Disclaimer: You know the drill. No money gained, no ownership claimed.

Summary: A convenience store hold-up goes horribly wrong and Hutch's life hangs in the balance. Can a partners' bond save him?

Category: Drama / Starsky Angst / Hutch h/c

Rating: PG-13 for violence

When I Breathe

by KHutchinson

I wish I coulda had some warning. Woulda been nice, you know, to have some clue when I got up that morning just what was about to go down. I mean, would it'a killed the Almighty to wave His hand and spell out a message in my Corn Flakes or something? Let Moses part the Red Sea, sure, but sorry, Starsky, can't spare the godly energy to move a couple'a flakes of breakfast cereal.

I just wish I woulda known. Just a hint, a little elbow nudge in the right direction. Cause maybe...maybe if I'd known, I'd'a treated him better when I saw him, you know, said all that important stuff that you always think you're gonna have time to say later. Like I love ya, partner. You're my best friend in the whole world, my buddy, my brother, and I love ya.

But what'd I say? "You're late." Peering at him up over the tops of my sunglasses, glaring. Some friend I am.

But Hutch just grinned at me. He was bouncing down the front steps of his apartment like they were made outta marshmallow or something, and it was hard to keep glaring at him with that big row of pearly whites flashing at me. His hair was all bright and shiny, like he'd spent half the morning brushing it, and he was wearing a pair of bell-bottomed blue jeans along with that green zip-up shirt under his black jacket. And with the damned mustache finally gone and his hair cut short again, he looked...I don't know, he looked like Hutch again. My Hutch, not the pod person who's been walkin' around wearing his skin for the last couple months.

God, it felt good to have him back. But that still didn't change the fact that we were running late, leaving me no time to grab some donuts on the way. And I was aching for donuts like they were a heavy narcotic.

"Sorry, Starsk," Hutch said, but it was pretty obvious he wasn't all that torn up about making me wait. He grinned. "Had to feed the fish."

I narrowed my eyes at him, having been suckered way too many times to fall for yet another Hutchinson Whopper. "Ya don't have any fish, Hutch."

"Oh," he said, still grinning, and brushed past me to grab onto the Torino's passenger side door. He was chomping on some bubble gum—probably sugar-free or made outta seaweed or something—but he quit it for long enough to throw me a wink. "Must'a been the cat, then."

Rolling my eyes, I pushed my sunglasses back onto the bridge of my nose and circled to the driver's seat. "Oh, yeah, what's her name?" I asked in a dry voice, sliding into the seat and tugging the door closed behind me. It squeaked a little bit as it went, but thankfully Hutch didn't notice, or he'd'a been going on about mice in the backseat or something again. Real comedian, my partner. I started up the engine.

The grin got a little wider. The guy was shameless. "Marianne."

"Uh-huh. Thought so."

Before we could say any more about it, though, the radio squawked, and with another gum-chewing grin, Hutch brought the thing up to his mouth and said sweetly, "Good morning, this is Zebra Three; what can we do for you?"

"Zebra Three, this is control," Mildred replied, doing us all a favor and ignoring Hutch's good mood. "Report of a two eleven in progress at 450 Mercelle Street; officers at the scene requesting back-up. Proceed with caution; suspects are armed and dangerous."

Hutch was in detective mode in less than a second, looking all grim and serious, and the gum was suddenly gone, though I hadn't seen him throw it out. He exchanged a look with me before he answered, like he was saying, You ready for this, partner? I gave him a little nod in return, already swinging the Torino around to head towards Mercelle, and he brought the radio back up to his lips: "We're on it, control. Zebra Three out."

"450 Mercelle," I said as we took a few tire-squealing turns. "That's that antique shop, isn't it?"

Hutch shook his head. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him adjusting his gun in its holster, then unzipping the jacket all the way so he could get easier access to it. "Nah, the antique shop's on Mercy."

"The hell kind of a name for a street is Mercy?"

"I don't know, Starsk, I didn't name it."

"Well, what's at 450 Mercelle then?"

"Convenience store, I think. Yeah, look; right there."

He nodded towards a building at the end of the block, and I felt my jaw go tight. It was a convenience store, all right—and spread out in front of it were two black and white units, their officers hunched down behind the cars while bullets zinged out the store's front window.

"Terrific," I muttered.

We parked a safe distance away, out of range of the bullets, and after another quick glance at each other, pulled out our guns and headed for the store, crouched real low so the police cars'd protect us once we got closer. When we were finally in position, hunched down by the rear wheel of the first car, one of the officers already there crawled over to us. He was a uniform, bald, black, and thin, a real nice guy named Tully who'd kicked my ass at ping pong a few times over the years.

"As you might've guessed," he said, raising bushy eyebrows at us, "we're having kind of a situation here. Looks like the perps are a couple'a kids, four or five of 'em, and I betcha not a one of them is older than seventeen."

"This day just gets better and better," I muttered.

We heard a loud pop then, and suddenly the car rocked a little bit, like it was sinking down into the ground; took me a minute to realize that one of the bullets had deflated the front tire, but Hutch got it right away. I could tell by the way he was looking at me, one blond eyebrow raising at the sudden tense look on my face. I gave him a quick glare in return and turned my attention back to Tully.

"We have them pinned down," Tully continued, "but they're keeping a pretty sharp watch on the doors. There's a couple of officers around back in case they slip up and let their guard down for a second, but I don't know if that's gonna happen. Kids or not, these guys know what they're doing. It's gonna be tough to get close enough to take 'em out."

"Is anyone inside?" It was Hutch, using his low, ultra-serious detective voice; I tell ya, the guy shoulda been in broadcasting.

"Yeah," Tully said with a grimace, "and that's where things get sticky. Jake and me got a glimpse in there before the shooting started, and it looks like these guys have some hostages. The clerk, for one, but also a woman. Young, real pretty—" He gave us a Bad News Is Coming wince. "—and with kids."

Hutch's face got all tight and pinched, and I knew my expression was probably about the same. "How many?" he asked quietly.

"Three. A baby in a stroller and two little ones, maybe three or four years old."

I swore. "Oh, that's just great."

"Yeah," Tully agreed grimly. "We try to storm the place, and there's no guarantee those guys aren't gonna turn around and hurt the little girls. And that's sure as hell not something I want on my conscience."

I looked at Hutch. He was thinking the same thing I was, I knew he was, but it'd be dangerous, and I wasn't gonna volunteer us for it without his permission. He nodded.

"Okay," I told Tully, gripping my gun a little more firmly, "Hutch and me'll go around to the back, try to slip inside without them noticing. You guys keep 'em extra busy up front here, huh?" I turned back to my partner. "Whaddya think, the ole knock-stuff-over-and-hope-it-distracts-the-bad-guys-for-long-enough-to-take-'em-out trick?"

Hutch gave me a tight grin. "Sounds good to me, partner."

"Now, hang on for just one minute," Tully protested, holding up his hands. "You guys crazy? We got more backup coming—backup with bulletproof vests. You're not goin' in there without protection; they're wound up so tight they'd shoot at ya for breathin' wrong."

I looked at Hutch again. He gave another nod.

"No time," I told Tully. "If those punks are as trigger happy as you seem to think, what's to keep 'em from turning on those little girls or their mom before any of us can even make a move? Besides," I added with a nod at Hutch, "I got all the protection I need from this guy right here."

"We'll be careful, Tully," Hutch promised, patting him on the shoulder. And then Hutch and I exchanged a glance, nodded, and took off around opposite sides of the building, keeping low so the kids with the guns wouldn't realize we were comin' until it was too late. We came around the back at the same time, both of us running in a crouch (which is tough on the knees, let me tell ya), our guns out and our eyes on the back door.

"Hey, Hutch," I breathed as we approached it, and he looked at me like the same thought was running through his head. "Where're the officers Tully said were back here?"

After that, things happened too damned fast. One second, we were moving towards the door and Hutch was opening his mouth to answer me...and the next, the back door flew open and all of a sudden there was a gun tracking towards us. Well, correction. Towards me. There was a kid behind the gun, some gangly freckle-faced thing with a shock of red hair, but I wasn't so much interested in him as the Magnum in his hand. Its barrel was swinging towards me like a slow-mo scene in the movies, and what with the element of surprise and all my momentum going the wrong way, I knew there was no way in hell I was gonna be able to get out of its path in time.

And suddenly I remembered what it'd felt like when Gunther's men fired those bullets into me—the way they tore into me, burning through my skin like…you know, there's not even anything I can compare it to, but God, did it hurt. So as you might imagine, I wasn't real anxious to have a repeat performance. Didn't seem like I had a lot of choices, though.

But Hutch, damn him, had other ideas. I have no idea how he managed it. None at all. He was too far away from me and was just as surprised as I was, but somehow, the guy managed to get himself in front of me. One second, it was red hair and a gun barrel and my life before my eyes, and the next, it was his back, broad and strong and covered in black leather, and before I could even draw a breath to shout his name, I heard the bang of the gun and Hutch kind of...kind of jerked, and made a quiet little "oof" sound like he'd just had the wind knocked out of him.

And then he fell. His legs crumbled underneath him, his whole body going boneless, and the next second he was in my arms and we were sitting there on the ground, the back of his head limp against my shoulder, his blood already leaking out onto my hands.

For a couple seconds, I couldn't breathe. Hutch had been shot. Hutch had been shot, and that heat on my hands was his blood.

Oh Jesus, Hutch, why the hell'd you do that?

The kid still had the door open, and through it, I could see the other cops, the two Tully'd said had gone around back. They were both lying there inside the door, dead or just about dead, and I knew right then that the next bullet in Red's gun was for me. But ya know, I couldn't really bring myself to care. After that first shocked second, I didn't even look at the kid again; my whole world was Hutch, like it's always been.

Even though I was shaking so bad I could hardly move, I managed to shift him so I could check out his wound. He was still breathing—I could feel it since he was pressed up against me—but I didn't know how long that was gonna last. There was already so much blood...

Dimly, I heard a weird clicking sound from the door, but it was awhile before I realized it was the sound of the kid's gun coming up empty. Out of bullets, if you can believe it. Guess the Almighty wasn't so lazy that day after all. Anyway, the kid left Hutch and me alone after that, disappearing back into the store—maybe for another gun, I don't know, but I didn't intend to stick around to find out. Hutch was hurt pretty bad—bullet right through the chest, so close to his heart that it made me shiver—and I knew damn well that if I didn't get him to a hospital pretty soon, he wasn't gonna make it.

"Come on, Hutch," I said, my voice trembling as I got my arms around him and started to drag him away from the door. "We gotta get you some help, buddy. Y-You're bleedin' all over your favorite shirt."

He didn't move. Not even a flicker of his eyelids.

After a couple seconds of dragging him, I got the bright idea to try to stop the bleeding. I tore off a strip of fabric from the bottom of my shirt and pressed it tight against the wound, right there on the left side of his chest under the breastbone, and then made sure I was applying pressure to it as we moved. It was hard work. There were a couple of windows along the back of the store, and I had to keep crouched low to stay out of their sight—and out of firing range. So I was kind of crab-walking backwards, dragging Hutch along with his back pressed to my chest and my arms wrapped around him, holding the balled up T-shirt in place over his wound.

We got about halfway to the front before my strength gave out and I had to stop for a sec, catch my breath. I didn't want to; if I could've, I'd'a kept on carrying him until I fell over dead from exhaustion, but my legs kinda decided for me. My legs, and my lungs. Ever since Gunther, I've had to watch my exertion—depleted lung capacity, or some other medical mouthful like that—and hauling around my unconscious Viking of a partner was a little more of a workout than I was used to. So I had to stop and sit down, gasping and wheezing, my legs and lungs burning, and wait until I could breathe again.

Hutch still hadn't twitched, and his own breathing was getting real shallow and thin; there was a little froth of blood on his lips, and even I knew that was a bad sign.

"Hang in there, buddy," I whispered, pressing my lips close to his ear, hoping my words might reach him somehow. "Don't you dare go anywhere." I shook my head. "Not like this. No way."

Not when it shoulda been me.

I started dragging him again after that, and was about four feet away from the front of the building when everything got way too quiet. The guns were still blasting away and the sirens of approaching police cars were still wailing in the distance, but suddenly, it was just too quiet. Like that hush that falls over everything after it snows, or that sweaty silence that comes over you just before you pass out. It was like that. It was deafening.

I stopped, my legs going out underneath me, dropping me hard onto my butt on the ground. And slowly, very slowly, I realized what had happened.

Hutch had stopped breathing.

I'm pretty gifted with curse words, and it's always been a point of pride with me that I can string together some exotic combinations when the mood suits me. But sitting there in the dirt, looking at Hutch and knowing that he wasn't breathing, that he was dying, I had nothin'. No words. Not even a sound.

I was shaking as I laid him down on the ground, cradling his head in my hands, feeling his fine, silky hair between my fingers. He wasn't breathing. God, he wasn't breathing! His face was slack—grey—and you know how sometimes they say it just looks like people are sleeping, like any second they might open their eyes and be fine again? It's a damned lie. He looked like a corpse, his face all bloodless and cold, his eyes shut tight.

He was dying on me. Leaving me. Hutch—Hutch was leaving me.

All of a sudden, I was angry, furious. How dare he do this to me? How dare he just up and...leave me like this, with no back-up, no partner, no one to sit around and get drunk and play Monopoly with. It was damned selfish of him, and hell if I was gonna let him get away with it!

We'd had a couple first aid courses in the Academy, so I knew CPR, but I'd only ever used it once before, what felt like lifetimes ago. As I tilted Hutch's head back and pinched his nose shut, I couldn't help remembering Gillian's still body underneath me, her lips so cold against mine—like a mannequin, not a person. I knew it was hopeless the second I touched her, that she wasn't coming back no matter how much breath I forced into her lungs, but I had to try, for Hutch. But I knew she was dead. And then Hutch was there, his voice so small…

What's goin' on?

Suddenly, the memory was so real that I could feel his arms around me, clutching me tight, feel his tears soaking into my shirt.

God, Hutch, don't you dare die on me. Don't you dare.

Drawing in a deep breath, I leaned over Hutch and pressed my lips to his, molding our mouths carefully together so no air would escape. In, one-two-three. His chest rose weakly with the breath, sank with the automatic exhalation…and then fell still again. Damn it! I tried again, feeling hot tears stinging my eyes but not letting them fall. In, one-two-three. Wait, one-two-three. In, one-two-three.

Nothing. Shaking, I fumbled around for his arm, his wrist, pressed my fingers against the pulse point. Shifted them, pressed again. Again.

Oh my God.

No, no, I had to just be...just be missing it. It was there, it had to be! Had to be. I tried his throat next, curling my hand snugly around it so there wouldn't be any chance of my missing the spot. And when there was nothing there, I laid my head on his chest and waited for that rhythmic thump against my ear…but there was nothing.

Nothing. No pulse.

No. Just...just like that? One shot, one damned shot, and suddenly he was gone? No! That wasn't how it was supposed to happen! There was supposed to be time, precious last moments to say goodbyes—hold his hand, tell him I loved him, tell him how much he meant to me, how much I was going to miss...

I slumped back against the wall, barely feeling it as the back of my head hit the concrete. It was like somebody'd sucked all the air outta the world. Like I was sitting there in the middle of outerspace, alone and cold in the dark.

Hutch.

I don't know how long I sat there beside him, just...staring. Not touching him. Not holding his hand or stroking his hair, just sitting there, watching him, tracing the familiar lines of his face and wishing he'd sit up and talk to me. I don't know if I was even breathing. Sometime later, though, I heard footsteps hurrying towards me, and then suddenly there were people all around—paramedics, I recognized dimly. Where the hell had they come from?

Does it matter? I countered savagely. Hutch is dead. His heart isn't beating and he's not breathing and he's dead. He's gone.

They crowded around him, saying stuff—probably to me—that I couldn't hear or understand. I just sat there and watched, feeling a little like a deflated balloon, my eyes locked on Hutch's face. Even lying there all lifeless and empty, there was a beauty to him. Golden hair, handsome features, his skin all pale—white; like marble. Like a statue. And that's all he was, now, wasn't it? A shell. A body. There was no Hutch anymore, not in there. The tears burned in my throat, but I didn't dare cry.

Who was gonna hold me if I did?

The world started to swim a little, but I didn't blink; I just kept staring, my body still, frozen, while the paramedics worked on Hutch. Everything was too bright, searing my eyes, and I was starting to feel tingly all over, kind of like I was floating, probably because I was too still to breathe. I should breathe, I thought vaguely, but I just…couldn't. My lungs were burning, begging for air, but I couldn't give it to them. I couldn't do anything but sit there and float, listening to my heartbeat pounding plaintively in my ears.

Breathe, it was pleading. Breathe. Please, you have to breathe.

I wanted to. I wanted to so badly, but it hurt.

It hurts, Starsk, please, it hurts so much...

It hurts…

And just like that, impossibly, I understood.

We're partners, Hutch and me. Me and thee, thee and me, Starsky and Hutch, Husky and Starch—two halves of the same whole. When he hurts, I hurt. That's just how it works with us. There's a connection there between us, something that binds us together, links us.

When he hurts, I hurt, and when I hurt, he hurts.

And when I breathe…

When I breathe…

My heart was hammering against my rib cage, getting frantic for lack of oxygen, and I knew that this was it—I had to take a breath or I was gonna pass out, but damn it, not without him. Not without Hutch.

C'mon, Hutch, I pleaded silently. Let's do this, huh? Let's do this together. Everything's better when it's together, right? So, c'mon, let's go. I'm not doing this without you, partner. No way.

I lost control, then—couldn't hold it in anymore. Oxygen rushed into my throat in a harsh, greedy gasp, filling my aching lungs and chasing the darkness from the edges of my vision…and through the legs of the paramedics, I saw Hutch's chest arch up off the ground, his mouth gaping and his eyes flying open. I let the air out, then, let it seep out through my parted lips…and he did this same, falling weakly back against the ground. I drew in a second breath, this one a bit less desperate, and watched, fascinated, as he followed in perfect synch.

He was breathing again. No. We were breathing again.

The paramedics were talking loud and fast, now, something about being stabilized but needing emergency surgery—bullet wound to the chest, no exit wound, probable lung damage...

Life washed back over me in a rush, and I rocketed to my feet as they pulled him onto a stretcher. An instant later, I was at his side, gripping his hand hard in mine and completely ignoring the paramedic who was telling me to give him some space. Instead, I gripped Hutch's hand more tightly and leaned over him, made sure his eyes locked with mine, and then pressed my forehead to his and pulled in a deep breath at the same time he did. With our mouths so close, it was like we were drawing the air from inside each other, like Hutch was my oxygen and I was his.

I knew, then, that I didn't have to say anything. I didn't have to tell him what he meant to me or how cold life would be without him, because he knew. It wasn't an accident, our bodies falling into rhythm with each other—it was how it was supposed to be. We're partners, Hutch and me, and as long as I keep breathing, so will he. Knowing that—feeling the throb of his heartbeat against my forehead and knowing it was pacing my own perfectly—I could finally relax, finally back off and let the paramedics take him into the ambulance. It was gonna be okay. As long as we kept breathing, it'd be okay.

I held his hand during the ride to the hospital, squeezing his fingers every now and then so he'd squeeze mine back against the pain. He was really hurting, and it wasn't just memory of my own brushes with bullets that told me that. I could feel it. Sounds like something outta the Twilight Zone, but honest to God, I could feel it. The pain was kind of…muted, not anywhere near what I knew Hutch had to be feeling, but it was real enough. It pulsed in time with my heartbeat—our heartbeat—and it was like magma in my chest, searing out onto my skin through the itchy dressings the paramedics had applied.

The worst, though—the worst came from deep inside of me, from the spot where I could feel that cold little pellet of lead lodged, stuck. It didn't hurt, not exactly, but it made me shiver to feel it there, 'cause it was an intruder, a trespasser. It wasn't supposed to be there, and feeling it there, nestled up against my bone, was the worst feeling of violation I could imagine. It was like an itch I couldn't scratch, creeping around inside of me until I wanted to scream and claw at it, rip at the skin until it was finally out, finally gone.

I gripped Hutch's hand harder, seeing the panic in his eyes and knowing where it was coming from. "Steady, Hutch," I said firmly. "Calm down, babe; they'll get it out of you. They'll get it out real soon."

He managed a nod, not even surprised that I knew what was going through his head, and we drew in a long, slow breath together.

Stay calm, I chanted inwardly, forcing myself to relax, knowing that if I could feel Hutch's pain, then maybe he could feel what was going on inside of me, too. Calm. Deep breaths. Try to relax.

Hutch got it, I could see the change in his face right away. Most of the lines smoothed away, even the deep one between his eyebrows, and his fingers loosened a little on mine, his muscles losing some of their tension. And it was strange, but relaxing into it—accepting the pain—made it easier to bear, and by the time we pulled up in front of the hospital, Hutch wasn't looking so panicked, and we were both taking in deep, calming breaths.

"It's gonna be okay," I murmured as the paramedics lifted the stretcher, jostling Hutch and sending another flare of pain through his chest. "Just keep on breathin', huh? Don't tense up again, that'll only make it worse."

"Sir," one of the paramedics said, peering at me like he was trying to decide whether or not I was all human, "you're going to have to let go of his hand. Once we get inside, they're going to need you out of the way so they can work on him."

We had crawled out of the ambulance by then and they were hauling Hutch inside, me still hanging onto his fingers like letting go would break whatever was binding us together. "Yeah, all right," I muttered, "I got it. But I gotta be in there. While they're doin' whatever they're doin', I gotta be in there with him."

"Sir," the paramedic continued uncertainly, "that's generally not permitted…"

He said some more stuff after that, something about sterile environments and blahblahblah, but I tuned him out. Hutch was starting to hurt again, worse than before, and he was having trouble keeping his body from getting all tense again. It was that damned bullet, that's what was doing it. He was feeling it inside him again, knowing it was stuck in there and there was nothing he could do to get it out—if only he could just reach his fingers in there and grab it, yank it out…

I caught his hand just before it got to the wound, pushed it gently back to his side.

"Hutch—Hutch." We were in the hospital now and moving down a white hall, closer and closer to the double doors of the ER. "Hang in there, buddy. I swear, Hutch, they're gonna get it outta you real soon. Real soon, babe. Please, just hang on. Take it easy, partner, they'll get it out." His hand lifted again, feebly grabbing at the wound, but I caught it, held it to against my chest with both hands. "It's gonna be okay, Hutch; it'll be out before ya know it, I promise. Trust me, huh, buddy? You trust me?"

The ER doors loomed in front of us, and a hand latched onto my arm, tugging me away from Hutch. His fingers slid through mine, and I lost my grip. "Sir, we'll need you to—"

"Yeah, yeah, fine," I snarled. My hand felt cold and empty without his to hold onto. "Fine, just…just get that bullet outta him, will ya? It's drivin' him crazy."

"Sir—" It was a nurse talking to me now, but I was too busy keeping my eyes on Hutch as he was wheeled into the ER to even glance at her. She coulda been the creature from the black lagoon or Farrah Fawcett, and I wouldn't'a noticed. "—they're going to take excellent care of him; you'll see. They know what they're doing. Now, if you could fill out a few forms for your friend…?"

I glanced at her. She was kinda pretty, a little older than me. "Huh? Oh. Yeah, sure. Forms." She led me over to the nurse's desk, pulling out a sheaf of papers and a clipboard—but I only got through a couple questions before the thing fell out of my hands with a clatter.

My chest was on fire, burning white-hot, but it was my stomach that was the real problem—it was churning and boiling, hot bile creeping up, clawing at my throat…

Tossing the pen back at the desk, I spun and sprinted towards the ER, hearing nurses and orderlies and God only knew who else shouting at me to stop but not listening. I slapped my palms into the doors and skidded through, searching the room frantically for that familiar shock of blond hair—and all of a sudden, there it was. Hutch was lying on his back on some surgical table, a cluster of doctors and nurses around him, but none of 'em could see how green his face was getting—they were all focused on his wound, on sewing it up and stopping the flow of blood. None of 'em had a clue he was about to lose it.

"HEY!" I bellowed, racing towards them and ignoring the shocked looks that came over their faces at the sight of me. "Hey, he's gonna throw up, turn him on his side! DO IT, you bastards, you want him to choke?"

They musta thought I was nuts. Certifiable. But nuts or not, I guess Hutch's life was more important than calling in the white coats, 'cause one of the nurses right away got her arms around Hutch and turned him onto his side—just in time. Vomited all over their nice tiled ER floor, and when he was done, for at least three full seconds, every eye in the place was on me.

Finally, though, the doctors seemed to remember they were workin' on a patient, and they got their attention back on Hutch. And when I stayed there beside the bed, watching and keeping my eyes locked on his, nobody argued.

Twenty minutes later, the bullet was out, plinking onto the metal tray at the bedside, and I felt Hutch go weak with relief. The wound itself still hurt like hell, even with the painkillers they were pumping into him, but the bullet was out. His body was his own again, and finally, he could rest. He closed his eyes and laid his head back, and while the doctors worked at patching him up, Hutch slept. And I stayed right there and watched over him. And kept breathing.

To Be Continued…