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Then Neither Can He

Chapter 2

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It had taken a while but somehow Hutch, with Huggy's and Riley's help had managed to get the belligerent and semi drunk Starsky out of the bar and well clear of his still smarting opponent without the situation degenerating further. Hutch ensured that they gave the now quiet man a wide berth as they jostled Starsky from the bar to the rear entrance where Riley had the car waiting.

The three of them were in Hutch's beat up LTD heading away from Huggy's. There had been a lot of arguing , a lot of struggling, a hell of a lot of threatening, and there they finally were – Hutch in driver position, Riley riding back seat passenger and Starsky, neither convincingly sober nor totally inebriated beside Hutch. He sat now with a semi murderous look on his face.

Hutch had tried to retain a neutral approach when he had walked back to Starsky at the bar although part of him wanted to grab hold of his hotheaded partner and shake the life out of him. Trouble was he realized, is that he was in need of reaching out to him to ensure that he was not hurt too badly and to tell him that he understood exactly what his deviant behavior with the burly bar patron had been about. Starsky was hurting a lot. Foremost in his partner's mind Hutch knew , was his struggle to get some firmer footing back on his own personal shaky ground. Ryan Lancaster had rocked Starsky's foundation to the core. The other detective had left Starsky and his whole sense of his world tilted and distorted.

Tonight he had wanted to reclaim even a small part of that core of masculinity that he had felt Ryan had ripped out of him when he had first felled him in that alley attack. To his hard-nosed partner a solid round or two with his fists would seem more therapeutic than any number of futile sessions with a shrink.

Action, for Starsky was more powerful than words and tonight he badly needed to act out his burning frustration at what Ryan had taken from him.

Hutch knew all of this – knew it and understood it more than even Starsky himself did. The understanding of Starsky's motivation saddened him and walking toward his physically drained , angry friend back there in the bar, had left him feeling helpless.

Picking fights and using your fists in bars is not the solution buddy. Trouble is I don't have any better answers for you. Ryan has left you like this and I can't find a way to make it all go away. If I could I would, you know that.

Once he had bundled the very resistant Starsky into his car and the doors were closed the atmosphere was electric. For the first few miles no one said anything and the tension was a pulsing force field. Hutch held tight to his anger, Starsky was visibly fuming and he knew that Riley was wanting to disappear into the upholstery of the back seat.

Starsky was the first to crack.

"What the hell was that crap back there Hutch? 'My friend is having problems with his woman?' What sorta shit was that? You're s'posed to be on duty not dropping by bars to interfere with my evening."

"We're going home now Starsk so don't start up again."

"Don't start up again! I didn't start any damn thing – you and ya' little rookie friend here did. You are the ones who busted into Huggy's and interfered with my evening. That guy and me, we were working out our disagreements just fine till the two of you showed up."

"You know you weren't working anything out Starsky except your anger and your fists. You were in no fit shape to go another round with that gorilla. Thank God we got there when we did or I'd be sitting in the back of an ambulance with you right now instead of driving you home. Home! Where you should have been all night in the first place – not out drinking and stirring up trouble for yourself."

Starsky scowled at him and then turned in his seat to glare at Riley with a deepening sneer.

"Perhaps Officer Riley here would like to arrest me – read me my rights – would you like that Riley? A citizen causing a disturbance in a public place. You want me to be your first real collar on the street kid?"

"Starsky shut up – just shut up. Leave Riley out of this. He was just doing what I asked him to and what he needed to do to keep you in one piece."

"Hey just so you know kid, I don't appreciate having you decide what I can and can't do in a public bar. If I wanna to punch some jerk's face in I will ok? Just remember that for the future will ya'?"

"Ah Starsky I'm sorry – but – well " Riley started stammering apologetically at the dark faced detective.

Hutch cut his junior off abruptly.

"Riley don't bother. Just leave it. He's just in a filthy mood and nothing you or I can say right now is going to make it better for him. It's not your concern Riley. Starsky, I mean it – shut up and think about what you're saying. "

At Hutch's words, Starsky pulled back and stopped his tirade. He cursed and turned back to face the front of the car, propping his jean clad legs up on the dash and folding his arms roughly across his chest.

"Just drop me off home and get back to duty then."

Hutch thought he heard Riley breathe in a deep sigh of relief.

Poor kid, thought Hutch.

When he signed on to have him as his training Sergeant he probably never expected that he would have to endure the backlash of Hutch's own partner. In reality though anyone in the station could have warned him that Hutch and his partner or current ex-partner to be more correct, were a package item.

There was no Hutch without Starsky and visa versa.

He figured that Riley was starting to get this message loud and clear.

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By the time they pulled up outside Starsky's place, Hutch was not surprised to see that his friend had lapsed into a semi sleep – most likely a combination of physical exhaustion from the fight and the effects of the alcohol still in his system.

Deciding against rousing him and risking another helping of Starsky's wrath, Hutch parked the car and went around to the passenger side.

He opened the passenger door now and struggled to pull out the still dazed and unsteady Starsky. As he managed to get his legs under him and pulled him upright from the seat, he motioned to Riley who had climbed out of the back of the car now. Riley was uncertain about what he should be doing or not doing to assist. He was wary enough of the dark haired cop's attitude toward him not to go to close and instead stood by waiting for Hutch.

"Hey look Riley, I'm going to get Starsky inside and settled so there is no sense in you waiting around out here in the car…"

It was clear that Riley was uncomfortable with his partner and that it went without saying that he would not be coming inside with the two of them.

"How about you take the car and go catch yourself something to eat before we roll again for the rest of the shift. If there's any calls from headquarters just come back and get me, but otherwise – can you give me an hour here? "

He said this as he readjusted his grip on his swaying partner.

Starsky chimed in again.

"Yeah – go and catch some bad guys Officer Riley. Maybe they will let ya cuff em' like ya wanted to do to me. Make Hutch here proud of ya'!"

Hutch just smiled apologetically at the younger man and tossed him the keys. Riley didn't need another invitation and was around to the driver's side and turning the ignition as Hutch turned back to the heavy load falling against him.

"Come on you big meathead let's get you inside and off the streets yourself "

He hadn't been inside Starsky's place for days - since he had started the night shift with Riley. When he reached for the light in its familiar location he was visibly shocked by what met his eyes.

His partner, always the neat freak of the two of them had apparently been taking a break from his title. Empty beer bottles, dirty plates, discarded items of clothing and unopened mail littered the living room.

"Aww Christ Starsky you told me you were coping with daily living stuff. Look at this place! It's a sty in here."

"Doesn't look too much different than your place ever looks, so what is ya problem blondie?"

"My problem, Gordo, is that this is not you. This is not how you live or how you like to function. " He had let Starsky fall lightly onto the couch as he surveyed the room and walked further into the kitchen, opening cupboards and the fridge.

"And all of this – mess and – look no food, nothing here at all – makes me think that you're not doing as well as you keeping make out to me that you are. When is the last time you had a decent meal hey?"

"Since when do you ever consider what I eat to be decent?"

"Oh quit with the games Starsky. And what is this, a brewery? How many nights has it taken you to get through all of this liquor?"

His hand encompassed the many beer bottles and half drunk spirit bottles as well.

"You're not supposed to even be drinking with the medication you were on and you know that."

"Not takin' no medication no more. Don't need that stuff. All fine now. All better – just that no one in the department seems to agree and obviously neither do you Hutch."

"Well you're still drinking too much for you own good and I don't like it."

"What would ya' like than partner. What da ya' suggest I do with my days and nights while you are out playin' detective with another partner? Hey? Do ya' think I should be takin' up knittin' or perhaps learnin' a new language? Nope – drinkin's a better idea and a hell of a lot more fun than knittin'. Hey I know, maybe ya can get that new partner of yours to come here into my own apartment and arrest me for creating a mess in a private place? "

"Starsky stop with this new partner stuff will you. It's getting old now. And you should be ashamed of the way you spoke to Riley before. Not that you can probably remember. It's not the kid's fault that he's been put with me for training. It's not his fault that you've been suspended."

"No I s'pose it ain't, but it sure feels good to be mad at someone or somethin' cos I'm not sure who's fault it is that I'm sittin' here day and night on my ass with no pay and no job."

"You are meant to be using the time for treatment Starsky. You know that – treatment. Talking to the doctor or counselor about what happened to you and how it has left you feeling. "

"Jesus Hutch, you know, you are startin' to sound about as corny as that shrink I have to see. Feelings about what happened to me? Feelin's . What sorta shit is that anyway? It's all just words – damn words and none of it makes any sense or changes nothin.' "

He waved his arm widely in exasperation.

"What about Ryan? What about that creep? Does he have to have a little chat to someone about how he feels . How he feels about what happened on the undercover job and after. Hey? No, 'cos, Ryan is still doin' his job, still carryin' his badge and still on the streets. No one is tellin' Ryan to hand over his gun and badge and sit for hours facin' some borin' shrink with borin', fuckin' useless questions."

"Well no Starsky, you're right there. Ryan is still on duty because you have been too stubborn to let anyone know that Ryan has something to talk ABOUT. You have let him walk away with everyone thinking he's all cool and all is OK with the way he treated you. That is your decision Starsky – you made that choice when you refused to speak up about what he really is. Now you're feeling the pain of that decision and you are full of anger. You can't have it both ways."

With a frustrated sigh Hutch walked back to the kitchen and turned on the kettle, pulling out a couple of mugs.

"I' ll get you a coffee and something to eat – that is if I can find anything here to get ready for you."

He went to the drawer and his eye caught the corner of an appointment card.

The Doctor's name was printed in bold and underneath was a handwritten appointment. The date was for two days ago and Hutch turned now, anger on his face.

"How come this card says you were to go two days ago? Did you change it to today?"

"Nope – just missed that one. Wants me to come in too often. Not doin' it. Once week is more than enough for me and even that I can't stand it. Don't think I'm gonna go back again. Just total waste of time. Total shit."

"So you're telling me that you're not only missing the appointments that I know about but that you have others you have just ignored? Starsky! "

"You go to the fuckin' shrink if you want to. You sit and talk dribble to him. I'm not interested. You think you know so much about how I feelabout what has gone on, then you can damn well go chat with the nice Doctor and leave me the hell alone!"

He pushed past Hutch now and grabbed a glass and the whisky bottle and stamped back to the couch with both.

"I'm making you coffee – you don't need that."

"Says who?"

"Says me, your partner. Now put the whiskey down Starsky. You've already had more than enough tonight and nearly had your head punched in because of it."

"I drink what I like and I'll fight who I want and when I want OK. You just go back out to little boy Riley now and get back to work. I'm fine here by myself and I don't need you to tell me what to do with my life. Remember we're not partners anymore Hutch. I'm a free agent."

That hurt but Hutch absorbed it.

"You're a suspended officer who is supposed to be getting professional care and treatment and getting better so that you can come back to work as my partner. This is a temporary situation and you know it. You're just letting it all get you down Starsk. And being angry at me, lashing out at me and pushing me away is not going to help."

"Wrong. Ya wrong on that one Hutch, cos I can tell ya' now, it sure feels better already."

Starsky lifted the glass up to his mouth and went to throw back a shot.

With an oath Hutch lashed out and grabbed the glass in one hand and seized the bottle with his other. His was at the sink in an instant and upending the contents of both.

Starsky let our a roar and stumbled after him, shoving hard at Hutch's tall back and grabbing out at the bottle. They tousled for a moment and the bottle crashed down in to the sink, smashing into pieces.

Hutch whirled around to face his partner with the sink pressing into his back.

"OK. So its 'let's get angry time' is it Starsky? Alright come on then. I'm here if you want throw a punch. Come on – I can take it and you'll feel better so let's do this."

Starsky pulled his hands down.

"Fuck You Hutch!"

And he moved away back toward the living room.

Hutch followed quickly.

"Then do it – come on you obviously want to fight someone. You did it tonight at Huggy's and that still hasn't been enough for you – "

"I want ya' to stop tellin' me what to do with my life Hutch. Tellin' me to see the shrink, checkin' up on me every hour or so, naggin' about my diet and my drinkin'. Going on about my fuckin' feelings! I don't have any feelings Hutch. I just feel empty and I don't want this shit from you anymore. Tonight you just went too far. I don't need you at my back anymore don't ya' get it. Ya' don't owe me that anymore. I'm not your partner and so just keep away from me now. I am sick of it all. Sick of you!"

With that he lunged at Hutch and took him unawares. Hutch half fell back with the impact of his partner's body missiling toward him and pushing him hard against the side of the coffee table. Hutch went to right himself by pushing back a little and before he knew it the scuffle was on. Starsky's head was down low and ramming it into Hutch's lower guts while his arms shoved him with such force that Hutch had no option but to wrestle him back.

Starsky was swearing loudly now as he scrabbled with his tall partner. Hutch swore too and kept yelling Starsky's name.

"Starsky stop! Stop! You don't know what you're doing here and you're getting out of control. Stop for God's sake before I have to do something to hurt you!"

"Fuck yourself Hutch – just get out of my home and leave me alone."

This time Starsky took aim with his fist and he held it high – coming in hard toward Hutch's jaw. Hutch blocked it and held the vibrating arm firmly. Starsky kept pushing and was visibly shaking with anger now, his face contorted with – Hutch saw it then , pure pain.

"Not going Starsky. Staying till you calm down and listen to me. Calm down now come on. It's OK. It's OK. It's me here Starsk – not some thug at the bar, not Ryan, it's me. You don't have to fight me and you don't have to hurt yourself. I won't let you do that."

For minutes Starsky still struggled and pushed and pulled, contorting his body trying to free his arm. Hutch kept his iron grip firm and rigid and held firm against Starsky pushing weight and abusive threats.

Finally, slowly, Hutch could feel the energy leaving his partner's taut body. As he continued to hold him he moved his grip around to encircle his back and shoulders, making sure he never let go in fear that Starsky would ignite again.

Hutch's voice was thick with emotion.

"You know I will always have your back Starsky, and you'll never not be my partner so don't try to hurt us both by saying that. I'm hurting as much as you are here partner. Ryan has done this to both of us. Don't let him push us apart anymore."

Starsky stopped cursing him and swearing. In stead he started repeating his name slowly and with such depth of despair that Hutch felt himself wanting to hold him even tighter if that had been possible.

"Hutch…Hutch…Hutch… Please tell me what to do? I am sick of feeling so bad. Please Hutch."

"Awww Starsk I know buddy, I know. It's easier to be angry than it is to let all the pain out. I can feel your pain, I want to help you but you just won't let me Starsky. I've been trying and trying to get you to reach out to me but since this has all happened you've closed me off. I just want to be there for you buddy. I'm here for you.''

Hutch tightened his hold and moved his arms to wrap his partner as close and as hard to him as physically possible. For weeks and weeks he had wanted to do this for Starsky but had kept his distance feeling his partner's uneasiness ever since Ryan had entered their lives.

Hutch brought his big hand up now and touched his friend's hot face and damp hair, all the while talking soothingly and reassuringly to him.

Starsky had gone from being a fuelled up bull to a needy confused wounded animal and was now letting Hutch rock and hold him while he seemed calmed and settled by his partner's gentle voice.

As Hutch went to move his arm from around Starsky's side, Starsky let out a noticeable wince and grunt.

Alarmed Hutch drew back and looked down.

"What did I do? Did I hurt you buddy? Tell me where it hurts."

Starsky was holding his side protectively and his face showed the strain of trying to breathe through fresh waives of pain.

"It's nothin'. Nothin. Don't worry."

"You got hurt in that bar fight didn't you ? Let me look – let me look at your wound. Here – "

Gently now Hutch pulled up Starsky's shirt and as he did his hand brushed over warm perspiring flesh. Starsky's strong abdominals tensed and he gasped drawing back.

"God! Sorry did I hurt you again? You pull it up Starsky , you do it so I can make sure your wound is OK."

He felt it the moment Starsky snapped back from the closeness that they were both verging upon. A degree of familiar closeness and sharing that had not been felt by Hutch for a long while – since he had been ill following his heroin addiction. For a few minutes earlier they had both allowed themselves to be swept into the cocoon of oneness where they both always felt so safe and united, but now the look of withdrawal was back on Starsky's face.

He pulled back even further, and stepped back a few paces. He tucked his loose shirt in carefully to his jeans and looked now with those hard eyes at Hutch.

"I told ya before Hutch. I don't need ya to look after me. It's alright. The wound is fine."

"Don't do this Starsky. Don't keep doing this. I know you don't want to be like this but you can't seem to stop it. You can keep pushing me and shutting me out but it's easy to see why you are doing it and all I want is to help you through all of this."

"Again with the shrink talk. If I had a job Hutch I might be able to afford to pay you for your time with me – your counsellin' sessions. "

"Oh for Christ Sakes…."

"For Christ Sakes is right Hutch – that's right! I don't need no other shrink to help here and especially not my partner. I just need you to be a partner on the streets but somehow you and Dobey took care of that didn't you? It should be Ryan with no job and no badge – not me ! You of all people should know that partner! But all I know is that you took me downtown to that meetin' with Simonetti, Ryan and Dobey, and next thing I know is that I end up on my ass with no job."

"This is not fair Starsky. I had nothing whatsoever to do with your suspension. "

"No? But ya' not thinkin' its such a bad idea are ya Hutch? You don't really want me out there right now do ya'? You prefer that I am here where ya' know where I am and I can't make a mistake that will earn me a bullet in the chest. You may not have signed my suspension papers Hutch but ya' sure as hell didn't put up much of an argument with the Cap'n when he told you what he wanted me to do. And just like Dobey ya' think that I need to 'talk about' what happened to me and until I do for some stupid fuckin' reason you all think I can't hit the streets."

So – see – I told ya didn't I? It's just like I said to you - getting' left in that alley by Ryan, getting my ass kicked in by him has left people thinkin' I'm not a good enough cop to watch your back."

'That is far from the truth and all mixed up Starsky. You have messed this all up and made yourself believe utter crap about what is really going on here."

"Oh shut up Hutch. Stop bullshitting me. I got done over on a job – done over real bad. Didn't make me feel too happy with myself and I was left looking like I wasn't too happy and suddenly, the decision is made for me that I am not fit for duty. "

"Starsky why are you just avoiding everything else that has happened to you as well - its not just the beating – its what that animal has done to you privately. He has fucked with your head and left you unsure of yourself. Its not that anyone thinks you're not fit to be cop because he beat you up."

"Isn't it? You're forgetting Hutch that Dobey don't know anythin' else about the other stuff. All he knows is that Ryan nearly killed me on the undercover job. That's all. And on that basis alone he has made his decision to put me on suspension. Just that!

Jesus what do you think I'd get if he found out about all the other shit ? Imagine if he found out what else that sick bastard has done to me? Do you really think for a moment that I'd ever stand a chance of getting my badge back.

Fact is there ain't enough sessions with the Doc in this lifetime that could fix up that shit."

Starsky's blue eyes were boring into his partners now – and Hutch felt himself conceding that the words he had just heard were close to cold hard reality. Starsky was right – Dobey had suspended him because of what he had perceived as the fallout of the undercover operation – nothing whatsoever to do with Ryan's progressive and relentless assault on his partner.

"Dobey may not know about anything else Starsky, but I doubt you would be in this sort of shape if it had all just ended with what he did to you in that alley way."

The dark head dropped now.

"Well it didn't end there did it? He's messed me up and now I have no job Hutch. Either way, whatever got me to this point, I have no job. I'm pretty fuckin' mad about that. I just want to be left alone to be mad. That's all I'm asking' now – just leave me alone to sort through this."

The intensity of their gaze was only broken by the shrillness of the phone. It rang twice, three times, four….

"Do you want me to pick that up for you? Who the hell would be calling you at this time of night? Oh wait, could be Riley…. he might have asked to be patched through to your number."

Hutch strode to the phone and as he lifted it Starsky shook his head.

"No. Just leave it ring. Don't –"

But Hutch had picked the receiver up and was listening.

"Lo'. Hello? Who is this? Starsky's phone."

He shrugged his shoulders and replaced the phone on the hook.

"Nothing – no-one there. Might have been a wrong number."

He saw Starsky's face.

"What do you mean, just leave it ring? Have you stopped answering your phone now?"

"No – well – its just…"

The phone rang again.

Starsky who had moved closer to the phone now, put his hand down firmly on the receiver and stared hard at Hutch.

"I told you just to leave it."

Hutch raised his eyebrows and then frowned deeply. Starsky lifted the receiver and placed it beside the phone, cutting the connection.

Awareness dawned across Hutch's face with an angry flourish.

"Its him isn't it? Its fucking Ryan. How long has this been going on? He's harassing you now on the phone? What does he say to you Starsky? Is he threatening you? "

"Oh for God's Sake just go back to work Hutch. I'm tired and I want to go to bed now. You're right – I'm done in, I need to crash. When is Riley back to pick you up?"

"What is he saying to you Starsky? I need to know. Stop being such a pig headed ass about this."

"Nothing. He says nothing, if you want to know ok. Just hangs there on the other end – but I know its him. Just another way of screwin' with my head. More of his sick mind games."

"So this is why you haven't been answering my calls all week isn't it? You won't answer the phone because of him taunting you? Why can't you tell me these things Starsk? Can't you understand all you are doing is worrying me and leaving me feeling angry with you for cutting me out of your life.

Jesus! What a mess. This is just getting out of control Starsky. Ryan is completely out of control. We can get the calls investigated, traced – prove that he is harassing you."

"Go back to work Hutch."

He turned away.

"Oh Starsky…..don't ..."

Just then a horn sounded outside and given the time Hutch knew it was Riley.

"There's your partner. Don't keep him waiting Hutch – he may not be as patient as me you know."

Hutch moved to the door quickly, opened it and signaled down to his junior officer.

Holding the door ajar he turned back and walked toward his friend.

"I'll go now Starsk because I can see that you need to rest. But this is not going to work anymore. I'm not staying away just because you think it is what you want in life at the moment. You are not being fair to yourself or to me. This all has to be dealt with eventually – we need to move on from this and get you back to our lives. We can only do that if you stop pulling away from me Starsk."

He reached out as he spoke and was totally dismayed to see that his words were still left hanging in the air. As his partner stepped back away from him, the intent and sincerity of his words slipped down into the chasm created by Starsky's distancing of himself.

Hutch dropped his arm.

"You're right. I need to get back to Riley. He's a good kid Starsky. I hope one day soon when you climb out of this hole you're digging for yourself, you can see that for yourself.

Get some rest."

He pulled the door a little too loudly behind him as he left.

There was after all, only so much of Starsky's cutting edge that he could bear to take in one sitting.

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