Author's Note: My deepest thanks to everyone reading this story. I can only write what I would like to read, so when I get reviews saying how much you guys are enjoying this... it just really brightens my day. Your opinions are everything. Thanks to my lovely beta, Jenben.
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"Come on," Hutch said, starting for the stairs. With bind faith, Starsky and April followed.
On the third stumble, Hutch thought it might be easier to just let himself fall the rest of the way down the stairs. A stab of guilt went through him when he realized how hard this same pursuit must be for Starsky. He should have looked for an easier way out. The burnet was undoubtedly injuring his foot further by trying to keep up. If the threat of another explosion wasn't upon them, Hutch would have left his partner on the balcony and gone after David alone.
The sirens were growing closer but not fast enough. Hutch stumbled again as he landed on the asphalt, crying out softly as a wave of pain cut through his chest and knee. He leaned against the brick wall and spit out more blood as Starsky and April left the last step.
"April," he panted, his arms drawn tightly against himself as he pushed away from the cold wall, "stay here. Hear the sirens? Hide yourself until you see the policemen, okay? Go."
April nodded mutely, holding Hutch's gaze briefly before turning her head in search of a dark hiding spot. Once she started moving towards an overflowing dumpster, Starsky and Hutch took up their pursuit.
The warehouse was glowing from the raging flames within, signaling to everyone inside of a few miles to the danger it posed. The mixed pitches of sirens were recognized by Hutch as fire engines, ambulances, and police cars.
Good. They were coming prepared.
Hutch wasn't quite sure how he was able to move as fast as he was. Later, the doctors would be perplexed as well, attributing his miraculous strength to mere adrenaline and willpower. Frothy blood was once again bubbling up his trachea. His knee threatened to give out each time his foot landed upon the ground. The cool night air turned hot and acrid in his aching lungs. Starsky stumbled along beside him, slowly overcoming Hutch despite the burnet's broken toes.
They were predators on the trail of their prey, and this time it was very personal.
Up ahead, David was running blindly. The bag thumped heavily against his back as he ran, desperation showing in his every hesitant move. He came to an intersection and paused, quickly looking in all directions before darting around a corner.
It was the wrong corner.
Starsky was the first to barrel around the street corner in pursuit, instantly pulling up short. Hutch stumbled to a stop as his side.
David was trapped, cornered in an alley like the diseased animal he was. The sirens crescendoed in the background, adding tension to the panicked stand off.
Hutch allowed himself a small smile.
"Get back!" David screamed, holding the money against him protectively.
Starsky limped forward. "Give it up," he panted. "Where are you gonna go?"
Red lights flashed rhythmically, illuminating the dark alley. David backed up hesitantly, then his eyes widened. In the next instant, he pulled out a gun.
Starsky stopped moving and held up his hands. "Give me the gun."
Shouts could be heard as the firemen scrambled to put out the fire.
Hutch tensed, searching diligently for an opportunity to draw his own weapon without endangering his partner.
"Come on David," Starsky continued. "You're surrounded. Don't make this harder." He ventured forward another step.
David's hand tensed as his gaze darted from the detectives to the alley's opening behind them. Then, in an answer to Hutch's silent prayer, a mild explosion boomed from within the bowels of the warehouse and David lost his aim when he flinched.
Hutch grabbed his gun and aimed and fired in one move.
David dropped his bag, then his gun, and slowly staggered backwards as a vibrant red blotch grew on his shirt.
David dropped to the ground, motionless.
Suddenly numb, Hutch collapsed against the brick wall beside him.
Starsky was at his side, easing Hutch to the ground. The pain was unbearable now, and Hutch felt himself fading. The gun was taken from his hand.
"We did it partner," Starsky half-chuckled as he rested on the ground at Hutch's side. "It's all over."
Hutch smiled weakly and swallowed a mouthful of hot blood. Footsteps could be heard now, accompanied by the tell-tale jingle of medical personnel. They truly were saved.
It was finally over.
Hutch came to under the unwavering vigilance of his best friend. He returned Starsky's gentle grin reflexively as he stretched.
"You been there all night?" he asked good naturedly.
"I took a bathroom break," Starsky replied with a smile. "I just couldn't wait to bust you outta here."
Today Hutch was being released from the hospital. He smiled at the knowledge. Five days of staring at the same four walls was wearing him down.
A nurse entered the room and Starsky grabbed his crutches, getting to his feet and moving out of the way. Hutch smiled at her as she made notes in his rather thick medical file, then looked to the doorway as Dr. Travis entered the room.
"Good morning Detective Hutchinson," he smiled warmly, moving next to the nurse to read her notes. "How are you feeling?"
"Wonderful," Hutch said quickly, pushing himself into a sitting position. "Can I leave?"
"What, do I smell bad?" Dr. Travis quipped, ducking to sniff his underarm.
The nurse beside him rolled her eyes.
"Yes, you may leave," Dr. Travis continued on, recovering quickly. "I'm sending you home with some prescriptions and post-surgery instructions. Ready?"
Hutch sighed lightly. "Give it to me."
"Keep your knee wrapped. Just because nothing is broken now doesn't mean it can't break with too much activity. Try to stay off it altogether. The burn wound has healed nicely and you'll be getting a cream to put on it twice a day. Your elbow escaped serious injury as well, but that does not mean you are ready to play tennis. Understand?"
"Yes." Hutch glanced at Starsky.
"Now for the serious stuff," Dr. Travis continued. "I've prescribed pain medication for your ribs as they heal. Watch the incision from the chest tube and keep it clean. I want you to continue with the breathing exercises for another week to keep that lung completely open." His gaze shifted to a point above Hutch's head then back. "Your concussion is gone, and any residual pain will decrease with time. You are a very lucky man. Both of you."
Hutch's gaze dropped to the blanket and he could see Starsky's cast out of the corner of his eye. The burnet had completely mutilated his foot in the course of their escape and consequent pursuit of David. Surgery was required to piece together the bones of his toes. But with proper care, he was expected to regain full use of the foot. His ribs had been bruised and his other hurts tended to, but none of them compared to the damage under that cast. Hutch would have nightmares about that x-ray for years.
Dr. Travis shut the file. "Now get out of my hospital and don't come back, got it?"
Hutch smiled. "Gladly."
Half an hour later, Starsky and Hutch were making their way down the hospital hallway for what was hopefully the last time in a long while. Both detectives were in crutches and still mastering the art of using them.
"Well well well, if it isn't Hop-along and Gimpy!" Captain Dobey laughed as he approached from the other end of the hallway.
"Hey, I'm Hop-along and he's Gimpy," Starsky shot back.
Hutch felt a smile bend his face. "Morning Captain," he said as they came to a stop together. "Fancy meeting you here."
"I had to be here when my best team is released from the hospital," Dobey replied. "Starsky, I brought you something."
"It's not more flowers, is it? I mean, thanks and all, but enough's enough."
"Well, it is red and white, but it doesn't smell like any flower I know."
Starsky seemed to glow. "You found my car?"
"State trooper pulled Michael Dorsey over while he was hightailing it to the border," Dobey explained. "We've got him in jail. Just thought you'd like a ride home in your own car. Amazingly, there's not a scratch on it."
If Starsky realized he couldn't drive, he didn't show it. A bright smile lit his face as he replied, "Thanks Cap'n."
"No problem. You boys deserve it."
"We've got one more stop to make first Captain," Hutch spoke up.
"No problem. I'll be waiting downstairs."
They parted ways and Starsky and Hutch navigated through the hospital until they stood outside April Bently's room. The little girl was also being released today, and by the looks of her struggling parents, April couldn't be more ready.
She stopped bouncing on the bed as Starsky and Hutch entered the room. "It's Hutch and Scooby!" she exclaimed, sliding off the bed and slipping through her parent's fingers.
Hutch braced himself for the impact and hugged her as she wrapped skinny arms around his waist. "I get to go home today!"
"That's great!" Hutch smiled down at her, then glanced at the exasperated adults. "Looks like you've been giving mom and dad some trouble."
"Oh no," she said, shaking her head solemnly. "I've been good. Mommy even bought me a new Scooby, see?" April held up the stuffed dog that had been tucked under her arm. "But I got a secret."
Hutch leaned forward. "What?"
"You're my new favorite hero."
Damn, there it was again, that cursed saltwater in his eyes.
Hutch blinked. Then he made the mistake of looking up at the other people in the room and had to blink some more.
He sniffed. "Well thank you," he replied, amazed at how steady his voice was. He pulled her in for another hug. "But you're a hero too. Not many little girls are as brave as you were."
The first time Hutch had woken up in the hospital, confused and in agony, the first thing he demanded to know was the condition of his partner.
The second was the condition of April.
He had been told that she was found moments before a stack of oil drums exploded inside the warehouse and that she had suffered no major injuries. After that, Hutch had passed out and didn't wake up for 12 hours.
Hutch could have stayed with the little girl all day and Starsky seemed to sense that. He moved forward and spoke up, "April, it's been a pleasure meeting you. We'll come see you sometime soon, alright?"
She nodded her head and looked up with large brown eyes. "Okay. Bye bye!"
Hutch caught the grateful looks from her parents and returned the smile. They had spent a long time thanking the detectives and even donated the reward money to the police department. April couldn't have more caring parents.
The detectives made their way down the hall side by side. Hutch felt Starsky's concerned gaze on him and couldn't ignore it any longer.
Starsky looked away. "So… is it gone?"
"Is what gone?"
"You know… your dreams."
"You make it sound like a disease," Hutch mumbled.
They stopped before the elevator and Hutch had to stop and think for a moment. While his visions may have caused him pain and distress, in the end, they helped save the life of an innocent little girl. Could he have saved her without the help of the visions?
They stepped onto the elevator. "No, I don't think it is. Or was. Whatever they were, I think they're gone now."
"One too many knocks on the head, you think?"
"Something like that."
The doors opened and the partners stepped out into the ground floor hall. "Well that's too bad."
Hutch slowed down in suspicion and studied Starsky. "Why is that?"
The burnet stopped, trying to contain a smile. "Cuz then you could've had this!"
Starsky pulled out a square of red cardboard and shoved it in Hutch's face. There had been five silver patches, and three were scratched off, revealing a row of cherries.
"I won five hundred bucks!" Starsky exclaimed, yanking the lottery ticket away and holding it protectively. He danced around awkwardly, hopping on one foot and banging the wall with his crutches. "Member Huggy's cousin? She gave me a tip! Bet even you believe she's psycho now, huh?"
Hutch snorted and rolled his eyes, unable to hide his own smile.
"Yeah, Starsk, I'll agree with you on that one."