, Buddy? You slept for almost four hours. Lunch will be ready in just a few minutes."

Starsky stopped and stared at the floor in front of him. "Not hungry." He heard Hutch's exasperated sigh and matched it with one of his own. "Go home, Hutch," he said without looking up.

Hutch came up behind him, making him jump. "Sorry, Starsk. Come sit down." Starsky didn't move. "Please, Buddy?" With another sigh, Starsky turned around and hobbled back to his customary spot on the couch. He picked up the T.V. remote. "Oh no you don't," Hutch said pulling the device from Starsky's hand. Starsky huffed and sat back heavily.

Hutch watched him for a few minutes. "Starsk, talk to me."

"Gerald Ford."

Hutch sat down in the wingback chair. "Stop that." Starsky folded his arms across his chest. Classic avoidance posture, Pal, Hutch thought to himself. He rested his elbows on his knees and placed his face in his hands, rubbing at his weary eyes. When he looked up, Starsky was looking at him but the eyes quickly darted away. "I'm not going to pretend to know what you've been through, Starsky. When you are physically injured, I know how to help. I know what to do. But now…"

"I don't need any help."

"I think you do." Hutch waited for Starsky to say something back but he kept his eyes down, picking at a loose thread on his sweatshirt. Hutch tried a new tactic. "You'll need to give a statement soon." Hutch saw a shadow pass over Starsky's features as he looked up. "Talking it out with me…"

"I don't want to talk about it, Hutch," Starsky ground out.

"I know you don't! But you have to." Hutch's voice caught. "You have to." Starsky only pulled his arms closer to his chest, shutting Hutch out.

Standing up, Hutch strode to the kitchen and picked up the oven mitt. "Come eat." When his request was also met with silence he added, "Huggy was nice enough to bring this for us."

Starsky slowly moved to the table and sat down. He picked at the food with his fork as Hutch watched him sadly. Hutch took a couple of bites and found he wasn't very hungry himself. Reaching across the table, he lightly placed his hand on Starsky's right wrist. Starsky flinched but then relaxed and continued to poke at the food on his plate, taking a few small bites. After a few minutes, Hutch let go and leaned back.

"Starsky, would you mind if I ran out and picked up a few things at my place? I won't be gone long." Starsky looked up but his face remained expressionless. "These clothes are going to walk to the laundromat themselves if I don't do something about it."

Starsky shrugged and got up from the table. "Sure." He sat down on the couch.

Hutch cleared away the leftovers – of which there were many. He picked up the phone and pulled it close enough to the couch for Starsky to reach. "Here's the phone. I'll be at my place then I'll stop by the station for a short while and then I'll be back here, got it?" Starsky nodded. "I could call Hug…never mind," Hutch said when he saw the anger flash in Starsky's eyes. I know you don't need a babysitter but Huggy's your friend. I'll be honest, I'm worried about another nightmare."

After a minute Starsky nodded then picked up the T.V. remote.

"Good, you find an old movie or a soap opera or something and I'll be back in a flash."

"Uh huh."

Hutch grabbed his jacket and Starsky's keys and ran out of the apartment. He felt nervous and immensely guilty but also felt better getting away from the miserable mood in the apartment. He gunned the engine and headed towards his place in Venice.

~S&H~

Starsky jumped at the sound of someone knocking loudly at his door. He grimaced and pulled the comforter up around his ears. The knocking continued. Go away, he thought to himself. He knew Hutch had a key and could let himself in and he didn't want to see anyone else. He didn't even want to see his partner right now.

"Starsky, open up. It's Huggy."

Starsky groaned quietly. I don't want any more food. Huggy was now jiggling the doorknob. Reluctantly, Starsky pulled himself up off the couch and went to the door. He stumbled back as Huggy pushed his way into the room.

"Starsky, you need to come with me."

The hairs on the back of Starsky's neck started to bristle. "Why, Hug?"

"It's Hutch. He's been in a car accident."

"What? How…what happened?" Starsky stammered out.

"I don't know the particulars. Just that there was a pile-up on the freeway. I got a call at my place from your boss. He told me to come get you."

Starsky dropped the comforter at his feet and looked down. He was still barefoot. "Shoes. I need my shoes."

"Where are they?" Huggy asked quickly as he moved further into the apartment.

"My room. In the corner near the closet."

Huggy came back a moment later with a white pair of running shoes and handed them to Starsky. "Here are your spare house keys too."

"Thanks, Huggy. Let's go."

The ride to the hospital was in silence as Starsky's weary mind tried to brace itself for what he was going to find. If Hutch hadn't been that badly injured, Dobey would have just called him himself. It had to be bad if Huggy had been sent to collect him. Starsky thought about all the cruel things that he had said to his best friend and his heart broke.

Huggy parked his car and followed a now running Starsky into the emergency room that Starsky himself had just left the day before. "Ken Hutchinson? I need to know where Ken Hutchinson is!" Starsky shouted to anyone that would listen.

"Starsky," Dobey called from down the hall. "In here."

Starsky rushed toward his boss then slowed as he reached the room where he was standing. "How…how is he?"

"He's conscious now. Go on in," Dobey said pushing the door open.

Starsky slipped into the dim room and moved to his partner's bedside. "Hutch?"

Hutch's eyes fluttered then opened. He squinted up at Starsky. "Starsk? What are you doing here?"

"Whataya mean what am I doin' here? Look at you." Starsky's gaze took in the large bandage over Hutch's left eye and the brace on his left wrist.

"I'm…I'm okay."

"No, you're not," Starsky said as he looked up at Dobey.

"He has some internal bleeding. They are hoping it will stop on its own but they may have to go in and repair it." Dobey patted Hutch on the arm. "Huggy and I will wait outside."

"Thank you, Captain," Hutch said with a wince.

"You're in pain. I'll get the nurse," Starsky said and turned away.

"No, no I'm okay." Hutch held up his arm with the I.V. "They gave me something not long ago. Starsky pulled a stool close and sat down. "Starsk, you shouldn't be here. You need to rest. If I had known that they went to get you…"

"Hutch, you're my best friend. If I found out you were hurt and no one told me…and what if…what if something happened." Starsky rubbed his eyes.

"Shh, don't get all worked up." Hutch reached over to take hold of Starsky's shoulder but grimaced in pain.

"Don't move. Okay? Just don't move." Starsky reached across and placed Hutch's arm back on the bed. He saw the pain in his friend's face and looked away.

"Starsky, are you okay?"

"Stop that," Starsky said then realized Hutch had said the same thing to him just hours ago.

"Stop what?"

Starsky's self-loathing boiled over. "Stop trying to make sure I'm okay. I am okay. You…you are...hurt." Starsky's voice cracked with emotion. He got up and moved away. "I've been an ass, Hutch. Don't disagree with that."

"You've been emotionally hurt – as well as physically."

"But I pushed you away!" Starsky said as he swung back around to face Hutch. "You wanted to talk about it but I wasn't ready. I didn't want to be ready. I didn't want to take that first step back."

"I know, Buddy," Hutch said in a whisper.

"I…I'm not sure I'm ready still but…please be patient. God knows I'm trying…now."

"That's great."

Starsky shook his head. "Good intentions are not enough."

"What do you mean?"

"Look, I'm here for you now. This is going to be all about you for a while." Hutch opened his mouth but Starsky cut him off. "Don't disagree with me, okay? I think hearing you were hurt snapped me out of that funk that I put myself in. But I'm here for you."

"What about later? What about tomorrow when I'm doing better? What then, Starsk? Are you going to run?"

Starsky let out a long breath and slowly shook his head. "I don't know. I honestly don't know. But I want you to do me a favor, okay?"

"Anything."

"If you have to, take a bat and break my kneecaps."

"What?" Hutch asked, his eyes widening.

"I mean it, if you have to cripple me to keep me there, do it so I can't keep running away."

"Starsk, you're just speaking metaphorically, right?" Hutch smiled as Starsky looked at him with a confused look. "You don't really mean it."

Starsky shrugged and returned the smile. "I understand what you mean." Starsky paced beside Hutch's bed. "I…I feel like I'm walking on a wire and you're holding it steady."

Hutch nodded somberly.

"Just give me some time."

"Not too much, though," Hutch said.

"No, not too much. Hutch…"

"Yeah?"

"If something happened to you…"

"But it didn't, Starsk. I'm just banged up."

Starsky reached and clasped his hand on Hutch's wrist. "Without you by my side…I don't know who I am."

Hutch slipped his hand into Starsky's and held tight. "Same here, partner. Same here."

The End

Cripple Me – Elenowen

I see you waiting, but I'm not ready
To take that first step towards home
So please be patient, God knows I'm trying
But these good intentions are not enough

You've pulled back your veil, laid it all on the line
But I've turned my back and covered my eyes

So, please, please, please, please cripple me
So I cannot keep running away
Away from you

I'm walking on a wire, but you're holding it steady
You're taking me higher, but I'm getting heavy

Just give me some time, I am almost a man
Without you by my side, I don't know who I am

So, please, please, please, please cripple me
So I cannot keep running away
Away from you