Author's Note: Rated for language and owies. No plot, no beta. Enjoy!
He was almost there. His muscles burned with fatigue and hot sweat dripped down the length of his spine, but still Hutch put one foot in front of the other. He was almost there.
The cool morning air ruffled his hair as he moved and crickets chirped from the darkness of the roadside shadows. It was still inky outside, as the sun had yet to peek over the horizon, and aside from the musical insects, the only sounds were those of his sneakers hitting the pavement.
Hutch drew in a deep breath and kept jogging. He was alone in the park, and it felt like he was alone in the world. He had set his alarm clock to go off at five o'clock this morning. After hauling himself from the comforts of his bed, he slipped on his jogging shoes, shoved his gun in its holster, and left the apartment building. It was a little over a mile to get to the park, and another three-quarters of a mile to get to the secluded hilltop he had found a couple months ago. The hilltop was nestled amongst the trees and bushes and mostly hidden from sight of anyone on the path, unless you knew where to look.
Hutch knew where to look.
Few things were more precious to him than watching the sunrise from the top of that secluded swell of earth and soft grass. It had become his daily escape; sitting in silence as the night slowly gave way to the day. Mother Nature renewed herself, wiping the slate clean and beginning all over again with a magnificent show of gold and pink and orange. Seeing the rejuvenation did something to Hutch's soul, and it quickly became an addictive ritual- one which he had abided by every morning for the past two months.
Hutch rounded a bend in the path and searched for the familiar tree stump that had been overgrown with honeysuckle. A soft sweetness filled the air from the abundant vine and Hutch left the path, brushing past the white and yellow flowers with hardly a sound.
He slowed himself to a walk as he entered the clearing. The grass was wet with dew and glistening in the faint light. The crickets were louder here, in this private area of the park. The sky was just beginning to glow, and long, dark shadows appeared on the ground, separating from the blackness of night. Hutch breathed heavily, trying to catch his breath and ease the burn in his lungs. He moved to the highest point of the small hilltop and let himself collapse, sinking into the wet grass. He knees were bent, feet planted in the downside of the hill, and he leaned back until he was laying on his back.
The sky was enormous, really. Hutch panted through his mouth and rolled his head, ignoring the grass that poked him in the ear. Stars dotted the sky and to the left, the moon still hung full and bright. He let himself be humbled by the vastness of it all. It was so far up and the earth was so large… Hutch simply lay there and let the ground hum beneath him.
The dew had soaked through his clothing by the time the first streak of golden fire blazed over the horizon. It would move quickly now, like a river breaking through a dam. Hutch blinked and the sky had changed already, melting into a shimmering orange color. It felt like his own private fireworks show.
His breathing had returned to normal by the time the Robbins awoke. The chirping of crickets gave way to the chirping of hungry songbirds, and soon the multitude of species had layered upon one another until the woods echoed with melody. Hutch remained still, unnoticed by the park's waking inhabitants.
A rabbit hopped into the clearing next to him and Hutch stopped breathing.
The small animal stretched forwards, its nose twitching furiously as she searched for food and safety, then just before losing her balance, she hopped forward again. Her ears swiveled cautiously as her lips grabbed at the sweet grass. She sat perfectly still with her back hunched, eyes wide and searching. Then, Hutch saw the reason for her extreme caution.
Two baby rabbits entered the clearing behind her. Their movements were quicker, more care-free, and soon they were darting and chasing each other about.
Hutch smiled. Warm sunlight flooded the clearing and chased away the shadows. Dew-covered spider webs glistened like diamond jewelry strung among the flora. Winged insects were beginning to take flight in the air around him. Squirrels were chattering in the trees above his head, and occasionally the oak leaves would rustle as the animals leaped from limb to limb. It was like something straight off a Disney movie, except that there really was magic here, and it happened every twenty four hours.
Suddenly the mother rabbit's head shot up. She held perfectly still, not even chewing the blade of grass protruding from her mouth. Two feet away, her babies froze as well.
From somewhere behind Hutch, a twig snapped.
Hutch jumped and the three rabbits disappeared into the brush.
Another stick crunched and Hutch realized he was hearing footsteps. He bolted upright, unnoticing of the wet t-shirt clinging to his back, and spun to face the intruders.
He was on his feet and reaching for his gun when the barrel of another gun was aimed at his chest, preceding four masked men.
"Hold it, friend," the man in front growled, marching boldly forwards until he was on the edge of Hutch's personal space. "Take it easy and you'll keep your life."
Hutch's eyes narrowed as he forced his hand down. The four men were dressed completely in black and wore simple knit ski masks. They were at least as tall as he was, and even though they appeared to be dressed in layers, they still looked heavier than Hutch. So far, Hutch could only see one gun, but the others were moving stiffly and confidently, daring him to make a move.
"Kindly hand over your wallet and keys, buddy," the man with the gun ordered, though his voice held no warmth to match the words he used.
Hutch didn't have time to comply before the others moved in and surrounded him. His arms were jerked backwards with enough force to cause him to flinch at the fire in his shoulders, and another man stepped forward and began searching for the requested items.
All too soon, his gun was found and held up as if it were a rabid animal. "Son of a bitch, he's packin'!"
All eyes were on the group's leader. "Give it to me," he snapped, reaching out and grabbing the weapon while never losing his bead on Hutch.
Hutch watched the Magnum disappear into the man's waistband.
This was very bad.
Very, very bad.
Soon his wallet and keys were removed and handed over as well. His hands were pressed together at the small of his back and hot breath blew against his ear. The gunman's eyes crinkled as he ordered, "Now rough him up a little."
That was all the warning he got before something akin to a brick wall slammed against his right cheekbone. The blow would have toppled him over if not for the hands forcing him upright. A hot numbness spread over his face and the world spun a little.
The next blow came to his stomach, driving the air from his soft, unprotected midsection. He doubled over in pain and his muscles went into spasms. Hutch gulped like a fish out of water, fighting back the fog that was too-quickly settling over him.
His knees were kicked from behind and Hutch hit his knees in the damp grass.
A boot landed in the small of his back and he went completely down, struggling to roll onto his side as his spine flared in agony. The blows were coming too quickly and he didn't even have a chance to defend himself.
He watched through darkening vision as one of the men drew back his leg and planted the toe of his boot in Hutch's stomach, actually lifting Hutch off the ground by a couple inches. Something cracked inside, and Hutch was vomiting before he was aware of it.
Panic flared within him as he fought to suck in a breath. He knees were drawn up and his arms were clutching his middle, and desperate as he was, no air would come. His lungs were stuck together and Hutch was suffocating alone.
Everything was on fire inside, something hot was bubbling in his throat, and his head was pounding so hard it was surely about to explode. And air, he still couldn't get any air, what was wrong with him? His mouth was open and his eyes squeezed shut in pain. His muscles were tight in self-protection, expecting another blow and at the same time, preventing him from drawing a breath. He had to relax, it was the only way, but it was impossible.
Finally, something rock-hard struck him on the back of the skull and Hutch dropped over the edge, into the waiting blackness of unconsciousness.
Something tugged at his shirt and Hutch let out a small whimper.
Everything was still for a moment, then the tugging returned.
His whimper turned into a pathetic moan and the tugging stopped abruptly.
Hutch forced his eyes open, breaking the sticky bond that held his eyelashes together, and blinked against the searing light of day.
Two beady black eyes stared back into his.
Startled, but unable to move, Hutch narrowed his eyes and brought the shape into focus.
The mother rabbit sat perfectly still, the hem of his t-shirt hanging from her mouth as she studied him.
Hutch blinked, then felt the pain encompass him with the force of a wave breaking upon the shore and he groaned, slapping a hand into the grass by his head. The rabbit darted away in a flash of white cottontail and Hutch struggled to push himself into a sitting position.
His muscles trembled under the weight and his elbows threatened to buckle, but eventually, Hutch found himself sitting upright in the grass. The trees and bushes chased each other round and round, circling him with frightful speed. His ears rang loudly and his entire torso, front and back, ached and throbbed worse than anything he had ever felt before.
"Oh God," he whimpered, bracing himself as another wave of nausea hit him. He doubled over, dry heaving and gagging, as something inside him grinded together with a fiery pain. And when it was over, his head hung limply between his trembling shoulders.
Something was really wrong here. The skin on the back of his head felt tight and hard, and Hutch knew his hair was matted with dried blood. His mouth tasted coppery, and when he spit, he could see the tinge of blood in his saliva. He was wet with dew and grass was sticking to him stubbornly. In short, he was a mess.
His thoughts turned a little brighter when a mission formed in his mind. His goal was to get to his partner, who was probably looking for him anyway, and let Starsky take care of everything. That was what partners were for, right?
If only he could get up.
Hutch tried to take a deep breath and was hit with an explosion of pain from his ribs. He cried out, grateful no one was around, and gathered his energy as he prepared to stand. The birds chirped cheerily overhead, oblivious to the struggle occurring down below. Hutch got one foot underneath him, then the other, and slowly straightened.
Again, the earth pitched violently but somehow, Hutch managed to stay on his feet. He took one step forward, testing his strength and balance, and was glad to discover nothing had been done to his legs. It would be slow going, but he could walk.
Now, to find Starsky.
The key had been moved.
Starsky had already been here.
Hutch stabbed at the lock one more time and finally the key slid into the door. Starsky was here and left… surely he would come back? If Hutch knew his partner, and he liked to think that he did, then surely Starsky was worried. Probably starting to search for Hutch. He had to be coming back, didn't he?
Hutch pushed the door open and stumbled inside his apartment. He gave the door a light shove and it clicked softly as it slid into the doorframe behind him.
He moved forward, panting and sweating and doubled over in pain, and collided purposefully with the couch. He felt the cushions rise up to meet him and Hutch went lax, letting the furniture catch him. His head throbbed and felt wet- he must have started bleeding again. Agony dug its talons into the base of his spine, squeezing so hard that Hutch was certain he would never get off this couch again. His ribs grated against each other with every breath, and he was certain his breath smelled of blood.
Please Starsk, don't let me down. Listen to that paranoid gut of yours and come help me.
Hutch buried his face in the couch cushion and let tears of agony bleed into the fabric below.
Starsky chewed his lip as he guided the Torino along the curb in front of Venice Place.
Where was he? This wasn't some sort of practical joke, was it? April Fool's was long gone, and besides that, Hutch wasn't one for edgy pranks like this, pranks that sent Starsky into a fit of worry.
The car's engine idled loudly as Starsky shifted into park and contemplated what to do. He had arrived earlier this morning only to find Hutch's apartment lacking Hutch, his gun, and his ratty jogging sneakers. It didn't take a detective to figure out where the blond had gone, so Starsky headed for the nearby park. He had waited, and waited, and waited in the parking lot, expecting his partner to emerge from the trail any second.
Hutch never showed up.
By then he was more annoyed than worried, and Starsky peeled out of the quiet parking lot and began searching the neighboring city blocks. Maybe Hutch had decided to jog through the streets instead.
No such luck.
So here he was, his anger turned back into concern, and Starsky turned off the engine.
He might as well grab something to eat while he waited for Hutch to return.
Starsky exited the car, jogged around its nose, and entered the apartment building.
His worry increased as he climbed the stairs. Today was Tuesday, just like any other Tuesday, and his partner's absence was utterly confusing. Hutch never missed work, never played hooky unless something had happened to him. Something really bad.
Starsky wanted to be optimistic, imagining the ribbing he would get when Hutch did return from whichever woman's apartment he had wound up at last night. Perhaps he should head into the station alone, and trust that his partner would soon show up. With an irritated sigh, Starsky reached up to grab the spare key.
It was gone.
Starsky's left hand wrapped around his gun and the other reached for the doorknob.
He twisted it and it gave, allowing the door to swing open silently. Everything looked the same as when he had left, and then he saw the lump on the couch.
Starsky holstered his weapon and crossed the room in one smooth action. "Hutch!" he exclaimed in surprise, "Where have you been, I've been searching-"
Starsky stopped dead in his tracks and for a single heartbeat, all was still.
"Jesus," he muttered, moving forward as Hutch blinked open his pain-lined eyes. "Hey, what happened?" he asked, bending over when his knees hit the couch. He reached out to touch his partner's bleeding face.
A horrible whimper was all he got as Hutch shrank away from his touch, and that's when Starsky saw more blood.
His heart rate rocketed as he helped Hutch to sit up. Blood was smeared over the arm of the couch and on the backrest. Starsky drew closer, supporting Hutch with one hand and slowly reaching out with the other. His fingers met wet and sticky blond hair and Starsky recoiled as something twisted his gut. "Hutch, you're bleeding- what happened? Where's it hurt? Come on buddy, talk to me."
Hutch's face was contorted in a grimace and his gaze turned inward for a moment, presumably figuring out what hurt the most.
"Everything," he grunted at last, and his head dipped forward.
Needing more specifics but feeling precious seconds slipping away, Starsky stood up. "Okay, I'm gonna get some ice, then we'll get ya to the hospital, okay? Can you stay here a sec?"
Hutch nodded once and tightened his arms around his ribs.
Starsky's heart was in his throat. He darted towards the kitchen, grabbed the handle of the freezer, and yanked it open. Ice, ice… There, buried behind a pound of hamburger. He tossed the meat onto the counter and yanked out the ice cube trays, then slammed the door. He snatched the hand towel from where it hung over the oven handle and threw it onto the counter next to the block of red meat. With trembling hands, Starsky held the plastic tray over the towel and twisted, shaking the ice cubes out with frantic force. Once they had all broke free, Starsky tossed aside the tray and gathered up the towel.
"Here," he said, holding the bundle out to Hutch. "Hold it to your…" he trailed off, unsure what needed more attention- Hutch's bruised and swollen cheek or the goose egg on the back of his head. An idea struck him, and Starsky ran back to the kitchen, grabbed the frozen hamburger, and returned to Hutch.
There was something about the way Hutch was sitting so rigidly that drew Starsky closer. He set the ice and the meat on the couch and reached out to touch Hutch's arm. "What happened to ya, huh? You're stomach hurt?"
Hutch's arms tightened around himself further and he made a tiny sound of pain. "Ribs," he whispered.
Starsky winced as though physically struck. "Okay, forget the ice. We gotta get you to a hospital now," he said, straightening. "Can you stand up?"
Even through a mask of pain, Hutch shot him an incredulous look.
"Made it… up the stairs… didn't I?"
"Alright," said Starsky, wrapping an arm around the blond's back and shoving his fingers under Hutch's armpit for leverage. "One, two, three, up!"
Together, they brought Hutch to his feet. He swayed, started to go down, then blinked a few times and tensed. He was ready to move.
"Okay Hutch, let's go."
Starsky guided them towards the door, pulling against Hutch's swaying, and with some effort, they made it across the room while remaining upright. Starsky noticed, then, that Hutch's clothes were damp and earthy, as if he had been immobile for a while. The image of his partner trapped under a car flooded Starsky's mind, and he gripped Hutch tighter. What had happened?
They were through the door and at the top of the stairs. "This is the hard part," Starsky warned, his mind planning a strategy for navigating them both safely down the flight of stairs. Getting down was easy, but getting down safely was a little trickier.
Hutch nodded, tightening his grip on Starsky's shoulder. "Got my gun," he murmured.
"Who's got your gun?" Starsky reached out with his left foot and planted it on the first step.
"Guys who… mugged me."
Starsky shifted his weight and guided Hutch downwards. "A person did this to you? You look like you were hit by a car."
"Feel like it."
Starsky snorted. "I bet." He reached out again and gained purchase on the next step before guiding Hutch down. "You get a look at 'em?"
Starsky's hope slipped. "We'll find 'em, don't worry." Another step.
"Have to be… really lucky."
Starsky settled his foot on the unforgiving concrete landing and eased Hutch onto it as well. "Luck is something we do have." He steered them towards the doors. "Okay, now it's just a straight shot to the car, you still okay?"
Hutch stifled a moan, then, "Never better."
"You owe me a pound of hamburger."
"Hutch, drop it already, will ya? I was scraping your sorry carcass of the couch not twenty four hours ago, I'd think you'd have some respect."
Hutch lowered himself into his bed and realized that nothing had ever felt so wonderful.
After arriving at the emergency room, the nurses only need one look to tell that Hutch was, indeed, an emergency. He had been laid out on his back and x-rayed, scanned, poked and prodded until at last, he was deemed safe to receive pain medication. His lung, which had the smallest of punctures, didn't even require a drain. There was no spinal damage- although Hutch swore there must be, for the amount of pain he was in- and his concussion was mild. The doctors marveled at how their patient had gotten so lucky, while Hutch, incapacitated and laying flat on his back, had to disagree.
Then there was Starsky, always hovering close by, even when he shouldn't have been. He was there to hold Hutch's hand through examinations, coax him awake when all Hutch really wanted to do was stay unconscious, and he was here now, settling Hutch into his bed for the start of a very long six-week recovery period.
"Starsky, I have all the respect in the world for you- you know that, but you still owe me a pound of hamburger."
"Shut up and take this pill."
Hutch blinked as a bright yellow capsule was thrust in his face. With a leaden arm, he reached up and plucked the pill from Starsky's palm, then obediently put it in his mouth and swallowed.
Starsky handed him a glass half-full with water. "Here."
After taking a sip of water, Hutch handed the glass back and looked up into Starsky's eyes. He could actually see his own bruised cheek in all its massive swelling. "Thank you." The words were meant for so much more than the water, and Starsky smiled in understanding.
"Hey, what are partners for, huh?"
Hutch felt his body start to relax and his eyelids grew heavy. "No word on my gun?"
"Not yet. We're close though. Dobey's got everyone out looking, and they've got a strong lead." At Hutch's raised eyebrow, he added, "Hey, you're not the only one pretty enough to mug in Bay City."
Hutch snorted and let his eyes shut. "I gotta get it back, Starsk." An officer could easily lose his job over something like this, and Hutch wasn't ready to leave the force just yet.
"I'll find it. You just lie here and heal those ribs, got it?"
Hutch felt a warm hand on his arm and his body relaxed even further. If felt so wonderful being back in his own bed after all that he had endured- was still enduring. The combination of pain pills and familiar comfort pulled at him hard, like that little black dog pulling on the child in the Coppertone ads…
Starsky smiled, finally feeling the last of the tension leave Hutch's body. "Goodnight, Hutch," he murmured, his voice just above a whisper as he patted Hutch's arm one last time. At last, all the creases of pain faded from the blond's face, and Starsky allowed himself to relax as well. Hutch was alive, only slightly worse for wear, but expected to make a full recovery. Starsky took comfort in knowing that his friend was safe.
Then, silently, he stood from the edge of the bed and turned towards the door.
He had a meal to prepare for.
On the menu tonight: Hamburgers.