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COMING BACK FROM THE DARKNESS

 

Co written by Elisa Valero and Cristina Pereira

 

This story was written purely for entertainment and is not for profit, and is not meant to trespass in any way on the holders of the rights to Starsky and Hutch.

 

NOTE : Some of the medical facts described along this story maybe aren’t too accurate, though not impossible. We know it, however, we wrote them this way because real life can be too hard at times, and this is just a fiction story.

All my gratitude to our friend and occasional beta reader wuemsel

 

PART I

 

It’s frightening how life can change in just the blink of an eye, and maybe for ever…

 

It happened so long ago, that at times it just seems unreal: Two years, eleven months, nine days and six hours exactly. I can recall the minutes and even the seconds as well, but…Well, I guess it doesn’t matter. The only important thing is, that since that day, our lives have changed, have turned into a whirlwind of uncertainties, fears and daily challenges.

 

That night I was just heading back to the Torino, carrying some burgers and sodas for dinner. “What took you so long, Blondie? I´m starving,” Starsky, who’d waited for me, said, snatching the bag containing the food out of my hands and starting to eagerly inspect it’s contents.

 

Soon we were eating our burgers, speaking about a stunning red-haired lady, who used to haunt The Pits for the last couple of weeks. Our stakeout was going on nicely, until a call from the precinct crackled in the radio.

 

 "Attention, all units near 64th with Mason.”

 

“Zebra three to control. Go ahead.”

 

 “Call from Mason Avenue. A neighbour heard a shot coming from number 325, possible assault with hostage taking.”

 

“We are in the area and responding.”

 

 

*******

 

Starsky stepped on the gas pedal, and the red Torino raced with siren and lights towards the crime scene.

 

 A couple of minutes later he and Hutch were already taking positions, getting ready to do what they were best at: covering each other’s backs, arresting the perps and saving the lives of civilians.

 

Both detectives slid silently into the front yard of a big and luxurious house in the uptown, which was owned by an old woman living on her own.

 

It was the address they’d looked for. They were as careful as usual to get the work done. And the situation seemed under control, when suddenly something turned wrong. Later, Hutch couldn’t seem to remember too clearly what had happened, he just knew, that while two uniformed police officers were taking the thieves to their patrol car, he was beside Starsky´s still form, as two paramedics were efficiently performing CPR on him in an attempt to get back a pulse and a breath from the apparently dead body.

 

*******

 

A little while earlier, Starsky and Hutch were in the house with the situation under control and the thieves at gun point, facing the shaken up house owner, while they were all waiting for a patrol car to take them to the precinct, when suddenly one of the two men managed to ram his elbow into Hutch´s face, running out of his grasp and rushing to the outside, as the blond detective stumbled and fell onto his back, a thin thread of blood appearing under his nose.

 

“Hutch! You okay?” Starsky asked, helping Hutch to get to his feet, without letting the other man out of his grip.

 

“Su-sure Starsk… Go to get him!” Hutch mumbled, seeing the room spinning like a top. In a rapid movement, Starsky cuffed the perp to a grand piano’s leg and ran after the fleeing man, as Hutch leant against a wall, rubbing his eyes to clear his vision, and the old lady hurried to help him.

 

The next thing Hutch could hear was the sound of a shot tearing the silence of the night.

 

“Starsky?” Hutch ran to the outside, fighting against a wave of dizziness and looking for his partner, who was out of sight, as missing as the thief was.

 

He searched across the large and dark garden, calling out his partner’s name for some minutes without getting any response, until he saw the swimming pool behind a hedge. The blood froze in Hutch veins. He ran towards the edge just to see the dark blue water slightly tinged with red.

 

“STARSKY!” Without a second thought, Hutch dived into the swimming pool. In a matter of seconds he was dragging the limp body of Starsky out of the cold water, shouting out to the newly arrived patrol officers to ask for an ambulance. Starsky was bleeding profusely from a bullet wound in his shoulder, and terrified, Hutch noticed that his partner wasn’t breathing, and his lips were showing a frightening bluish tone. Fighting against his fear, Hutch began to apply CPR to Starsky with the help of a patrol officer.

 

After a while that seemed eternal but was just a few minutes, an ambulance came, and two paramedics rushed towards where Starsky lay.

 

“He’s not breathing! Help him!”

 

“Okay Hutchinson. He’s in our hands now,” one of the paramedics said in a calm tone. Scared out of his mind, Hutch got to his feet to leave them room to do their work. Frozen in his spot, he stared at the scene unfolding in front of him.

 

Both paramedics were working fast and efficiently on Starsky´s body, exchanging instructions, until finally the oldest one said, “Okay. I’ve got a pulse... weak and unsteady, but I’ve got it.”

 

After some more ministrations, finally, the paramedics settled Starsky onto a gurney, fixing his neck and spine in order to prevent any possible spinal damage and quickly carried him into the ambulance, with Hutch by his side, to get him to Memorial hospital.

 

From there on, everything turned into a blur for Hutch, until he found himself in the hospital’s waiting room, wondering if he could pray to some guardian angel for one more chance for Starsky.

 

Damn it! Why can’t fate hit anyone else instead of Starsk?! Why?

 

Despite the many times he had been there before, waiting to know about Starsky´s condition, Hutch knew that he would never be able to get used to that place. To the uncertainty that he felt every time that he got there.

 

A while later, Dobey came to the hospital, worry etched into his features.

 

“How’s Starsky´s doing, son?” 

 

Son.

 

Hearing their superior officer, Hutch couldn’t help but smiling. That big and temperamental man had a soft spot for they both, and the blond one knew that his hair was growing a little greyer with each one of their injuries and hospital stays.

 

“I don't know, Cap. He stopped breathing for a few minutes…”

 

“Okay Hutch. Try to relax. Starsky went through a lot in the last years. He can do it again.”

 

“And what if this time he can't, Cap?”

 

“He’ll do it, Hutchinson. Do you hear me? He’ll do it!” Dobey said firmly, trying to sound confident.

 

Those were the only words they’d say in a long while. Both men kept waiting in silence as the hours went by.

 

Despite of having the support of Dobey, Hutch began to feel truly alone and scared in that waiting room. There, in that aseptic and impersonal surrounding, something invisible was squeezing his heart… and he could almost see it, inching closer. There, looking straight into Hutch eyes was a frozen, paralyzing fear …

 

Finally a doctor, who introduced himself as Doctor Williams, appeared in front of the distressed men, still wearing his surgical scrubs. His words were of the kind that had sadly turned into clear meanings for both of them.

 

Hypoxia… Brain damage… Coma …

 

“We managed to take the bullet out of his shoulder, but he has lost a large amount of blood. That, plus his near drowning in the swimming pool are the causes of the oxygen deprivation that his brain suffered. Due to this, Detective Starsky went into a coma."

 

“Wha-what the hell are you telling me? Coma? But he...he’ll wake up, right?” Hutch asked, already guessing that the wouldn’t like the answer

 

“Well, unfortunately, at this moment we can't answer that question. Right now, and due to the lack of oxygen in his brain, his neurological functions are seriously depressed, he doesn’t show pupil’s reaction, and he can't breathe on his own."

 

“What will happen to him now?” Hutch asked the doctor, feeling suddenly drained, as if all the strength was running out of his body.

 

“It's hard to say. Since he’s in a coma, from this point, he could wake up, descend into a vegetative state... Or even die.  The next forty-eight hours will be critical. And, of course, the later he wakes up, the smaller his chances of full recovery get. I´m sorry, Detective. We are giving him all the care he needs, besides the proper medication, nutrition and fluids. We’ll try also to prevent any complication and we’ll keep a close eye on his progress. It’s all we can do to help him right now."

 

Hutch sank into a chair, as the doctor’s words slid sinuously into his brain, like the venom of a snake. Merely hours before, Starsky had been healthy and full of life, and now he was in a coma. The absurdity of the whole situation overwhelmed him, but he knew that he had to be strong, that he had to be there. He had to call Starsky´s mother, and he had to be with his partner, as long as he would need it.

 

Hutch didn´t know yet, that it were months of waiting what lay ahead of him.

 

“Can I be with him, Doctor?”

 

“Right now he’s still in the recovery unit, but as soon as he will be transferred to an ICU room, you can see him for a few minutes.”

 

“Listen… I know that hospitals have rules, visiting hours and all that, but I wanna stay with my partner as much as possible.”

 

“Detective Hutchinson, I-”

 

“Please, Doctor. You know that I won’t go away.”

 

In fact, Doctor Williams knew it for sure, since he’d already had his experiences with the two stubborn detectives. With or without permission, Hutch wouldn't leave Starsky´s bedside.

 

He scratched his chin before answering, “Look, Detective. This is highly irregular, but since I´m not willing to spend the next days arguing with you every day to get you out of the hospital, I guess I don’t have any choice but allowing you to stay here as much as you want. But, remember, I don't want you to neglect yourself and get sick, is that clear? I´ll sign a special permission for you at the nurse's station, and when your friend will be settled in his room, a nurse will call you.”

 

“Thanks, Doc," Hutch said, absently watching the Doctor leave.

 

 

 

*******

 

 

Over the next hours, Hutch acted mechanically, still unable to think or react. The first thing on his list was a call to Starsky´s mother. He tried to soften the news as much as possible, but… How soft could you sound, informing a mother that her son was in a coma?

 

“Hi Rachel… It’s Hutch.”

 

“Ken, dear! How are you doing? Is Davey alright?”

 

“Listen Rachel. I´m sorry, but I´m afraid you should come over here… It’s Starsky…”

 

As Hutch was filling her in on all that had happened, he could picture her perfectly on the other side of the phone line, trying to be strong and keeping her fear and tears at bay, and even trying to comfort him with her usual tenderness.

 

“It's okay, honey. Take it easy. I’ll take the first plane. My son is a tough kid. You know it as well as me. Whatever happened, he’ll get through. Give him all my love. I´ll be there as soon as possible. Take care, baby.” With those words the line went dead. Hutch hanged up and headed back to the waiting room, as a smiling nurse walked towards him.

 

“Detective Hutchinson? Your friend is now settled in his room. 214.” She pointed at the ICU area with her forefinger and left.

 

Room 214. How many hours would Hutch have to spend in that place or any other alike? How many times would Hutch have to go through that door to see Starsky´s still form hooked up on a respirator and monitors, with tubes entering and going out of his body, a tracheotomy and a feeding tube inserted?

 

Hutch dragged a chair close to Starsky´s bed and sat down; ready to wait for all that fate had to throw at them.

 

“Hey, buddy, I´m here. And your mom will get here too very soon. Meanwhile, she asked me to give you all her love.” Hutch stared at Starsky´s face, trying to find the smallest sign of awareness. He looked extremely pale, and the fading light of the room did nothing but to increase that unpleasant sensation.  Beside the tubes and wires of the life support machines, a white bandage was covering his shoulder.

 

Hutch took his hand between his own, feeling a slight relief, as he noticed the warmth. That and his chest’s rise and fall following the respirator cadence were the only signs of life in the unresponsive body.

 

A while later, as promised, Dobey came back. The man was the living picture of concern.

 

“You can take all the time you need to be with Starsky, son. Stay with him, and don't worry about work, okay?”

 

“Thanks, Cap. I appreciate it.”

 

“Do you want to get yourself something to eat, Hutch? If you want, I can stay here while you go to the cafeteria to eat something.”

 

“Thanks, Cap, but I´m not hungry.”

 

“Listen, Hutch-”

 

“I know, I know, Captain. I must keep my strength. It’s just that right now I can’t eat anything. But later I’ll pop over there to get a sandwich. Promise. Okay?”

 

“Okay, Hutch. But don't miss to take care of yourself. Starsky wouldn’t want that. Listen, son, I must go now, but I’ll be back here in the morning. Edith, the kids and I will pray for Starsky. For you both. If you need something, just call me. Any time," Dobey added. With a parting glance at his detectives, he left the hospital.

 

*******

 

Hours slid by slowly. The nurse’s shift ended, another started. The shadows of the night covered the city.  In some moments, defeated by exhaustion and despite the discomfort of the chair, Hutch fell asleep, still with his hand over Starsky´s, only to be woken up in the morning by a gentle touch to his shoulder. He opened his eyes, feeling confused for a moment, and turning his head back, where Rachel was standing.

 

She looked tired, pale and a little slimmer than the last time Hutch had seen her, roughly a year earlier. He noticed it, though, at that moment, he was unable to worry about any other thing besides Starsky´s condition. Hutch got to his feet, approaching the old lady. Words weren’t needed. Just the warmth of her arms cuddling him like she would do with a hurting child was enough.

 

After some comforting instants, Starsky´s mother pulled back, heading straight to Starsky´s bedside. Gently, she touched his cheek.

 

“Mom is here, son. Everything is going to be okay.” She turned her head towards Hutch” Any change, Ken?”

 

Hutch simply shook his head, apparently unable to say anything. Rachel looked back at Starsky.

 

“Is he suffering? I mean, is he feeling any pain?” she asked, afraid of the answer.

 

“No, he’s just… sleeping. By the way, does Nick know what happened?”

 

“Oh, yeah. He knows it,” Starsky´s mother answered, as sadness tinged her voice. “He’ll get here as soon as his business allows him to travel.”

 

Of course…Business first, family later. Never mind. Who in hell needs him here, anyway? Hutch thought bitterly.

 

“Okay, Ken,” Rachel said to drag Hutch out of the gloomy thoughts that she knew he was thinking. “Now I´m here, and I’ll make sure that you are taking the same care of yourself that you take of Davey. Got you some breakfast?”

 

“No, I just am not-”

 

“I know. You aren’t hungry, huh? Never mind. Anyway, right now, you’ll go to the cafeteria, and you’ll eat something. Or better. How about going home and getting some real rest, a shower and clean clothes? Davey will not be alone. Mommy is with him,” Rachel said, stroking her son’s hair.

 

“Ken, either you go home on your own to get some breakfast and rest, or I’ll grab your ear to drag you up there. I mean it,” she added gently but firmly.

 

“Okay, Rachel,” Hutch answered, smiling tiredly. “You win. I’ll go home. But I’ll come back soon.”

 

“Good boy, Ken. But don't be in a hurry to come back. Take a break, honey. I´m not going anywhere."

 

Hutch went out of the room, heading for the hospital exit, feeling like a lost child, who had just found his mom. Rachel was there. She would take care of things.

 

Still carried away by the events of the last hours, Hutch took a cab to go home.

 

Absently, he watched the people on the sidewalks, in their cars, as the cab passed them. There they were, going their ways as if it was just another ordinary day. There they were, living their lives, so sure in the confidence of routine, while his own life had turned upside down and his ordinary days might be over forever.

 

Once he was home, he leaned his tired body against the front door for some seconds, rubbing his face. Later, he stepped to the fridge, digging to find something enticing enough to eat, but he ended up dragging out just a root beer, popping the cap and taking a large gulp, before heading to the shower.

 

As the water battered down on his body, the realization of all what had happened tormented him pitilessly.

 

Brain injury… Coma…

 

Frightening words with a clear meaning. In just one moment, Starsky´s life had turned from a given certainty to an endangered fact. Maybe he wouldn’t make it. After all the times his life had been in the line, it appeared as though now he was running out of luck at last.

 

Hutch didn´t noticed it, but as the hot water ran down his body, tears of frustration and sorrow were cascading down his cheeks.

 

Getting out of the shower, he went straight to his bed and tried to get some sleep, but he was so tired and upset that he couldn’t even sleep, so after a while of tossing and turning, he decided to head back to the hospital.

 

Once there, he could see Rachel across the window of Starsky´s ICU room. He wanted to be with his partner, but he knew that his mother needed it as badly as he did, so, since ICU rules didn´t allow more than one visitor in the room, he left to let Rachel have some more time with her son.

 

However, the idea of spending more time in the waiting room or pacing in the corridor wasn’t appealing at all, and since it was a beautiful sunny day outside, shinning in all its splendour and calling for him to go out, Hutch gave into the sudden overwhelming need for fresh air grabbing him and  headed towards the neat, well cared hospital gardens, where he sank down onto a stone bank placed under a tree. For a long moment, he just sat there, staring at nothing in particular.

 

“Bad news?” a soft female voice asked.

 

“Huh?” Hutch turned his head to the direction the voice was coming from and saw a beautiful blond woman in her late twenties, smiling and looking at him.

 

“Sorry, but you look so upset that I couldn’t help noticing it. Is there anything I can do for you?”

 

“Oh. No. No, thanks. You’re very kind, but I´m afraid nobody can.”

 

“Wanna talk then? It might help.”

 

“Well, I guess there’s not much to say. Somebody very close to me is here, and... let´s say things aren’t going like they should at the moment."

 

“Your wife’s not doing well, huh?”

 

“Not my wife, but my best friend. He’s closer to me than a brother. And he’s in a coma.”

 

“I´m really sorry to hear that. Oh, I´m Susan McKinley, by the way," the young woman said and sat down on the bank beside Hutch.

 

She was beautiful, really beautiful. Even with his mind being elsewhere, Hutch couldn’t help but noticed it. She was tall, slender and well built, her skin soft as porcelain, and her facial features were framed by blond locks. There was a calming sweetness in her grey eyes.

 

“Huh?" Hutch stammered, suddenly realizing he was staring at her. Blushing slightly, he introduced himself. "Oh. Sorry. Kenneth... Ken Hutchinson.”

 

They shook hands, and, almost unaware of what he was doing, within the next minutes, Hutch found himself sharing the pain that was burning up his soul with that unknown woman, who was most willing to listen him, as well as to openly offer support.

 

Roughly ten minutes later, Susan got to her feet, excusing herself.

 

“Oh God! Is it really this late already?! I´m sorry, Ken, it was a pleasure to chat with you, but now I must go. Doctor Bennet is waiting for me.”

 

“Are you ill?” Hutch asked politely, already standing up.

 

“Uh… Not…” Susan hesitated almost imperceptively before talking again. “In fact, I´m here to help her and the nurses at the pediatrics´ floor some days a week. You know, doing some volunteer work.”

 

“That sounds nice, Susan.”

 

“And it is. Well, Ken, maybe we’ll meet again some day.”

 

“Sure. I would like that. Though if things aren’t getting better soon, I´m afraid it won’t be much fun to hang around with me.”

 

“However, I’d love to see you again. I’ll pray for your friend, Ken. See you.”

 

Hutch looked Susan’s leave and then returned to Starsky´s room, feeling at least a little comforted after their brief encounter.

 

Yet, now he had to face the reality again, and so the memory of the beautiful blond girl was quickly buried among all his worries.

 

*******

 

A week later, Starsky was still in a coma, when Nick travelled to Bay City for a few days to see his older brother. In his first visit to the hospital and despite the seriousness of Starsky´s condition, he looked amazingly nonchalant, and it didn´t take him too long to get on Hutch´s nerves.

 

“Hey Hutch, pal, how are you doing?” Nick greeted him, when they met in the waiting room, patting his back cheerily. “I´m sorry, but I couldn’t come earlier. You know, business. Where’s Ma, by the way?”

 

“Your mom is in Starsky´s room. ICU rules don’t allow more than one person to be in there at the same time.”

 

“Oh! I understand. Seems that my old brother got himself into trouble again, huh? What are the docs saying?”

 

“Listen, Nick.  First, I want to make it clear to you that this is no fun. And Starsky didn´t GET himself in trouble again. He’s badly hurt. Right now, your brother is in a coma. And nobody knows when, how, or even if he’ll wake up. Do you understand?”

 

“Hey, hey take it easy, Hutch. I was just trying to lighten the mood a little here. Is it really that bad?"

 

“Yes, Nick. It is THAT bad. While you were in New York, taking care of God knows what business, Starsky was in a coma. And he still is. He has been since last week, and he’s not showing ANY signs of improvement.”

 

Noticing his voice had reached a volume level close to yelling Hutch clenched his hands to fists, and tried to get his anger under control.

 

“And now, if you don't mind, I’ll tell your mother that you are here. At last.”

 

Wondering one more time how the brother and son of people as warm and caring as the Starskys could be so insensitive, Hutch headed towards the ICU to inform Rachel.

 

The old lady was happy to have her younger son finally by her side, though, soon she realized that Nicky’s short stay in the city was at the best useless, if not downright disturbing, since he was unable to offer the least bit of real support, neither to her nor to Hutch. He even asked her more than once to come back to New York with him, a request she firmly refused.

 

“No, Nick. My place is here. And here I’ll stay. At least until I´m sure that Davey is getting better. I can't leave him, honey. You know that.”

 

“Mom, you must think of yourself, too. Your heart is not doing too well. If Hutch knew what happened to you three months ago…”

 

Three months earlier, Rachel Starsky had suffered a heart attack. She had spent a few  weeks in the hospital, and she was still being treated and suffering from tachycardia attack’s. She was also getting out of breath quickly, but being the stubborn woman that she was, at that moment, the only important thing for her was to be with her son. So all of Nick’s attempts at convincing her to return to New York were useless.

 

“That’s enough, Nicky! This is none of Hutch´s business. Besides, if I´m having any trouble with my heart, I´m already at a hospital. The right place to be. Don't you think so?” the shadow of a smile drew up one corner of her mouth. “I won’t leave Davey and that’s that! And I don't want Hutch to know anything about this. I´m not willing to have the both of you bothering me with this nonsense that I should leave. I made myself clear?” 

 

Rachel had managed to hide her heart troubles from Starsky three months ago, and now she wanted to do the same with Hutch.

 

Nick kept a stubborn silence.

 

“Nicholas Marvin Starsky, I´m talking with you. Show some respect to your mother, young man!”

 

“Okay, Mom. Have it your way. But I still think that you should come back home and get as much rest as possible.”

 

The whole situation made Nick pretty nervous, and he also felt increasingly uncomfortable, watching his brother’s unconscious body.

 

Whenever he was in Starsky´s room, it was always just the briefest of visits, and he was never able to touch or even really look at him. Hutch could clearly see his partner’s brother’s discomfort from outside the room’s window, and as he knew Rachel saw it also, his heart reached out for the old lady.

 

On the second day of Nicky’s visit, Hutch dragged him aside and looked straight into his eyes.

 

“Why are you here, Nick?” he asked in a low voice. He knew it probably wasn´t a good idea, but he couldn’t help it.

 

“Sorry? I´m afraid I don't-”

 

“Don't take me for a fool, Nick. You know perfectly well, what I´m talking about. You came, but not to help your mom, or to be with Starsk, and I mean to be really with him. For God’s sake, Nick! You didn´t ever touch your brother ONCE since you’ve got here! What’s the matter? Huh? Maybe you’re afraid of becoming infected?”

 

“You aren’t being fair here, Hutch. You don't know anything about the relationship I have with my family… with my brother.”

 

“Oh, no!” Hutch shook his forefinger. “You’re totally wrong about that, Nick. I know all I need to know. And my conclusion is that you’re a selfish and good-for-nothing kid, who’s done nothing but to give his family cause for grief! Look what are you doing here! Nothing but asking your mom to come back to New York, telling her that her presence here is useless… Or have you thought I didn´t hear it maybe? DAMN IT, NICKY! What the hell do you want to achieve by this? How can you be so cruel to Rachel?”

 

“You don't understand, Hutch. I´m not being cruel but just practical. Somebody must think clearly here. And, believe me, I only want the best for my mom. You don't know...” Nick seemed to be about to say something more to Hutch, but the blond was too angry to notice it, and so he cut him off, as his anger only increased.

 

“God, Nick! I can't believe what I´m hearing! Practical?! Think clearly?! BULLSHIT! Sure you are right. And your mother’s presence… All our presence is totally useless here, and Starsky is completely unaware of it, but we need to be here, anyway. The best for your mother is not to leave, but to stay right here. To welcome Starsky when he wakes up, to hold him in her arms. Or, if it must be, to bid him her last goodbye. If... if despite all the doctor’s efforts and all our love he leaves us.”

 

As if the thought alone was enough to drain all his strength, Hutch stopped talking and head out of the waiting room.

 

Over the next days, since they both felt that everything had already been said, both men spoke just about trivial matters, and in fact as little as possible, until the day of Nick´s departure.

 

“Well, Mom. I must go now, or I’ll miss my flight. Keep me posted about how Davey is doing. And, remember, don't get yourself exhausted. You must look after yourself as well. I love you, Mom. Everything is gonna be okay.”

 

Nick gave his mother a quick hug, before turning to look at Hutch.

 

“Bye Hutch. I´ll come back here as soon as possible. Promise.”

 

Both men shook hands politely, knowing that the younger Starsky didn´t have the least intentions to keep his promise.

 

Picking up his suitcase, Nick headed towards the elevator without looking back.

 

“He’s a good kid, Ken. A little scatty at times, but a good kid. And he loves Davey. Really, he does,” Rachel said in low voice, as if for an apology for her younger son, before she returned to keeping her vigil over Starsky.

 

Due to her being the tactful person that she was, Rachel didn´t say it, but in fact, she was relieved at Nicky’s departure, knowing that keeping Hutch and him together for too long a time, and under so stressful circumstances, too, was like sitting on a time bomb that could explode in any moment.

 

***

 

After Nick’s departure, a sad routine took possession of Hutch´s and Rachel’s lives. He spent the nights in Starsky´s room, and she stayed there during daytime.

 

One morning, Hutch was stepping down the hospital stairs, when a smiling blond girl approached him.

 

“Ken? Don't you remember me, Ken?”

 

Hutch looked at the woman, unable to remember why that face was so familiar to him.

 

“Susan. Susan McKinley," the girl said. “We met a few days ago. In the hospital garden. By the way, how is your friend doing? He’s getting better, I hope.”

 

“Oh! Susan. Yes. Now I remember you. Well, no, he’s not doing too well.”

 

“Oh Ken! I´m so sorry.” The smile faded from Susan’s face.

 

“Would you like some breakfast, Ken?”

 

“Huh?” The sudden question took Hutch by surprise.

 

“I´m hungry, and I think that you could use some breakfast as well. You’re not looking too well. Oh! Sorry. I didn´t mean…” The girl blushed, and Hutch couldn’t help but smile.

 

“It's okay, Susan. You´re right.  I must look like hell. Okay, let’s have breakfast. But I must leave soon.”

 

“No problem. I must come back to work in forty minutes as well, but I guess we have time enough to get something to eat in the cafeteria. The food there’s not too bad. Let’s go, okay?”

 

“Sure Susan. Let’s go.”

 

Hutch and Susan headed towards the hospital cafeteria and got their breakfast in the self-service counter. They sat down at a table placed in a sunny corner of the large and crowded dinning room.

 

Hutch asked politely about Susan’s life, and she told him that she was an art dealer and an amateur painter as well, and that at the moment she was very busy and excited about her first exhibition.

 

Minutes later, though, their conversation inevitably drifted off to Starsky´s condition.

 

“So, what are the doctors saying about your friend? What’s his name, by the way?” Susan asked, stirring her steaming cup of coffee.

 

“His name is Dave. Dave Starsky. And about your other question, the doctors aren’t saying anything in particular. Just that he’s in a coma, that they are doing everything that´s in their power to keep him out of complications, and that they don't know when he’ll wake up. Or even if he will at all.”

 

“And, let my guess; you’re spending twenty-four hours at day with him, of course, leaving aside any other thing in your life and not caring at all about your other friends, your work, or even your family.”

 

Hutch was unable to read what the meaning behind Susan’s words was. Maybe sincere concern. Maybe reproach.

 

“Any other thing in my life can wait, Susan. Starsky and his mother need me. Now. And I’ll be there for them. For whatever the future will hold in store form them. You can be sure that he would do it for me too.”

 

“And you’re not caring at all about how much you might lose, or about how long this situation might last, right?”

 

“I guess so. But I can't… I don't want to do any other thing.”

 

“Listen, Ken. Your feelings towards your friend and his current situation are very laudable; I’d wish I’d have somebody in my life taking care of me like you are doing with David. I mean it. But if he loves you as much as you are saying he does, he wouldn’t want that. And I´m not saying that you should run away and forget him. Not at all. But you must find a balance between the time that you’re devoting to him and the one you need for yourself and for your other beloved ones. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself alone soon, physically and emotionally exhausted, embittered, and even blaming him of your loneliness.”

 

“That will not happen, Susan. Starsky is my best friend. Closer to me than a brother. And nobody is pushing me to do what I´m doing. I´m here, because here’s where I want to be.”

 

“Well, maybe you’re right. But think about what I said. Balance, Ken. Balance. That’s the key. Oh! Sorry, I must go back to work now.”

 

Susan and Hutch got to their feet, heading out of the cafeteria.

 

“It seems that I´m always in a hurry. But I have an idea,” Susan said, producing a blue envelope from her purse and holding it out for Hutch. “This is an invitation for the private view of my exhibition. It will be tomorrow evening. At seven o’clock.”

 

“Oh, no. You’re very kind, but I can't-”

 

“You don’t have to accept right now, Ken. Just keep it in mind. Tomorrow at seven. The address is on the card.”

 

Much to Hutch´s surprise, Susan placed a feather-like soft kiss on his lips, before turning away to leave.

 

Susan was really a pretty and lovely girl, and it was obvious that she liked him. And he couldn’t say he’d been sorry to have met her in any other moment, but right now he couldn’t even think to start a relationship with a woman, so, without a second thought, he stashed the invitation into his pocket and headed for his car.

 

On the next day, Hutch had actually already forgotten the whole thing, until he heard steps echoing through the deserted ICU area during his daily visit. Checking his watch he saw that it was past midnight, and when he raised his head to look out of the room’s window, he saw Susan standing there, looking at him.

 

“Guess what, partner? It seems that we got a visitor. Excuse me a minute, okay? I´ll be back in a sec,” Hutch said to his unaware friend and left the room.

 

Hutch looked at Susan, and a wave of desire grew up in his heart. Dressed in a black and low cut velvet dress with no sleeves that wrapped her body in the right places, and with her blond hair framing her face, floating over her shoulders, the young woman looked simply wonderful.

 

“Susan… what a surprise! How did your party go?”

 

“Do you really want to know?!" the girl snapped coldly.

 

“Oh come on, Susan! You know perfectly well that I couldn’t go there.”

 

Susan sighed deeply before answering, “It’s okay, Ken, it’s okay. I understand. Sorry. It's just that I was looking forward to seeing you there.”

 

“And I wanted to go. Honest, Susan. But right now I can't think of my own wishes. I have to be with Starsky."

 

“To not felt guilty to be healthy maybe?”

 

“You don't understand, Susan-”

 

“You´re wrong, Ken. I understand perfectly. You are scared of going on with your life. Of getting a little of fun, pleasure or even love. Of getting any of the good things that life can offer to you and that David might have lost forever, thinking that it will turn you into some kind of traitor. But let me tell you something, spending all your time at Dave’s bedside won’t help him to get better but will only ruin your own life! See you, Ken. And don't forget, you aren’t the one who is in a coma.”

 

Susan slid a business card into Hutch´s shirt pocket, before walking out of the ICU area.

 

Already guessing what it was, Hutch took the card out of his pocket, reading Susan’s name and her address and phone number, as he stepped back into Starsky´s room. It was more than a clear invitation. An invitation too appealing to refuse.

 

Back in the room, Hutch´s thoughts were in a turmoil, as he kept talking to the unresponsive Starsky

 

“That girl is really something, Starsk. I´m sure you would like her.” Hutch stared silently at the business card in his hand.

 

“I wish I’d met her at another time. She seems to be a very special lady.”

 

Hutch spent all night long in his friend’s room, as he used to do, and he only returned home in the morning to get some sleep, take a shower and change his clothes.

 

In the afternoon, before returning to the hospital, unsure, actually, what he was doing, he drove by Susan’s place.

 

It was a small but nice looking apartment uptown. When Hutch rang the bell, a mixture of excitement and guilt was filling his heart.

 

Seeing Susan, Hutch stood speechless for a few seconds. Dressed in a silk blue kaftan  delicately embroidered in collar and sleeves, with her golden hair down over her shoulders and a floral perfume surrounding her body, she was looking beautifully, more that this; stunning.

 

“Hi Susan… Uhm, m-maybe I´m being inopportune…” Hutch stammered, as she already took his hand to drag him into the apartment closing the door behind him.

 

“Somebody who wants to enjoy life for a while is always welcomed in my house.”

 

Those were the only words they said. A moment later their bodies were entwined, as their mouths tasted the flavour of a passion so intense that it was overwhelming.

 

Hutch forgot his pain for a while, his despair and sorrow, and as some stormy clouds covered the city’s sky, he was only aware of the softness, the warmth and the vibrant life that came from that woman’s body under him, as his whole being, thirsty for a little happiness greedily drank each minute of passion up to the point of reaching an orgasm so intense that it almost made him to cry. 

 

“We’ll see each other again, won’t we?” asked Susan a while later, lightening a cigarette.

 

“Susan… I… Right now I can’t...”

 

“It’s okay, Ken. I understand. You don't need to apologize.”

 

“You´re a wonderful woman. And I would be happy getting to know you better, but…”

 

“Yes, Ken. I know. Your friend needs all your time. It's okay. Go to him. I’ll be always here if you want to come back.”

 

 

*******

 

Days grew up into weeks, and though Hutch felt a little guilty knowing that he had almost utilized Susan, he was unable to give her what he knew she wanted.

 

He needed and enjoyed the hours that they spent together in Susan’s apartment, and though he knew that his demeanour towards the girl was pretty unfair, and though she seemed really a lovely and understanding woman, he didn´t feel like he could start any kind of relationship in so bitter a time of his life.

 

Starsky was still plunged in his comatose sleep, and his only improvement was that his shoulder wound healed nicely, and the hospital staff managed to keep him from having complications like the always near danger of pneumonia. They also started physical therapy on him to prevent his muscles from being contracted, but despite all that, his chances of recovery grew smaller, as his body grew slimmer and weaker with every passing day, and some weeks after his arrival at the hospital almost nothing remained in that crumbled body of the healthy and strong man that he had been before.

 

Hutch and Rachel took turns to be with Starsky, and they also got unconditional help from the Dobey’s and Huggy.

 

When she wasn’t in the hospital, Rachel stayed in Starsky´s apartment, and like Hutch, she was doing her best to not lose hope, but it was getting harder every day.

 

In Hutch’s mind, dulled by despair and pain, the apparently long gone days that he and Starsky had spent working together, having fun, sharing happiness and sadness began to fade. In the present his days were divided just into stays at the hospital and brief stops at his apartment to get some rest and change his clothes. And nothing else mattered for him.

 

*******

 

“Come on, partner, wake up. You already slept way too long. Don't you think so?” Hutch kept talking to his unresponsive friend, without allowing himself to be carried away by discouragement, trying once and again to find some trace of what his friend used to be in the body lying in the bed.

 

“Listen, Starsk, I know that it won’t be easy, and that maybe I´m being selfish, but I need you to be here, with me. Whatever happens, we’ll face it together. And you’ll get through this. You’ll fight; as you always have. But first you must wake up. Please, Starsk. I miss you so much. Please.”

 

Finally, like in many other nights, feeling exhausted, discouraged and mad at fate and the whole world, Hutch fell asleep leaning over Starsky´s bed.

 

Yet, the next morning a slight noise startled Hutch awake. Starsky´s eyes were open, and a soft moan was escaping from his throat.

 

“Mmmm…uhmm…”

 

Hutch jumped to his feet, feeling his heart pounding wildly.

 

“Starsky? Starsk, partner… A-Are you awake? Can you hear me?”

 

More moans, and a tear was running down Starsky´s cheek.

 

“Take it easy, Starsk. Everything’s gonna be okay.  I´m going to call the doc. Don't be scared, partner. I’ll be right back here in a minute.”

 

Hutch rushed to the corridor, looking for Doctor Williams.

 

In the next moments, activity flooded Starsky´s room. Two doctors and a nurse got there, not allowing Hutch to get in, so he spent uncountable minutes pacing around the corridor and hoping that the end of the nightmare would come soon.

 

Finally Doctor Williams emerged from the room again, casting Hutch a disappointed look.

 

“He’s awake, Doc? Now everything will be okay, right?” Hutch asked, looking anxiously into Williams´ eyes.

 

“Please Detective, come with me. We need to talk.”

 

“What’s wrong, Doctor? Is Starsky alright?”

 

“Your friend is not conscious, Detective Hutchinson.”

 

“Doctor… He-he moaned. He opened his eyes. I SAW IT, DAMN IT! I DIDN’T IMAGINE IT!”

 

“Sure, Detective, and he did. But unfortunately that doesn’t mean that he regained consciousness. It only means that his coma state has descended into a vegetative state, also called coma vigil”

 

“But…What...?”

 

“I already told you about that possibility. When a coma state is lasting for too long, the next step in the patient’s condition is often a progression into a vegetative state that differs slightly from the coma. Patients in a vegetative state are unconscious and unaware, even though they have sleep-wake cycles, may be aroused by certain stimuli, may open their eyes if they have been closed, may change their facial expressions, or may even move their limbs.  Furthermore, they can grind their teeth, swallow, smile, shed tears, grunt, moan, or scream without any reason. Their heads and eyes can follow a moving object or move towards a loud sound. Thus, although these patients may exhibit behaviour that appears to be the result of consciousness, those behaviours are merely reflexive and don’t indicate awareness.”

 

“Are you saying that Starsky won’t... get better?”

 

“I´m so sorry, Detective. I´m afraid so.”

 

No other thing in the whole world could cause so much pain and despair to Hutch as the doctor’s words.  Starsky wasn’t getting better. He wasn’t conscious, but in a strange condition of wakefulness without awareness, hanging in a frightening place between lights and shadows.

 

Hutch sighed deeply, doing his best to keep a calm expression for Rachel’s sake. She would return to the hospital soon, and then he would have to fill her in on how Starsky´s condition had changed, and be by her side, supporting her like her youngest son wouldn’t.

 

Lost in his thoughts, Hutch entered Starsky´s room. Doctors and nurses had left a while ago, and the place was now again silent and in shadows. Lying limp on the bed, Starsky’s thin and pale form, with his eyes wide open, staring at nothing in particular, looked unreal and almost ghostly.

 

Hutch´s heart lurched at seeing him like this, but soon he got a grip on his emotions, as a new determination filled his whole being. They would hit the odds. Together. Once more. And not by sitting down complaining, but by fighting, hard, without rest. Without letting even one free inch of their hearts to surrender to despair.

 

Hutch sat down on Starsky´s bed, cupping his face with his hands, and looking into his empty and unresponsive eyes.

 

“Okay, partner. We got a lot of work to do. Doctors know a lot of things, but they don’t know us. They keep saying that you aren’t getting better, but just an hour earlier, you were unable to open your eyes, and now you are doing it, so it means something. That you are in there. At some hidden place, and that you want to come back. Okay. So, you’ll come back. I´ll help you, and we’ll do it. Maybe this will take us longer that we would have liked, but I’ll bring you back. Trust me, Starsk. Just trust me.”

 

Hutch got to his feet, striding towards the window to pull up the blind, letting the morning sun sweep away the shadows. He turned back to Starsky´s bed.

 

“No more darkness, Starsk. You love sunlight, and I´ll make sure you get as much of it as possible while you are here. And once you’ll be back at home, we’ll go to the beach, and you’ll get lots of sun there. No more silence. You love music, movies, ball games, and you will have all of those. Promise. And know something else? I had enough of that nonsense of just looking at you almost without touching you, as if you were made out of china. Now I wanna hold you more than any other thing, and that’s just what I´m about to do.”

 

Carefully, Hutch bended forward, pulling Starsky´s emaciated body close to him and holding him in a warm hug, spending a while simply embracing him, rubbing his back and whispering comforting words into his ear, as the brunet’s head rested limply against his chest.

 

Hutch was crying silently, while tears were falling down Starsky´s cheeks as well, soaking the blond man’s shirt. And nobody, not any doctor in the whole world might have been able to say for sure that those tears were just the result of a reflexive behaviour and not tears of the love and the fear that was locked somewhere, deeply buried in Starsky´s soul.

 

Minutes later and again extremely careful, Hutch settled Starsky back on the bed, fluffing out the pillow before laying his head back on it.

 

“I guess that this was getting a little soapy, partner. And we don't want any nurse or doctor to see two tough cops acting this way, right? Alright. I promise I won’t spend all day wetting that thick skull of yours with my tears. But you must admit that it felt kinda good, huh?”

 

Hutch kept speaking to Starsky, while he was wrapping him into the covers, when Rachel entered in the room, seeing the open eyes of Starsky within a split second.

 

 “Oh Hutch…His eyes…His eyes are open!” Rachel said very excitedly and ran to Starsky´s bedside.

 

Hutch stepped up to her and put his hands on her shoulders, noticing her shaking body.

 

He faced her, looking into her eyes. “Rachel… Rachel, listen to me.”

 

“What? He’s awake. My Davey woke up, right?” Rachel asked in puzzlement.

 

“Listen to me, Rachel. Unfortunately, Starsky is not conscious. Sure, his eyes are open, but it just means that he’s awake, not aware or conscious.”

 

“Wha-what…? I don't understand, Ken. His eyes are open. My kid is coming back. Isn’t this great?”  The woman mumbled nervously with her eyes filled with tears.

 

 “Rachel, listen to me. His doctor told me that his coma state has descended into a vegetative state. It’s called coma vigil. Do you know what that is?”

 

She shook her head, still looking at her son. Rachel couldn’t believe what Hutch was saying. Actually, she didn’t want to do it.

 

“Rachel, Starsk will have sleep-wake cycles, as the doctor called it, he will open his eyes, eventually he might even move his face or body. Williams said that his head and eyes will be able to follow a moving object or move towards a loud sound. But those are just reflexive movements. He’s still unaware of anything.”

 

“Reflexive movements," she repeated thoughtfully

.

“That´s what the doctors are saying. But I don’t believe it. At least not all of it. I’m sure that he is in there, listening, or at least in some way feeling that we are here."

 

“His eyes… are red. He cried.” Lovingly, she brushed Starsky´s cheek.

 

“Yeah. I was talking to him; hugging him. And I’m sure that he noticed it. Maybe those tears were the only way he had to show his feelings.”

 

“Oh God, Davey is suffering! I know it! I can feel it! I need my Davey back. I need him, Ken!”

 

Rachel, becoming mortally pale burst into tears,  Hutch held her gently in his arms and guided her over into a chair, as the old lady began to have obvious troubles breathing.

 

“Rachel? Rachel, take it easy. Are you feeling alright?”

 

But Rachel didn´t answer. She just sat in the chair with her hands over her chest, gasping painfully for air.

 

“God, Rachel! Don’t be scared, I´ll call a doctor. Try to breathe, Rachel, try to breathe!” 

 

Hutch ran to the nurses´ station. In a matter of seconds, a doctor came into the room, as Rachel was about to pass out. Without losing a second, he hurried into the corridor, asking for a gurney, on which two orderlies quickly wheeled Rachel to an ER cubicle. 

 

Hutch ran to Starsky´s side, holding his hand before turning to follow the gurney. “I’ll be right back in a moment, Starsk. I wanna be sure that your mom is alright. Don’t worry. I´ll be back here in no time.”

 

Once in an examination room and after having checked her blood pressure, breathing and heart rate, the doctor went to the corridor to talk to Hutch, as another doctor and a nurse were working on Starsky´s mother.

 

“What happened to her?” Hutch asked, terrified.

 

“I’m not sure, but she has a dangerously high blood pressure, tachycardia and serious breathing trouble. Did she have heart troubles or something like that before?”

 

“Not…not for all that I know. She is a strong and healthy woman.”

 

“Listen, Detective, we don't know for sure yet what has happened, but that lady shows all the symptoms of heart trouble. We’ll run more tests on her, and as soon as we know what’s going on, I’ll tell you. Meanwhile, you can go back to your friend’s room.” With those words, the doctor headed back to the ER area.

 

There, the doctors worked for a long while. Finally the young doctor, who had been talking to Hutch before, entered Starsky´s room.

 

“Detective, are you sure you didn´t know anything about Mrs. Starsky having a heart disease? “

 

“Heart disease? What are you talking about?” Hutch asked, astonished.

 

“The test results showed that she suffered a heart attack recently. She has a considerable amount of cardiac tissue damage. She suffers from arrhythmias and, besides that, a while ago she suffered a pretty serious hypertension fit. If she hadn’t been here, she might have died.”

 

“I’m sorry. I-I don’t understand.”

 

“Mrs. Starsky is suffering heart troubles, and I can assure you that it has been going on for months now. Under her present circumstances, actually, she shouldn’t even have been here, seeing her son in his current condition.”

 

“But...I didn´t knew anything about…A-and her son, I-I mean Starsky didn´t, either. He never told me about that. He called her every Friday and…”

 

Suddenly, Hutch remembered that roughly two months ago, Starsky had told him that he hadn’t been able to reach his mother for a few weeks. Whenever the phone had been answered, it always been Nick, and he had told him that Rachel had been busy doing some charity work in her Synagogue.

 

“I need to make a call to check on this. Mrs. Starsky has another son, who lives with her. He must known what’s going on here. Excuse me.”

 

Hutch strode to the phone and dialled Rachel Starsky’s number. After some rings, Nick answered with a bored “Hello?”

 

“Nick, it’s Hutch. I need your help.”

 

“My help? Did Davey get worse?”

 

“It's not Starsky but your mother. Look, Nick…I just need to know if your mother has been suffering any kind of heart problems lately,” Hutch asked impatiently.

 

“Oh, of course. That’s what I tried to tell to you, when I was at the hospital, but you were too worried about Davey even to listen to me. Did anything happen to her?”

 

“What kind of heart problem did she have, Nick? Is she being treated for it?”

 

“Damn it, Hutch! Don't answer me with another question. Is my mother all right?”

 

“She will be, Nick, though a while ago she scared me a little. She had some kind of breakdown or something like that. And the doctor who treated her in ER says that her heart shows symptoms of a recent damage."

 

“She suffered a heart attack, Hutch. Three months ago. And, yes, she is still being treated. She asked me to hide it from Davey. She didn’t want to worry him. When she was in the hospital, I had to lie to him, tell him that she was in the Synagogue. The doctors told me to keep her away from anything that might excite or worry her, which, by the way, is everything that Davey is doing for her!"

 

“Stop that, Nick! You make it sound like Starsky went into his coma state on purpose! Your brother doesn’t even know that we are here! If you aren’t willing to help us, please, at least don’t cause us more trouble,” Hutch said, trying hard to get some control on his anger.

 

“Sorry, Hutch. It’s just... I´m pretty nervous with all that´s happening, I guess.” After a brief pause, Nick asked, “So how’s my mom doing now? Does she need me there?”

 

“No, Nick, don't worry. She’s in good hands. The doctors are taking care of her.”

 

“SHIT!  I told her to return to New York with me! As you said, Davey don’t even knows that you both are there, so why did my mother have to be by his side night and day to the point of exhausting herself? She shouldn’t even be there! She could die too!”

 

“Take it easy, Nick. No one will die here. I will take care of your mother. She will do exactly what doctors will say. If going back to New York is the best for her, I will personally escort her to the airport."

 

“Okay. I’m sorry, Hutch. Try to persuade her to come back, please. I´ll look after her here. And you must take care of my brother. Like always you have. You know how to do it much better than I do, I guess. You are the perfect duo, you know. See you, Hutch.” With those words, Nick hung up.

 

That fucking moron is still jealous of me! Hutch thought. Sighing heavily, he hurried back to the ER to repeat to the doctors what Nick had just told him. Again, the doctor told him that under the current circumstances he should do all in his power to get Rachel coming back to New York, since seeing her son in a vegetative state would be too painful for her, as it would be for any mother. And what with her heart condition, it could turn out to be pretty risky too.

 

As soon as Rachel got a little better, she was moved to a regular room to get some rest. Hutch knew that trying to convince her of taking care of her health, best returning to New York, would be very difficult.

 

Rachel was resting with her eyes closed, but as soon as Hutch entered the room, she looked at him and smiled warmly.

 

“Hey, Rachel. How are you doing?” Hutch held her hand.

 

“Hi sweetheart. Sorry for scaring you. But I’m fine now. Those things are happening to old ladies like me sometimes.”

 

“Rachel, we need to talk. The doctor told me that you have pretty serious heart troubles. I don’t know why you thought you had to keep it hide from Starsky, but I phoned Nick, and he told me everything about it.”

 

“Damn that kid! I asked him to keep his big mouth shut. You are already too worried and-”

 

Hutch cut off Rachel’s words. “Rachel, what you have is a serious health trouble. You could have died back there. Seeing Starsky this way, spending day after day here, in this hospital room, looking after Starsky; helping the nurses... you shouldn’t do all of that. Rachel, damn it, you must not get yourself exhausted. You need to get rest and take care of yourself.”

 

“I can't think of myself right now, Ken. My son needs me! That’s why I’m here. I’m his mother. Where else can I be?”

 

“You´re right, Rachel. Starsky needs you. Alive! Or do you think that it would help him at all, if some day he’s waking up, and you are nor by his side neither in New York, but six feet under?!  Think, Rachel. Think what that would mean for Starsky!” Hutch spoke, staring into the woman’s eyes, as she kept listening silently.

 

“No more nonsense, Rachel. From now on, you’ll do the right thing. When Starsky wakes up, and we both know he will, he will ask about you, then I want to be able to tell him that you are alright. In New York.” Hutch just waited for the outburst sure to follow.

 

“What? New York? Are you out of your mind, Ken? My son is in a coma or vegetative state or whatever the doctors call it, and I shall leave him to go back to New York, pretending that nothing of this is happening?”

 

“I ´m not saying that, Rachel. You will go back to New York to get better. Healthy and strong enough to welcome your son when he’s coming back to us. You will be at home, and I will call you every day. That’s what Starsky would want, and you know it!”

 

“But you can’t take care of everything, dear, you-”

 

“I’ll manage, Rachel. Huggy and the Dobey’s will help me. You can bet. But I´ll be unable to forgive myself if you stay here and something happens to you. And taking care of Starsky will not leave me enough time for taking care of anyone else. Please, Rachel. Be reasonable. The doctors will never let you take care of Starsky. They want you back in New York as soon as possible.”

 

“Oh doctors! What doctor on earth knows about mothers and sons?! I can’t leave my Davey. Not now,” Rachel said, crying softly.

 

“I promise I will take care of him. I will put aside anything in my life if I have to.”

 

“But, Hutch, you can’t do that. You have a life to live, and you mustn’t stop doing it. My Davey wouldn't want that for you. This girl, who is here sometimes. She seems really nice, and she likes you. You should give her a chance. You need to have someone to talk to and share some normal moments with. Besides, Hutch, you know that my son’s recovery could be pretty hard, and expensive. He will need therapy, treatments, and medicines."

 

“I will take care of all of that. I have money. Savings. I’d pay more than money for Starsky to be... our Starsky again."

 

“But it’s your money, Hutch," she said, caressing his cheek.

 

“No, Rachel. No just my money but our money. After all those years to me Starsky is like the brother I never had. He saved my life more times than I can recall. He’s all that I have. And I owe everything I am to him.” Hutch smiled sadly.

 

Rachel hugged him, overwhelmed by emotions. “You are my son too, Ken, you know that. Since the first day I met you. I knew that you were special and that my son would be protected and loved forever. I was a cop’s wife. I know how important it is to get the right partner. But you’re much more than this for Davey. And I keep thanking God every day for bringing you to my son’s life.”

 

“I am the one who’s thankful for having Starsk as my best friend, Rachel. Okay. Now, no more chat,” Hutch said, feeling a little embarrassed. “Get some rest and promise me that you’ll go back to New York.”

 

“Who could deny anything to such a handsome boy with baby blue eyes like yours?” Rachel answered, already falling asleep.

 

She stayed for six more days, and Hutch and the hospital personnel had a hard time keeping her away from Starsky´s room most of the time.

 

Finally, she was discharged, and though her heart was aching at the prospect of leaving her son, Rachel accepted the doctor’s advice about that returning to New York would be the best for her. The entire situation was extremely stressful, and finally, the stubborn woman had agreed. Yet she didn´t leave without assuring that she would come back, as soon as her cardiologist in New York would allow her to do so.

 

The day of her departure, she stopped at Starsky´s room to say him goodbye before going to the airport. She stepped into her son’s room, feeling a huge lump in her throat, sat down on the edge of his bed and brushed a gentle hand over his lax features.

 

“I must leave, son. I can't help it. I keep feeling that, in some way, I´m abandoning you,” Rachel said tearfully. “I´m sorry, baby. I´m so sorry... I wanted to be here, when you wake up or... or if you finally are... going to your father." A violent sob racked her shoulders, and she dropped her face in her hands, unable to continue speaking.

 

Hutch, who’d watched from a respectful distance, approached her, his own eyes shining suspiciously, and placed a comforting hand in her shoulder.

 

“It's okay, Rachel. Starsk would understand.”

 

Rachel cast him a brief look that seemed shallow somehow, as if she wasn´t really seeing him. “I-I must go now, son," she repeated, turning back to Starsky. "It’s they keep telling me that that´s the best thing I can do right now. But don't forget that mom loves you, honey. And that you are always here, in my heart.”

 

“Come on, Rachel," Hutch said softly. "We must go, or you’ll miss your plane.”

 

“Okay, Hutch. Give me a second,” Rachel said bending closer to whisper into her son’s ear. “I love you, honey. You´re the best thing that happened in all my life, and I need you to get better. Hutch will take good care of you, as he always does, and I´ll come back soon. Promise.”

 

At last she placed a tender kiss on Starsky´s forehead, then stood and turned to Hutch, who gently did lay one arm around her shoulders, squeezing softly, when he saw silent tears dropping to her cheeks.

 

"It’s okay," he soothed, and without looking back, they left.

 

 

*******

 

More weeks passed by, and Starsky kept in vegetative state. Hutch spent most of the time by his side, as usual,  though Edith Dobey, Huggy and even the Captain himself helped him to keep his determination to leaving Starsky alone as little as possible.

 

On the other hand, Susan dropped by at the ICU area pretty often, and though Hutch was only concentrated on being with Starsky most of the day, she didn’t give up her attempts to talk him into a date.

 

“Come on, Ken. You should try to get some fun. This place is so sad. And your friend looks so sick.” She had never been in Starsky´s room, but she could see him across the large windows of the ICU area.

 

“My friend IS very sick, Susan. I thought you had understood that.” The anger was clearly evident in Hutch’s voice.

 

“Sorry, Ken. Don't be mad at me, please, it’s just that sickness and death scares me so much. This place is frightening. And you need to get out of here for a while. I´m just worried about you, Ken. I care about you."

 

“It's okay, Susan. I´m sorry,” Hutch said tiredly. “I didn´t want to upset you. It's just that I´m pretty nervous. I would want to see you more often too, but now is not the right time. Try to understand. But when Starsky will get better, I’ll take you out to dinner. Promise.”

 

“You aren’t kidding, right?” Susan asked, looking at Hutch like an excited kid.

 

“No, of course not. I’ll take you to the best restaurant in the whole city and maybe we can even go dancing for a while... if you want," he added, flashing her an exhausted, yet nonetheless charming grin.

 

“Oh! I would love that. Thanks, Ken.” The girl softly kissed Hutch´s lips, then turned to hurry down the corridor, leaving Hutch wondering, for a moment, if it had been the right thing to promise Susan a night of fun, when the reality was that that prospect didn´t look very appealing to him those days.

 

*******

 

During the long hours of sitting with Starsky, Hutch would read books, newspapers and magazines to him, or played to him on his guitar, singing too every now and then. He had even bought along a radio and a little portable TV set, and he had set a framed picture of his partner’s beloved Torino in the wall. He did everything he could to make sure that Starsky was surrounded by as many pleasant stimulus as possible.

 

Feeling that he needed to do something useful besides spending all day in the hospital, Hutch talked with all the doctors and therapists about all the cares that Starsky would need during his recovery at home, though at times his determination was crumbling, especially when he heard the unfavourable predictions of the medical staff that treated Starsky.

 

“Listen, Detective," said a very concerned Doctor Williams. “What you’re doing is very laudable, but you must face the facts here. Detective Starsky has been in vegetative state for almost two months now. And our opinion is that a recovery is highly improbable. The truth is that he could live in this condition for years. And at this point, some patients…" The effort it took him to finish his sentence was clearly evident in his tone, and even years of experience didn´t seem to have trained him well enough for being able to meet Hutch´s eyes, when he continued, "Maybe you should consider measures that might seem drastic to you at the mo-"

 

“No!” Hutch cut him off, irritated. “Starsky wouldn’t want that! And neither his mother nor me, none of us are going to even think about that possibility! Starsky´s going to wake up and nobody will take that chance away from him! I made myself clear?”

 

Doctor Williams’s insinuation about turning off the life support machines that kept Starsky alive, had the same effect of a cold wind going through Hutch´s very core, and his body began to shake, as he looked for a chair to plunge into.

 

“I´m sorry, Detective. I didn´t mean to upset you. But I feel it my duty to inform you about the facts we’re facing, and those facts are that Detective Starsky´s chances of recovery are almost zero at this point. Most likely he’s not going to wake up. He will not be able to leave the hospital.” The doctor was about to add alive, but the heartbreaking pain reflected in Hutch´s eyes prevented him from doing so. “This hospital or another one for all that matter. So, since this is not the right place for long term patients, the hospital management is beginning to make all the needed steps to transfer him to a long-term care hospital. As soon as they have a free bed, he could be transferred to High Hills Long-term Care Center. It's a good place. And your friend would be well cared there.”

 

*******

 

Hutch kept listening to all those people telling him that all his efforts were useless, that a normal hospital was not the right place for Starsky any longer, that he wouldn't make it. However, he kept hanging on firmly to his hope, as Starsky kept hanging on to his life.

 

As a new addition to his determination, that was total and exclusive, he started his own research on the topic. Along those searches he found some books about something called sensory stimulations for coma patients that immediately attracted his attention

 

Sensory stimulation is intended to promote awakening and enhance the rehabilitative potential of coma patients. Protocols may involve stimulation of any or all of the following senses: visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, cutaneous, and kinesthetic. Various stimuli may be used for each sense.

 

Hutch kept reading for a long while, realizing that even though he hadn’t been aware of it, that had been precisely what he’d been doing with Starsky before.

 

Feeling that he still had a lot of work to do, he drove to the hospital again, with a renewed hope warming up his heart.

 

When he arrived there, a sulky looking Dobey awaited him in the waiting room.

 

“Hi Cap’n. What´s the matter? Is Starsky okay?” Hutch asked anxiously.

 

“Take it easy, Hutch. It's not about Starsky. Look, son. We need to talk.”

 

“Talk? Talk about what?” Searching his Captain’s eyes, Hutch couldn’t shake the feeling that whatever it was, he wasn´t going to like it.

 

“I know that there’s not an easy way to say it, and that I told you that you could take as much time as needed, but this is taking too long, Hutch. You’ve heard the doctors. Starsky has been unconscious for almost two months. His odds to recover after so much time are-”

 

“He’ll wake up, Cap’n!” Hutch snapped, aiming his finger at his superior officer.

 

Dobey thought carefully before choosing his next words. “Maybe he will, but maybe not. You must face the facts, Hutch. You need to go back to your life. Listen, I hate saying this to you, but I can’t guarantee your job much longer, if you´re not going to return to work soon. You know I would do it, if I could, but my hands are bound here. The commissioner is pushing me.”

 

“I can’t, Cap’n. Now not. Starsk needs me.”

 

"Hutch, I know how you’re feeling. Believe me. I never thought that something as awful as this could happen, but the truth is that it did happen. And let me tell you something, Hutch, if Starsky wakes up, his condition will not be good. He’ll have to go a long way to get back to where he was, and no one can say how long that will take, or what the results will be. You’ll want to take care of him. We all know that. But it won’t be easy; he’s going to need treatment, medication, and professional care. Physical therapy. That’s all very expensive. Besides, don't forget the hospital bill. You’ll need money. You CAN’T lose your job right now.”

 

Hutch knew that Dobey was right. If Starsky was going to wake up, he would want to stay by his side each step of the way. But all the care that he would need would soon be unavailable to the ill man’s decreasing saving.

 

“Hutch, son. Have you ever thought about going for the lieutenant exam?”

 

“No, Cap’n. No way. That would mean-”

 

“Yes. I know. It would mean that you would leave the streets,” Dobey broke into Hutch’s words. “But as a lieutenant you’d have more regular schedules, a safer life, and better salary as well. Think about it, son." He made a short pause, before adding, in a tone as sad as Hutch had ever heard him use. "You know that Starsky won’t go back to the streets, Hutch."

Hutch instantly bowed his head, he just couldn’t meet Dobey´s gaze. "I´ll think about it, Cap" he said in a broken, low voice.

 

*******

 

A while later, when Hutch was spending the night in Starsky´s room as usual, Dobey’s words still resounded in his mind.

 

“Know something, Starsk? Dobey asked me if I maybe want to try for the lieutenant exam. And I guess that he’s right after all. There’s is a good chance to get more money as lieutenant. And more free time. And you can bet we’ll need a lot of both, once you’ll be out of here, partner.”

 

Grabbed by irrational fear, Hutch just couldn’t bring himself to state aloud that his decision would mean the end of their days of working together in the streets.

 

PART II

 

The hope was vanishing. Slowly but irremediably. Even Hutch began to think that the doctors were right, and Starsky wouldn’t come back.

 

Suddenly though, on a day that seemed to be like others, a light began to shine at the end of the long and dark tunnel that Starsky´s and Hutch’s lives had fallen into.

 

Joe Jr., JJ as all the hospital personnel called him, was a huge and warm man, who had been of great help for Hutch and Rachel from the start, and who took good care of Starsky. His obvious abilities, professionalism and his humanity to deal with patients, relatives and friends as well, made him a much appreciated man.

 

Over the last weeks Joe had often talked with Hutch about his firm faith in the power of love as the best way to bring back people from coma or vegetative states. 

 

That morning, as every day, JJ was doing his job, moving the prone patient to prevent contractures. Hutch was also there, paying attention in order to learn the right way to do it if needed, when Starsky opened his eyes again, as he had been doing in the last weeks, but this time he tried to focus on JJs face, and Hutch noticed it.

 

“JJ… Lo-look at him!” Hutch said in a faltering voice, approaching Starsky´s bed.

 

“What?” JJ answered.

 

“He… He’s tracking you… with his eyes! Starsk… Starsky? Can you blink your eyes for me, buddy?”

 

Starsky looked straight at Hutch, blinking his eyes. Immediately, JJ pressed the buzzer. Suddenly, both men looked speechless at the little miracle that was happening in front of their eyes.

 

“He’s waking up. Right?” Hutch couldn’t believe his own words.

 

“I think so, man. I think so. Dave, could you look at me?” JJ asked, and this time, Starsky looked at him. Then, a nurse entered the room.

 

“Sally, call Doctor Williams. David is coming back to us!” JJ tried to talk calmly and low, despite his own emotions.

 

“Starsky…” Hutch couldn’t help himself. With his eyes tarnished by tears, he bent over to carefully grab his friend’s hand. Starsky moved his head slightly, looking a little frightened to Hutch, but when he saw his partner, his eyes shone with recognition.

 

Doctor Williams rushed into the room, giving concise commands to the nurses and asked Hutch to leave.

 

The Detective obeyed and left to spend what seemed to be the longest while of his life pacing around the hospital corridor, until finally the doctor emerged from Starsky´s room, walking towards him and asking him to follow him to his office.

 

“What seemed impossible happened, Mr. Hutchinson,” Williams said once he had sat down behind his desk “David is awake. He’s not out of the woods, yet, but he’s awake. His chances were perhaps one in a million, but he did it. We’re running all the possible tests on him right now, and we think we already have a pretty accurate idea of his current condition." The doctor stopped, waiting to see if the detective understood him. As Hutch nodded his head, he continued.

 

“He woke up. That is the most important thing. But, as I have said before, due to the long time that he spent in vegetative state, his motor skills are pretty decreased. Right now he can only move his head, and slightly. Fortunately his vision doesn’t seem to have been affected. He follows the movements around him. Usually that is the very first thing a person, who has just woken up from a PVS, does. He can also hear, he responds to his name, and we can say that all that means that the cognitive areas of his brain aren’t damaged. Unfortunately he’s unable to move his body or speak. Though, he can move a little his fingers at the left hand."

 

Listening, Hutch grew pale as a ghost. He swallowed dryly.

 

“Right now I can’t tell you how long his recovery will take, or what level it will reach. Look, Detective Hutchinson. I know that this may seem like too much to take to you, but there’s no other way to tell you this. You will be responsible for Mr. Starsky, so I must to tell you everything you’ll need to know. I also know that patients´ relatives or friends are always hoping for some kind of miracle, but you need to realize that yours has already happened: despite all the odds against, he’s awake. Even if his improvement is not going much further, this fact alone is a miracle." The doctor made a short pause to emphasize his last statement, then added, "I tried to tell him why he can’t move and what has happened to him."

 

"And did he understand you?" Hutch asked.

 

“Yes. Though it seems as he can’t remember the events that caused his condition."

 

Hutch kept staring at the doctor, taking in each one of his words.

 

“Okay, Detective, over the next days, we will run more tests on him, but right now he needs to get as much rest as possible. Go to him, but, please, try not to upset him. It might be a good idea, also, to tell him about how much his friends and family loves him and how happy they’ll all be about his waking up. That will help him. From now on, and if everything goes as we’re hoping, Detective Starsky will need all the possible motivations to help him fight hard. And, believe me Detective, it will not be easy at all. And he will probably lose most of the battles. For a man like him, young, full of energy, a police officer to face this new reality, a life in a bed or in a wheelchair, dependant on others to help him eat, take a bath, get dressed, use the bathroom or even move in bed is going to be pretty hard.” 

 

Doctor Williams stood. Hutch followed him.

 

“Talk to him in a low voice. Don’t make loud sounds that could startle him. Remember; he has been sleeping for a long while. He needs calmness. He needs to be surrounded by his belongings and the people he loves.  That will give him emotional balance. He will start physical therapy, and we will pay special attention to his speech. If there’s any chance to get it back, we will work on it. It will give him a little more independence, and he will feel more confident. Any questions?”

 

“Not yet.”

 

“Okay. I´ll be here if you or David needs me.”

 

“Thanks, Doctor. If you don’t mind, I want to be with him now,” Hutch said, still looking astonished, and left the doctor’s office.

 

When Hutch came back to the room, Starsky was staring at the Torinos picture and at the guitar that stood leaning against a chair at in a corner of the room.

 

Hutch sat down on his bedside, seeing the anguish, fear and despair showing in Starsky´s eyes.

 

“Hey Starsk. I’m here, partner.” Hutch held his hand, noticing that Starsky was trembling.  Soothingly, he brushed the back of his fingers over Starsky´s cheek, earning a shy glance.

 

“I’m here, partner. You don’t need to be afraid. Nothing will hurt you. I know that you are scared. Now listen to me, Starsk, Doctor Williams already told you that you’re in a hospital, because you were in a coma. But you woke up, and everything’s going to be fine. Don’t be scared, okay?”

 

Starsky nodded almost imperceptibly.

 

“Alright, buddy. And now, how about some sleep, huh? Meanwhile, I´ll call your mom. You know, she and Nick were here with you, but they’re back in New York. You can bet nothing will keep them there when they’ve heard you woke up."

 

Wisely, Hutch decided against informing his friend about his mother’s condition.

 

“I will call to give her the good news. She will be very happy.”

 

Starsky nodded again, before closing his eyes, already falling asleep again. Hutch spent a long while watching over his partner’s sleep, fighting irrational fear rising within him that he might not wake up again, but at last he draw in a deep, calming breath and stepped out on the corridor, heading for the phone.

 

Nervous, he dialed the number, trying to think of the right way to break the good news to the woman.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Rachel, it’s Hutch.”

 

“Ken, son. Is something wrong? How is Davey doing?”

 

Okay boy, let’s see how you´re doing this, Hutch thought. “Err…Listen, Rachel...Davey…Starsky is awake, Rachel.”

 

“Oh! Thanks God!” After that, just a soft weeping filled the silence on the other end of the phone line.

 

“Rachel? Rachel, are you okay?”

 

Seemingly not having heard him, she continued, “Whe-when, Hutch? When did he wake up? How is he doing? Oh God. My baby!” The poor lady bursted again into tears, unable to get her emotions under control.

 

After having managed to calm her a bit, Hutch answered all her questions, and once she had assured him that nobody could prevent her from returning to Bay City soon, Hutch hung up with a relieved breath.

 

Oh God! How much I need a break!

 

Tired beyond words, Hutch headed back to Starsky´s room

 

*******

 

The tests that were run on Starsky the next day proved Dr. William’s diagnosis to be right, Starsky hadn’t lost neither his vision nor hearing, and also, the doctors assumed that his speech would return too eventually. The main problem though, was his motor skills. The medical staff weren’t too optimistic about that.

 

The same day, in the afternoon, Rachel returned. The long longed for moment had come, and she knew that though her beloved son couldn’t talk to her, she had the chance to tell him how much she loved him. One chance that she had thought lost for ever. At the moment, that was enough for her.

 

Hutch picked her up at the airport and wasn´t even allowed to stop at Starsky´s apartment to leave her suitcase, but took her directly to the hospital.

 

No reunion could have been happier and more heart-warming to watch than the one between mother and son. Yet, Rachel needed all her strength to not break down again, as she saw her David’s drained and pale face and noticed how thin he had become. She had to hold back a choking sob at the stifled sounds of his futile attempts at speaking.

 

“Shhht, it’s okay, Davey, it’s okay. I know that you’d want to talk to me, but there’s plenty of time to do that, baby. Mom is here, and from now on, everything’s going to get better.”

 

“M-aaa.” It was just a raspy whisper, but for Rachel it sounded like the most wonderful sound in the world.

 

“Yes, honey, mom is here. But you don’t have to push yourself too hard, okay? You have to take it slowly, and when you’ll feel stronger, I´ll be here to hear all that you want to tell me.”

 

“It’s okay, Starsk. Your mom is right, you have to take it slowly,” Hutch said in a soothing tone, trying to ease his friend’s distress.

 

Rachel, still under medical treatment, could not stay with Starsky as much as she would have liked. No one wanted to put her recovery at risk, and her older son’s condition was still too upsetting for the old lady’s fragile heart. So five days later, she traveled back to New York. Before, though, she had managed to explain, with Hutch´s help, to Starsky the reason why she couldn’t stay.

 

“Listen, son, I have to go back to New York. I don’t want to worry you, but some months ago, my old heart gave me a little trouble, so now Doctor Clayton is pushing me to come back home and get some rest.”

 

Starsky´s eyes asked all that he was unable to put into words. Rachel and Hutch could read all the questions, all the worry reflected in those blue mirrors of his soul.

 

“I´ll be okay, son. No need for you to be worried,” Rachel added, gently rubbing Starsky´s arm. “But I have to go back home for awhile. I won’t be of any help for you like this, anyway, and, besides, we can’t let the poor Hutch spend his whole time looking after all the Starskys, don’t you think so, honey?” she joked in an attempt to ease a little of Starskys concern. “I’m leaving in a couple of days. But I´ll call you, Davey, and of course I´ll come back here as soon as that dumb Doctor Clayton allows me to.”

 

Two days later, she left. Reluctant and concerned, but still she knew she had to do it. Of course she didn´t leave without a strict order to keep her updated by daily phone calls, that Hutch accepted willingly.

 

*******

 

Time seemed to melt as one day faded into the next one. Al least that was what Hutch was feeling, as a new day started among the hospital walls.

 

By then, faced by Starsky´s insistence to know the truth, Doctor Williams had finally told him about his chances of a full recovery. And the truth couldn’t be more discouraging, despite the fact that Starsky was intelligent enough to guess it.

 

As carefully as possible the doctor told him that most likely a patient in his condition wouldn’t reach a full recovery, though some level of improvement was possible and he had to work hard to get it. However, the clear meaning of Williams’s words was that he would never be able to return to his work on the streets. That was a true setback and over the following days, Starsky gave up his efforts to get better.

 

With the hope of that it would be helpful to cheer up his patient, Doctor Williams allowed Starsky to have more visitors besides his mother and Hutch. Dobey was the first one to go there, but when Hutch told Starsky that his captain was in the corridor, waiting to see him, his partner started to shake, his eyes widening in fright.

 

“Hey, hey, it’s only our captain, Starsk. He misses you. He wants to see you and just say hello,” Hutch tried to ease the distress that he was seeing in his friend’s eyes.

 

But Starsky just shook stubbornly his head.

 

Hutch’s voice softened even more. “You don’t want to see him, right? But I’m sure that you are missing him too. That you are thinking of his family; Rosie, Cal and Edith. Right?” He waited for a nod. When it came, he continued, “Okay. I’ll tell you what I´m going to do. I will go out there and tell him that you are resting now, but that you are sending him and his family all your love and that you are missing them too.”

 

Starsky nodded again. Hutch left the room to meet Dobey, who was pacing in the waiting area.

 

“Hi Cap’n. Starsky is sleeping right now. But earlier I told him that you would be here today, and he was very glad. I’m sure that he misses you too.”

 

Dobey looked suspicious at his detective. “He doesn’t want to see me, does he?”

 

Hutch looked a little embarrassed. “Not just you, but anybody. He needs time, I guess.”

 

“It’s okay, Hutchinson. I understand. Believe me. I do. Dave is too proud to let anybody but you seeing him like this."

 

Hutch just nodded resignedly. He was doing his best to manage the situation, but to deal with a very sensitive and vulnerable Starsky had never been an easy task.

 

“I brought some drawings that Rosie made for him. Edith fixed this strawberry jelly. It’s his favorite, though I don’t know if he can eat it. This is a big card from Minnie and all the guys at the precinct. There are a lot of fellows cop’s signatures. Best wishes messages, you know.”

 

“I´ll give it to him. Thanks, Cap’n.”

 

 Dobey smiled paternally, placing a hand on Hutch´s shoulder. “Take good care of him and of you too. You are looking pretty tired. I know how hard all this is for you, son. If you need our help, just ask. Anytime, Hutch.”

 

“Thanks, Cap’n.” Hutch thanked again.

 

After Dobey had left, Hutch headed back to the room, casting his anxious looking friend a soothing smile.

 

“It’s okay, partner. Dobey understands. He sends you his best wishes. And he brought some presents for you too.” Hutch opened the card reading all the messages from the colleagues at the precinct. He showed him Rosie’s drawings that he suggested to pin at the wall later on, earning a happy nod for that, and when he lifted the jelly for Starsky to see, he couldn’t help grinning slightly at the change in his friend’s gaze.

 

“See how much your friends are missing you Starsk? I’m not the only one, who cares about you. A lot of people out there love you. And they want to let you know how much important you’re to them.”

 

With a smile, he turned to let his friend think about his words and sat down in his chair to read a book.

 

*******

 

Starsky seemed to like or, at least, to accept JJ’s ministrations better if Hutch was with him.  Over the first days after waking up, his eyes were a picture of desolation all times that JJ was shaving him or cleaning him up. So soon Hutch decided to do the tasks by himself.

 

Hutch spent the next days brooding. He couldn’t stop thinking about Dobey’s suggestion of taking the lieutenant exam. He knew that it was a good advice. But that wasn’t making it easier. Hutch knew that this would mean the end of his partnership with Starsky. The end of the best thing that had happened to him in his whole life. Hutch knew that he had to talk with Starsky about his decision and his reasons to do it. But he was unable to find the right way to do it.

 

“Starsk… There’s something... important I-I need to tell you.  A very hard decision that I had to make. You know, ever since this..." He hesitated, bit his lip, then continued, "This... started, I keep thinking about, well, our future, actually…You’ve heard the doctor, pal. We’re all sure you’ll recover a lot, but... But the truth is that no one knows just how much, Starsky. And, besides, it’s going to take a while." Hutch stopped briefly, trying to find the right words, and though he knew them, they just didn´t want to go past his lips. He sighed deeply.

 

"Believe me, buddy, this is the hardest decision I ever had to make, honest. But..." Again, he stopped. His gaze had long ago dropped. "I talked to Dobey, and he gave me an advice that...” When he was finally able to say it, his words was rushed, nervousness speeding them. "I´m going to take the exam for lieutenant, Starsky.”

 

Silence hang heavily in the room.

 

Starsky shut his eyes, trying to hold back his tears, but in the end he couldn’t help casting his partner the saddest look Hutch thought he’d seen in his whole life.

 

“I know how hard this is for you, buddy. It’s no easier for me, but... I thought this through, I really have, and I don’t think there’s another way. As lieutenant I will get better salary, and we both know that´s an important factor. Your medical insurance isn’t enough to cover everything, and your treatment will be long and expensive. I know that you can’t afford it by yourself… And I want… I need help you. I have been thinking that when we’ll leave the hospital we will need to live in a house without stairs. You know? We can rent a house at the beach. A place where you can have the beach in front of you all day. And I´ll be with you until you’ll be able to live on your own again. We both knew that some day we would have to move on, Starsk. Sooner or later we would get too old to be on the streets any longer and to take the lieutenant exam would have been my next step, anyway. The time has come. You know I-I would always prefer to have you as my partner forever, but if.... if that can’t be than at least I want to be able to make it worth for something. Like helping you until you’re better. As a lieutenant, I´ll have more regular schedules and... I guess it’s a safer job, too." Hutch spoke with a lump in his throat, squeezing silently Starsky´s shoulder. It was settled. They had to face the truth.

 

They just looked at each other for a while, both recalling the good old days of their partnership, that from now would be just a part of their past. Hutch’s heart was aching. How much he wanted that this inevitable rite of passage would have happened in different circumstances. In the way they always thought it would be.

 

*******

 

Over the next days, Hutch prepared himself for taking the exam, and when the day came, he passed successfully.

 

As soon as he knew the results, and facing them with bittersweet feelings, Dobey called Hutch at the hospital to tell him that he had made it. It was Lieutenant Kenneth Hutchinson now.

 

After hanging up the receiver, and without a word, Hutch could read in Starsky´s eyes that he knew. He knew that the time had come. The time of changes.

 

*******

 

Starsky, sharing the same sense of loss that Hutch felt, found himself sliding into a subdued, depressed mood over the following days, though he tried hard to fool his best friend, paying attention to everything he’d say, read or shown to him. But, when he was unaware of Hutch’s eyes peeking at him, his sadness was perfectly noticeable. Even during the therapy sessions, Starsky seemed less co-operative. The doctor noticed it, wondering what was going on.

 

In his new routine as a lieutenant, Hutch could still could spend a lot of time with Starsky, however, he needed somebody to take care of him, when, once at home, he would have to leave for the precinct, so finally a nurse recommended by Doctor Williams, a woman in her early 30ies called Samantha - "Sam for her friends." A very patient, warm and caring person was hired to take care of Starsky during Hutch´s absence.

 

As more days went by, Starsky finally began to accept visitors, so he had the chance to see Huggy and the Dobey’s, and he learned that people still cared about him, no matter the circumstances. Every weekend, they would be there, and Edith promised him to cook homemade meals, when he and Hutch would move to their new house.

 

Eventually, Starsky began to regain some of his inner power and a little progress was visible. He began to eat with appetite again and regained a few pounds, though his body was still painfully thin.

 

On the other hand, the only success of his therapies was apparently on his speech.  His voice was still weak, merely a whisper, and his words weren’t too intelligible, but the first word that he really managed to say pretty clearly was his best friend’s name.

 

Ever since the day of that small victory, he called out for Hutch every time he saw the chance of receiving an answer and his eyes would always shine with pride, when his friend actually heard him.

 

For Hutch, that weak voice was the most beautiful sound to his ears. It was the beginning of the recovery, he was sure of that.

 

Now, Hutch needed to take the next step: rent a new place.

 

With Huggy’s help, he checked a few ones, until he found the right place to suit their future needs. It was a house near the beach, in a quiet area, cozy and, most important; its environment had everything Starsky would need in order to have the calmness to make more progress on his recovery.

 

The house was surrounded by trees and near a little drugstore and supermarket. Besides, it was just fifteen minutes away from the hospital and had a comfortable living room, two bedrooms, bathroom, a little kitchen, laundry and a back yard.  Besides, the view was breathtaking. A beautiful beach was in front of Starsky’s window. Hutch made a mental note to keep the blinds and curtains open all the day always, to allow his partner to see the wonderful views too. The sound of the ocean could be heard in any place of the house.  Starsky would like that place, Hutch knew it.

 

Starsky would be discharged from the hospital in a few days, but with a long program of therapies ahead. A long time of hard work was waiting for him. He would be busy most of the day between physical and speech therapies. He would also need a special diet to increase his strength. 

 

Hutch had bought a hospital bed to provide his friend with as much comfort as possible, and he also had supporting bars installed in the bathroom. The wheelchair he’d bought was motorized, so that as soon as Starsky would be able to, he could handle it by himself. And even though part of him knew that it was wishful thinking, clinging to the desperate belief that Starsky would recover enough to reach a point of at least some independence, he still couldn’t give up on that thought.

 

Finally, the day for Starsky to leave the hospital came. And a sunny day it was, as if it wanted to be an omen.

 

He and Hutch, both ready to fight as hard as necessary to regain their lives, moved to their new place at the beach where their new daily routine would start.

 

Starsky hated the idea of being a burden for Hutch, but the blond was adamant; he wouldn’t want to be anywhere but with Starsky, and, besides, Starsky felt that if there was any chance for him to get better, he would need his best friend’s support to fight for it, as much as Hutch needed to be by his side, helping him.

 

The first days at their new place were filled with hopes for Hutch. Hopes that he refused to let go. Starsky just had to make a full recovery, that being a possibility or not. Yet, life as stubbornly as Hutch tried to turn it into a fairy tale remained a row of rather frustrating days that left everyone involved with the clear feeling that any real improvement of Starsky´s condition was an unreachable goal.

 

At first, Starsky struggled hard to, but as more weeks went by, he felt more and more defeated. He tried to be tough and hide his distress from Hutch, but it wasn´t always that easy, especially each time he thought he would manage something, but found himself failing miserably.

 

As stubbornly faithful and determined as Hutch forced himself to appear around his friend, as bitter and frustrated did he behave at the job, leaving the people caring for him with the impression of a desperate man, who had nowhere to go with his own emotions.

 

Neither of the two men wanted to give up hope, but the only truth was that, despite their efforts, things weren’t going as they wanted. They had been told over and over again that the way to recovery would be a hard, long, exhausting one, and they both had thought they had come to accept that, however, nothing seemed to have braced them enough for the reality they were facing now.

 

Also, something Hutch hadn’t paid much attention to at first, soon began to turn into a pretty disturbing matter for him.

 

It was Susan, who more or less subtly kept pushing him, still obviously determined to get him after all. The girl often dropped by at the precinct, inviting him to have a coffee or to go out for dinner. A few times she even followed him, pretending to run into him on the street by coincidence.

 

“Susan, listen to me. I thought I had made myself clear enough, but it seems you didn´t get it!” Hutch snapped at Susan in one of her countless visits to the precinct to ask him to go out to dinner.

 

“Oh, come on, Ken! You aren’t going to tell me that we didn´t have a good time together, and that you aren’t eager to repeat it, are you?”

 

“That’s not the point, Susan! Damn! I thought you understood! Right now, I can't start any relationship; I don't feel like dating any woman!! The only thing that I want right now is to be with Starsky every single minute that my damn job allows me to! SHIT! THAT DAY I´D MAKE A GODDAMNED MISTAKE, SUSAN!” Seeing a couple of his fellow co-workers, who were just walking down the corridor and briefly turned their heads to them, he lowered his voice down to a mere whisper. “Could you please at least try to finally understand?” Hutch ran both hands through his hair, as he felt his last sparkle of patience burning out.

 

“Of course, Ken, I understand perfectly. The fact is that you, for whatever reason you have, are wasting miserably all your time just looking after a poor devil that never will be anything but an unhappy cripple, instead of doing what’d be the best for you both. To take him to any nurs-”

 

“SHUT UP BITCH! DON¨T DARE TO SAY IT! SHUT UP!” Hutch cut off Susan’s words, grabbing her by her arms and giving her a rough shake.

 

“Ken! KEN! Let me go, Ken! You´re hurting me!”

 

“Oh! God… Susan… Susan, I´m sorry. I didn´t mean…” Hutch stuttered, releasing her and looked at his own hands for a second, as if they were something unknown.

 

“You hurt me, you bastard! And you’ll be sorry for this. You can be sure like hell you’ll be.” Susan’s voice was cold, biting.

 

“Susan I… I´m sorry,” Hutch tried weakly to apologize, but she, unwilling to listen to his apologies, turned on her heels, leaving the building without a further word.

 

“Shit!” Hutch whispered under his breath with a mixture of shame and relief at seeing that apparently nobody had been there to witness the scene.

 

Finally, feeling as if all the weight of the world was resting on his shoulders, he climbed the stairs to the squad room.

 

*******

 

The next morning was like any other morning for Starsky ever since the day he´d woken up just to find out that his entire world had been reduced to an endless nightmare, and that his body had become a useless burden and his worst enemy. His mind fought hard to keep his sanity at the crushing knowledge that in the blink of an eye his body  turned from healthy and strong to limp and broken, and that he, who had been full of the joy of living before, was now barely able to move his hands and croak out an occasional whisper. His body seemed more dead than alive, as his mind and soul yelled desperately at the horror of his situation

 

The daily routine was made of the same things: Hutch giving him his breakfast, cleaning him up, shaving and getting him dressed to wait for the therapist’s arrival. Then, with Hutch always by his side, the therapy would start. Exercises that were as painful as useless, regarding the little effect they had on his unresponsive body.

 

Later, once the physical therapy was over for the day, and as Starsky was feeling aching, drained and almost unable to fight back his tears of pain and frustration, Sam would come, punctually, every day at the same hour, trying with her warm smile to take away some of the pain in those blue eyes, deep as an abyss. She would also manage to ease a little of Hutch´s concern, enough at least to get that loyal and special friend of her patient out of the house and on his way to work, and just then she would start her own work with Starsky.

 

“Morning David.”

 

Starsky, using all his strength, managed to get a weak and slow "Hi Saaaaammm" past his lips.

 

“Hey, that was just fine, David. I appreciate that. It wouldn’t be too appealing to spend the whole morning with a guy, who won’t say a single word to me.”

 

Starsky saw her efforts at making him comfortable and still preserve his dignity perfectly well, and what with the memory of some of the hospital staff, who hadn’t been that careful about matters as such, he was always grateful for that.

 

“That brute Lou made you sweat, huh? I bet he became a therapist just to give way to his sadistic impulses," the young woman joked, brushing Starsky´s damp curls out of his forehead.  “Well. No problem, we got a lot of time ahead to help things to get better. How about some orange juice to start with, and then a cleaning and a clean sweatshirt to make you feel more comfortable?” 

 

Starsky nodded, and Sam went to the kitchen to get the juice. Back in the bedroom, the nurse bended towards him, sliding an arm under his shoulders to lift him, carefully holding the glass to his lips. After he’d drank most of the liquid, Starsky´s gaze locked briefly with hers, until she averted her eyes, settling his head carefully back onto the pillow.

 

Good one, Starsky! He thought ironically, as a wave of dark self-pity washed through him. What the hell are you thinking here? Maybe you thought that there’s still something of the old Starsky in this sorry body of yours? Get a grip, boy. For this nice lady you’re nothing but work. Well, that and maybe also a poor cripple, who would be better off dead.

 

“I´m going to collect the stuff to clean you up, David,” Sam said without losing her professional yet gentle demeanour and not showing any signs of fluster.

 

Why! Why In hell did I ever have to wake up?! I’d rather be dead. Right now I should be out there, hitting the streets with Hutch, drinking some beers with him at Huggy’s or asking this beautiful girl for a date, instead I´m here, glued to bed, and she’s about to wipe my damn butt like she would do with a baby!

 

A moment later, when Sam headed back from the bathroom, carrying a washbasin filled with soapy warm water, a towel, a washcloth and a clean sweatshirt, an inner storm was still showing in Starsky´s eyes.

 

“Stop that, David.” The firmness in her voice immediately attracted Starsky´s attention.

 

“Know something? I know exactly what you’re feeling right now. And I don't want you to go through that self-pity thing, got it?”

 

“Saaamm I… Sorr…”

 

“No David. You have nothing to be sorry for," she cut him off gently. “Life’s nothing but a bitch for you right now, but you are still the man you used to be. It’s your body that is not the same. But your feelings and your needs are. I know that. And maybe because of that, it’ll be better if I left to be replaced for another nurse. Maybe you’d feel more comfortable.”

 

Starsky was just able to shake slightly his head, but in his mind a firm and loud NO, DON'T GO PLEASE!  Was exploding.

 

“Are you sure that that is what you really want, David? Do you want me to keep on taking care of you?"

 

Another nod.

 

“Okay. I´ll stay. I just want to ask you for something. Keep your five senses and all your willpower pointed just at one single goal: to get better. Don't let any other thing to get in the way to your goal. Neither self-pity nor the memories of all those things that you can't have or do right now and that you are missing so badly. Nothing. In this battle there’s no room for anything like that. Just work hard, fight. And win. Got it?”

 

Th-Thaan Saaam,” Starsky managed to say, as unshed tears fought to spill.

 

“And now, no more talk, David. This water is getting cold, I´m going to clean you up a little, and later you’ll let me know if you want to get in the wheelchair for a while or maybe take a nap.”

 

Starsky released a breath. He wanted that caring woman to stay, not because he thought for a single moment that there was any possibility of getting well enough to one day start any kind of relationship with her beyond that one of a nurse and her patient, despite the fact that he could feel himself growing very fond of her, but because he wasn´t feeling strong enough to face the possibility of meeting somebody unable to understand that he was still a man with all his mental powers untouched. If Sam left, her place might be taken by some insensitive nurse, who may be treating him like a retarded or thinking he was just a human vegetable with no feelings. He couldn’t take that risk at so hopeless moment in his life. He just couldn’t.

 

“David,” Sam said, interrupting his train of thoughts, while peeling his shirt off. “Things are going to get better. You’ll see. Maybe right now you can't believe it, and it’ll take a long while. Every step of the way is going to hurt so much that you’ll want to give up more than once, but don't do it, please. Don’t give up. Kept fighting, with each ounce of your strength, ´cause the reward will be worth every tear; every pain that your body will feel. You’ll see.”

 

Sam kept doing her work, cleaning up Starsky and changing his sweatshirt. After that, he preferred to stay in bed for a while and get some sleep, partly because the PT sessions had left him exhausted, but also because the fact that to be seated in the wheelchair wasn´t appealing at all.

 

As he fell into a light sleep, Sam poured herself a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Later, she went to the living room, opening the large window and enjoying the warm breeze and the view of the beach for a few minutes, while sipping the steaming drink.

 

Then, somebody rang the doorbell.

 

“Good morning. Can I help you?” Sam asked politely, when she had opened the door, an action the stranger, a woman, instantly used for sneaking inside past her.

 

“Oh, well, I´m one of David’s friends. I was in the area, and I decided to drop by, just to see how he’s doing.”

 

“Well, right now Mr. Starsky is sleeping, but if you want, I can tell him later that you were here to see him Miss...?”

 

“Oh, what a shame. See, I´m on my way to the airport, I´m leaving the city tonight, and I just wanted to say goodbye to him. It probably will be some time before I´ll be able to come back and see him, you understand?"

 

“Sorry, but Mr. Starsky needs his rest.”

 

“Oh, fuck! What is this, kindergarten?!” The woman snapped angrily. “I don't know why on Earth I even ask a simple maid’s permission to see a friend of mine!"

 

Sam’s face became tensed, as she answered, staring into the other woman’s eyes. “I’m not a maid but a nurse. Mr Starsky´s nurse, to be precise.”

 

Then, to Sam’s amazement, the woman in front of her burst into tears.

 

“Sorry, Miss... I´m so sorry.” The woman sobbed. “I didn´t mean to be rude, it’s just that what happened to the poor Danny… I mean, David, is so awful!” More sobs. “You must forgive me my rudeness, I´m just too upset, I guess. A man that young, so full of life, and then that unfortunate car crash.”

 

“Car crash?” There was no doubt for Sam. Something was very wrong with that woman. And she and Starsky were in danger.

 

Realization, though, didn´t help her at all, as a split second later, and suddenly, the crying woman turned into a wild beast, rushing with a guttural scream over the nurse, who was caught off guard and was unable to dodge away from the wild punches and slaps the other woman threw at her.

 

Having been brusquely awakened by the loud noises of the fight, Starsky was pressing the alarm bell settled within his reach frantically.

 

For a moment, Sam had the upper hand, managing to put herself astride her attacker and encircling her neck with her hands, but her victory was short lived and came to a sudden end, when the woman under her reached for a glass vase on the coffee table and crashed it on Sam’s head.

 

The nurse was unconscious before her body had even landed on the ground in a limp, broken heap.

 

*******

 

That morning, Hutch was feeling restless, though it wasn´t too surprising. Since he was without Starsky at his side when hitting the streets, without someone whose back he could cover, or who he could share his lunch break with, he felt nothing but nervous, bad tempered and especially unhappy. He missed Starsky’s jokes, his endless ramblings that in the past had so often almost driven him crazy, but that now he found himself missing so incredibly badly.

 

What he felt that day though, was entirely different, like a gut feeling, a bothering tickling in the pit of his stomach, a bell ringing in the back of his mind.

 

If something was wrong with Starsky, Sam would call me…

 

He had left the beach house about a couple of hours earlier, and at the time, nothing had seemed out of line there. Considering his condition, Starsky was feeling okay, Sam was coming there punctually and her sense of responsibility was out of the question. Hutch knew that the young woman would never leave Starsky alone, not even for a minute, under normal circumstances.

 

But what if the circumstances aren’t normal? Oh, Hutchinson, boy, try to relax, you’re going up the walls lately.

 

Trying to convince himself that he was just nervous due to the tension of the last months, but, however, wanting to make sure that everything was okay at home for his own peace of mind, Hutch picked up the receiver, dialling his own number.

 

It rang once...

 

Twice...

 

Three times...

 

*******

 

“Hi David. So nice to finally meet you in person. No, please, don't get up for me.” An evil guffaw escaped the throat of the woman, who stood at Starsky´s bedside.

 

“Saaaam?”

 

“Oh, shut up, stop those pathetic croaks! No wonder Ken is so tired of you! Besides, has no one ever told you that to ask for a woman, while you are with another one is really rude?” the woman snapped, stepping closer to Starsky, who was unable to move more than a few inches on the bed and tried, unsuccessfully, to articulate some word.

 

“Do you know who I am, David?” she asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed and drew back the blanket covering him. Weakly, he tried to pull it back up.

 

“Oh, boy! You´re looking simply revolting. Really, if I were you, I’d rather be dead.” With cruel humour, she winced at the sight of the emaciated body of the man in the bed. “Well, David, though you are too impolite to even answer me, I´m going to introduce myself, anyway. I´m Susan. Susan McKinley. Ken’s girlfriend.”

 

Hutch´s girlfriend? No! He doesn’t have any girlfriend. He didn´t tell me about... He would have told me, wouldn’t he? But... but who IS she then?

 

Starsky was trying to breathe slowly, to not hyperventilate, to think clearly, but a cold terror was gripping his whole body. That woman was dangerous, about that he was sure. He didn´t know who she was or what she was about to do, but whatever it was, it wasn´t anything good.

 

“Oh, don't worry about the little nurse. She’s okay,” Susan said, as she caught Starsky craning his neck to try look around for Sam. “Out for the count, but other than that, she’s fine, well, at least... for the moment.” More guffaws followed her words

 

God! Oh God! Let her be okay! Sorry, Sam…I´m so sorry! Starsky´s thoughts raced, as his body remained defenseless and at Susan’s mercy.

 

“But forget her,” Susan waved her hand. “Let’s take care of our own business. As I told you, I am Ken’s girlfriend. We met each other when you were… well, sleeping. We began to date, and everything was going fine. But then, of all things, you had to wake up. That, if you ask me, was a true shame...”

 

*******

 

After two unanswered phone calls at his place, Hutch was just about to storm out of the squad room, when Duke, a young and good-natured detective, ran into him.

 

“Oh! Sorry, Lieutenant," he said shyly. “Do you have you a minute, please? I need-”

 

“Sorry, Duke, right now I can’t. I’m just leaving.” Hutch cut him off sharply, not slowing down his pace, as Duke hurried to catch up with him.

 

“Is something wrong, Lieutenant Hutchinson?” the younger man asked, frowning at Hutch´s tensed features.

 

“I think that Detective Starsky is in trouble.”

 

“Sorry, I know it’s not my business, but... What kind of trouble?” Duke asked, feeling a little embarrassed.

 

Hutch was about to snap that it was indeed none of Duke’s business, but at the expression of sincere concern he saw reflected in the detective’s eyes, he changed his mind.

 

“I´m not sure. A nurse stays with him, while I´m at work. She should be at home, but she’s not answering my phone calls. I´m going there, just to make sure that everything’s okay," he explained, his expression softening.

 

“Mind if I´m going with you? Just in case you need help,” Duke offered to the man, who, as well as his unfortunate partner, was a true role model for all the newly promoted detectives at the precinct.

 

The kid is right, Hutch. To go there alone might be not a good idea, Hutch thought and answered, “Okay, Duke, thanks. I guess that maybe I could use some help.”

 

They got into Hutch´s car and drove towards the beach house, crossing the city with lights and siren, but a truck accident had turned the usually dense midday traffic into a true chaos, and Hutch felt they weren’t moving fast enough for his liking.

 

“Shit!” Hutch hit the steering wheel angrily. “What the hell is going on there? Move!"

 

*******

 

Susan felt a perverted pleasure in making Starsky follow her movements with terrified eyes. She was torturing the defenseless man with her words like a cat would do with a mouse before killing it. And, like a cat, she planned to kill her prey -later- At the moment she was enjoying her sadistic game too much for that.

 

“Know something, David? Ken and I, we had a good while… a really good while together. He’s quite a good lover, though, if you don’t mind me being frank, I´m not bad, either. If you want, I can show it to you.”

 

Saying that, Susan slid her hand under the waistband of Starsky´s sweatpants, rubbing his crotch, as he unsuccessfully tried to grab her wrist.

 

“Lemme´lone…”

 

“Uh-uh. Looks like your sorry cock is as ruined as the rest of your body, huh? Well, never mind. You know, you´re not my type, anyway, looking like you were just rescued from a concentration camp. I prefer guys a little more... fit. If you get my drift.”

 

Starsky was feeling humiliated, ashamed and panic-stricken. All the other times, when he’d gotten into trouble with some perp, there had always been at least some way of defending himself, if just by screaming, but this time, there was nothing he could do but to lay motionless, forced to endure whatever was going to happen to him.

 

“I prefer guys like Ken,” Susan kept talking, while getting to her feet to start pacing the room. “God, he looks like a Greek God! Besides, he’s sensitive, gentle, caring. In short, a man that I´m not willing to lose. But something is getting between us and our future together. And that is you, my poor, sorry waste. He just won’t ever want to be with my as long as you are in the picture. He only wants to be with you. To take care of you. He told me so. And because of that I´m here. To put things right. And the problem is  that, though he’d never tell you this, you´re a true drawback for Ken, a hindrance, a nuisance. A pain in the ass. Got it?”

 

Hutch…No, that can't be true. She can't be your girlfriend! She’s a monster!

 

“Know something, David? This isn’t the first time in my life that I must deal with a situation like this. When I was eight, just a little girl, my dad played the same dirty trick on me,” Susan explained, staring dreamily into nothingness. “Back then, he suffered a brain aneurysm, and first he fell into a coma, and then later into something the doctors called persistent vegetative state… Sounds familiar, huh?” she said with a crooked smile.

 

“My mom loved him dearly. And when that happened, her heart broke. She would take him back home to take care of him, and he stayed alive for three more years. Three long years. She had only time for him. Only love for him. And nothing else mattered for her anymore. Not even the poor little Susan. Her only child. In those years I felt more alone and unloved than I can say. Day after day I saw my mother getting more and more desperate at witnessing my father’s body wasting itself away until it looked like a living corpse. It was so… repugnant. I guess that since then, ill people give me the creeps," she said, looking at Starsky and wrinkled her nose. “Finally, fortunately, Dad passed away. Well... okay, I helped him a little. But I did it just out of love. For my family’s sake. It would have happened sooner or later, anyway. And, guess what? Though I was only eleven, I fooled them all. No one ever found out I did it."

 

Starsky couldn’t help inwardly cringing at the cruel irony of the situation. Here he was, a cop, listening to a confession that in itself carried a terrifying promise, and not only would he be unable to do something about the unsolved murder of so many years ago, but there was also no way he’d manage to prevent his own.

 

What if she’s telling the truth? If she really has an affair with Hutch? If she’s going to kill me and Sam, then Hutch could be in the hands of a crazy killer, with nobody to warn him! Oh no, no NO! Starsky´s thoughts were in turmoil, as his heart raced in his chest.

 

“Suuus…” He wanted to yell, but a hoarse moan was the only sound that passed his throat.

“Shut up, damn it!” Susan slapped hard Starsky´s face. “Those pathetic groans of yours are getting on my nerves!!” Rage shone in her grey eyes as she continued, "Well, as I told you, dad died, but it was too late. My mom never turned back into the happy and caring woman she used to be. The damage was already done. And my childhood was already ruined. And I´m not willing to let something like that happen again. I love Ken. And he loves me. I know it. And I´m not about to let anybody get between our love. Nobody.”

 

She produced a pack of cigarettes from her coat’s pocket, lightened one, and after a deep drag exhaled the smoke a few inches from Starsky´s face, making him cough.

 

“My mom used to tell me how bad smoking was. Now I see that she was right. But, know something? There’s something even more dangerous.” Waggling her eyebrows, she dug into her handbag and produced a plastic bottle filled with a transparent liquid. “And that’s to smoke close to any flammable liquid. Yes, sir, that’s a big mistake. A hell of a big mistake.” Stating that in a mockingly grave voice, she began to pour some of the liquid over the room, and at last threw the stub of her cigarette into one corner. Quickly, sparks turned into a small fire that spreaded and grew with frightening speed.

 

“Ouch! I guess soon this place will be too hot for me. If you don't mind, I better leave now. Bye, David. Have a nice day.”

 

Without a further word Susan left the house, the echoes of her sickening laughter enough to send ice-cold shivers down anyone’s spine, despite the increasing heat.

 

 

 

*******

 

“Come on, Lieutenant. Take it easy. Maybe the nurse took Detective Starsky outside. The weather is warmth enough. I bet that they are in the yard, getting some fresh air, and they didn´t hear the phone,” Duke was trying to ease a little of Hutch´s worry, as the traffic jam began to clear up enough to increase speed, but Hutch wasn´t hearing him. He was just praying to get to Starsky in time. Because, after two more phone calls, he was quite sure now that his gut feeling had been right all along. His friend was in trouble.

 

*******

 

The dark smoke was growing thicker, making his eyes water and his lungs cry out for air. Somewhere, behind a door, most likely in any closet, Sam was shouting out for help, pounding the wood, as the flames were licking at Starsky´s bedroom. The heat was already unbearable.

 

There he was. Safety, help, life was just some feet away, but he couldn’t reach it. He couldn’t save neither himself nor an innocent victim, who, shut in some part of the house, was about to share his fate.

 

Repeatedly, Starsky tried to swing his legs out of bed, but his body kept unresponsive, moving just a few inches, despite his exhausting efforts.

 

Damn! I must get out of here! I must move…but I can't! I can't do it! His natural stubbornness, his survival instinct, impelled him to keep trying, despite the fact that his limp body wasn´t being of any help but just a dead weight.

 

Time was working against him, as his eyes filled with tears of rage and exhaustion, and all around the flames kept growing up menacingly. Starsky was about to die, with the horrible certainty that the last image that Hutch, his best friend, would see of him would be his body curled up in agony, charred.

 

NO!! I can't do that to Hutch!! I must get out of here! With a last effort Starsky managed to throw himself out of bed, resting just a moment to catch his breath, before dragging his body with painful effort to the living room just to see that it had too already fallen prey to the flames.

 

“Hu-utch… Hutch… help.”

 

With his last ounce of strength, and with his lungs fighting for air, Starsky managed to crawl out of the living room and to the corridor, where he was no longer able to move.

 

Not sure if it was real or just one last hallucination before the definitive void, Starsky heard a siren in the distance. Then nothing, just silence. Silence and darkness sheltering him, helping him to get free of his fear, his pain, his body…

 

*******

 

“STAAAAARSKYYYY!! Oh God! No! God!” Hutch shouted out, pulling to a halt with squealing brakes in front of the house that stood in flames. He jumped out of the car and rushed towards the entrance, while Duke, grabbing the radio mike, was calling for help.

 

“Duke, call the firemen! And an ambulance!”

 

“I just did it, Lieutenant! They are on their way!” Duke answered, throwing the mike carelessly onto the passenger seat, and ran after Hutch, covering his mouth and nose with his arm.

 

Hutch and Duke battered down the front door as a wave of suffocating heat slapped their faces, taking their breaths away. The hall was filled with smoke so thick that they could barely see their own feet.  The mixture of dreadful heat and smoke almost made them faint, and the roaring of the angry flames made it almost impossible to hear each other ´s voice.

 

Hutch pointed his index finger at the living room, and Duke, dodging the flames, broke into a run towards there, while the blond one hurried towards Starsky´s bedroom, only to see that the bed was a ball of fire.

 

“STARSKYYYY!! NO!!” Hutch rushed to the bed, unaware of the flames burning his hands. He almost blacked out from relief, when he found Starsky wasn´t in it. Yet, relief quickly gave way to frantic fear, as a brief scanning showed his friend was nowhere to be found in the room. Neither was Sam.

 

“I can't find them, Lieutenant!" Duke’s fading voice shouted over the fire’s roaring. "Detective Staaaarskyyyy!”

 

“Staaaarskyyyy!... Saaaaam! Staaarsk!”

 

Both men called out repeatedly and searched the whole house frantically, until something in the smoke-covered corridor caused Hutch to stumble, falling onto his knees and hands.

 

“What? Oh, God!”

 

Looking down, he saw that it were bare feet... Starsky´s feet. There his friend did lay, face down an unconscious, mere inches away from the hungry flames.

 

“Starsky! My God, Starsky! Duke! I found him! I found Starsky!"

 

But Duke couldn’t hear him. He was in another part of the house, calling out for Starsky and the nurse, when, almost inaudible within the fire’s din, he heard a pounding. He listened closer, trying to find out where the noise was coming from, but he didn´t hear it again.

 

“Somebody is in there? Detective Starsky? Samantha?"

 

He didn´t get an answer, but when he entered Hutch´s bedroom, he could hear the sound again, louder this time, coming from inside the closet. The detective, protecting his hand with the sleeve of his jacket, turned the burning handle and opened the door to meet the form of the terrified nurse curled up in a corner of the closet and coughing violently. 

 

Seconds later, Hutch with Starsky in his arms hurried outside with Duke on tow carrying the half-unconscious Samantha, as the firefighters, already in the street, were aiming their fire hoses towards the burning house.

 

*******

 

He could see.

 

White walls, a metallic grey nightstand, a beige curtain. He felt the soft pressure of an oxygen mask on his nose and mouth. He could hear as well. The rustle of pages being turned, faded voices in the distance.

 

Dead…Am I dead?

 

“Hutch.” 

 

He could speak. Or rather, he could say the one word that seemed to have any meaning for him.

 

“Hey, partner, welcome back. I was getting very bored here, waiting for you to wake up, I gotta tell you. How’re you feeling?” Hutch said bending closer to Starsky´s bed.

 

“Tired,” Starsky answered weakly. “Y´got me…”

 

“Sure I did. Looks like my guts feeling is still intact. Are you thirsty, Starsk? Want ice chips?”

 

Starsky nodded, trying to focus his eyes; then he saw Hutch’s bandaged hands.

 

“Huch…Y´hands?” he asked in a raspy whisper.

 

 “Oh, no big deal. Some slight burns, that’s all. The whole thing could have been a lot worse, Starsk. Though it was a close call. Thanks God one window in the living room was opened. Much of the smoke was blown out, that´s why you and Sam didn´t suffocate."

 

Starsky let go off a relieved sigh, as Hutch removed the oxygen mask and helped him to a small spoonful of ice chips that brought a very welcomed refreshment to his parched lips and dry throat.

 

“More?”

 

Starsky nodded, and Hutch gave him another spoonful of the fresh stuff that for Starsky tasted so good at that moment

 

“Okay, partner. Enough for now. I don't want you to get a sore throat.” Hutch placed the cup of ice chips back on the nightstand.

 

“And now, since I guess you have a lot of questions, I´ll try to answer a few of them," The blond explained, carefully sitting down on the edge of Starsky´s bed.

 

Samantha, Hutch. Is Sam okay? Starsky thought, trying to make his voice to cooperate.

 

“Sa-Saam?”

 

“Sam is okay, Starsk. And she helped us find out who set fire on the house. The poor girl was shut into a closet, scared out of her mind, a little beaten up and half-suffocated by the smoke, but her doctor told me that after a few days in hospital she’s going to be fine.”

 

Hutch shut his eyes tightly for a moment, trying to push back the terrifying image of Starsky´s bed in flames that kept crawling back into his mind every now and then.

 

“Know something, Starsky? Duke, you know, new kid at Homicide? He came with me yesterday. When I told him I was worried ´cause something might be wrong at home, he instantly wanted to come along. Nice guy. And a good cop."

 

“Whuuu´s?” Starsky´s eyes were two mirrors of his confusion.

 

“Who is who, Starsk? Duke?”

 

Starsky shook his head. “W-woman.”

 

“Susan, well, that’s a long story, but right now I just want you to know that she lied to you. That nutcase is not my girlfriend, not even a friend. Nothing. She’s just a... mistake. And she’s under arrest now. She gave a full confession. She... she told me all she did to you. Those... What she said to you. God! I´m sorry, partner. I´m so sorry,” Hutch said, overwhelmed by guilt.

 

“No… Hutch… Not y-your fault…”

 

Starsky felt extremely tired, he was struggling to keep his eyes open, but before he could go back to sleep, he needed to know something else.  

 

“Hutch… Hou-house?”

 

“Oh, well. The fire didn´t reach the structure, but most of the furniture, doors, the wallpaper and stuff like that is pretty damaged. The landlord is going to have a good tantrum for this, I guess. But, know something? I don't care at all. You and that girl, Sam, are going to be okay. That’s the only thing that matters. Don't worry about the house, buddy. Huggy’s already pushing it to get some guys to help us to work out the mess in record time, and besides, if you remember, we have all our stuff stored in a furniture depository, so we just have to pick it up and re-decorate the place. And now, no more talk, Starsk. How about getting some rest?”

 

“Hutch.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Th-thanks.” Starsky wanted to say a lot more. He wanted to tell Hutch that he don´t wanted to die, that he wanted to keep on living, to fight and get better for himself, but for Hutch´s sake as well. For both of them. And though he didn´t have the strength to say all that, it didn´t matter, because Hutch knew it, anyway. That was something Starsky was sure of. He could feel it.

 

“Anytime, Starsk. Now, just rest. I´ll be here. Promise.” Hutch placed the oxygen mask back onto Starsky´s face, and squeezing his shoulder gently, he sat back in the bedside chair.

 

Starsky didn´t need to be asked twice. Defeated by tiredness, he began to close his eyes, and in matter of minutes he was sound asleep.

 

*******

 

Over the next days, he would hear the whole story of Susan. Hutch had found out that she hadn’t been at the hospital as a volunteer, as she had told him on their first encounter, but she had been there for her regular appointments with the psychiatrist of the hospital. Susan McKinley had spent several long periods in mental hospitals and rest homes, suffering from serious mental disorders, and though at last she had been released about a year earlier, with the full trust of her doctors to not be of any danger to anyone, the truth was that the damage done in her childhood was never going to allow her to lead a normal life of any kind. Her madness, once maybe curable, had turned permanent years ago.

 

“God, Starsk!” Hutch complained bitterly to his friend the first time he had gathered up enough courage to speak about the matter. “Again! Another nutcase, like Diana Harmon. And, again, I didn´t see it coming. She could have killed you. God! What have I done?!”

 

“Stop it, Hutch… Not your fa-fault.” 

 

Over the following weeks, and while his speech kept improving, Starsky had to push Hutch hard to help him get rid off the unbearable remorse, that he felt for something that wasn´t his fault. He did it out of love, but also because he needed his friend by his side, to help him to reach the biggest goal of his life, and he needed him strong, whole, confident. And as Sam had advised him some time ago, he wasn´t going to let anything to get in the way of his goal. Remorse, reproach or regrets didn´t have room in his plans.

 

 

EPILOGUE

 

 

Hutch climbed the stairs of the Police Academy building, feeling, just like every time he did that, a pinch of nostalgia at the memory of his old times as a cadet with Starsky, that had been followed by their years together in the force, first as rookies, later as detectives at the ninth precinct. But all that seemed to have happened a lifetime ago, though, in fact, those times had ended just roughly three years earlier. On that fateful day on which Starsky had begun his hardest struggle; that one of getting back his life. Hutch still felt a shiver running down his spine remembering it.

 

Those days had been a long and hard road for both men, but especially for Starsky. Back then, Hutch had left the streets to become a lieutenant, while Starsky had fought with all his strength to recover his health, leaving Hutch and the medical staff astonished at his iron will and at the improvement he managed to make as time passed.

 

His progress was slow, and nothing but frustrations marked his way at the beginning, but he kept fighting without even thinking of giving up, and about a year later, and much to Hutch´s joy, Starsky, though still using a wheelchair most of time and living in the beach house with him, was finally able to take care of himself without any help again.

 

Once recovered from Susan’s attack, Samantha would keep working with Starsky, until her help wasn´t needed any longer, but even then, and since she still cared about that brave and kind man, she used to call or go and see him every now and then to know how he was doing, and between them a beautiful friendship had formed.

 

Once he’d reached his personal independence, Starsky would take a new challenge, starting a course to get a job at the police academy as teacher of research methods in criminology. It had been the best decision he could have made, Hutch thought with a small smile at the inner picture of how Starsky´s eyes would shine with happiness every time he talked about his job and the respect and fondness that all his pupils showed to him.

 

Well, no wonder they like him, Hutch thought, feeling immensely proud of Starsky. I´m sure that none of those kids could find a teacher who is more fair, smart and patient than Starsky.

 

The sight of Starsky leaving the classroom, tore Hutch out of his thoughts. He was walking with the help of a crutch. That and a slight numbness in his right arm and hand would be a permanent reminder of his ordeal, but despite that, he looked strong, healthy and happy, willing, as always, to look ahead and go on, enjoying every single minute of  his life.

 

“Hey, Professor Starsky! Happy weekend!” one cadet greeted him, patting his back gently before hurrying outside.

 

“Have a good weekend, Morrison," Starsky called after him.

 

“See you on Monday, Professor Starsky!” Yet another student waved friendly at Starsky, turning on his way down the stairs.

 

“Sure, Perkins, but, if you don't mind, punctual for a change,” Starsky said to his pupil in mocked seriousness.

 

“Oh! Sorry, but right now I remember… I got a date! Bye, Professor!” the young cadet joked, breaking into a run.

 

“Okay, got it! Bye, Perkins,” Starsky said laughing.

 

“Hey Starsk!”

 

“Hiya Hutch!” Starsky answered, stepping into the hall, where Hutch was waiting for him.

 

“Those kids seem to adore you, buddy.”

 

“Well, it looks like I´m not so bad teacher after all,” Starsky said, smiling sheepishly.

 

“Not that bad? Oh, come on, Starsky. Those cadets are going to form a Starsky’s Fan Club any moment! I wish any of those lazy cops I got to work with were just half as fond of me.”

 

“Technique, Hutch," Starsky stated nonchalantly. "Technique and the natural Starsky´s charm."

 

“Know something, Starsk?” Hutch said, suddenly serious. “I know that I’m going to regret these words as soon as I’ve said them, but your rookies are the best trained in the force, partner. You´re giving them the needed motivation for this work, the professionalism they’ll need to be good cops. It looks that those kids really want to make a difference on the streets.”

 

“Hey Blondie, finally you’re admitting it, huh? Well, as a matter of fact I know perfectly how much of a terrific guy I am. Though it’s always nice to hear it. So... more?" he grinned.

 

“Ask your fans," Hutch replied dryly, earning a mockingly unnerved rolling of his friend’s eyes. Gently grabbing Starsky’s arm to help him down the stairs, he continued, "How about a beer at The Pits, huh? My treat.”

 

“Deal, but I’ve to pick up a beautiful lady in her place to take her out to dinner later.”

 

“Looks like you and Sam are having a good time together.”

 

“Sure we do. She’s really a special lady. And she doesn’t mind…Well, you know what I mean.” Starsky said, looking sombrely down at his crutch.

 

“Buddy, to me, Sam seems mature enough how to know what really matters in a relationship. Besides, we all knew that the poor girl couldn’t resist for too long before falling for the famous Starsky’s charm." Hutch teased fondly, as Starsky’s lips curled in a smile.

 

“Okay, buddy, so how about settling down, huh?”

 

“No hurry, Blondie. We have just been dating for ten months by now, and we got plenty of time for making plans. Maybe some day, I guess. But right now we rather prefer to take it slow and just enjoy what we have. You know, going out to dinner, stay at home together or go for a walk in the beach... Just everything life has to offer us.”

 

“Know something, Starsk? No wonder those cadets find you the smartest teacher in the whole academy. I have yet to find someone as smart as you."

 

“And you aren’t going to find one. You can bet! Oh! Can I ask you something?” Starsky said, changing the subject.

 

“Sure, partner, what´s the matter?”

 

“Does your invitation include a snack with the beers? The candy machine is out of service, and I´m starving.”

 

“Let’s go, dirtball, before I change my mind about buying you those beers!”

 

Both men headed to Starsky´s car in a slow stroll, enjoying the breeze of the warm Californian fall. The blond one laying his arm around Starsky´s shoulders. They weren’t partners on the streets any more, but they had come back from the darkness together, still being the best friends, and they both knew that as long as their hearts would keep beating, their friendship would stay alive.

                                                             

                                                                

THE END

 

 

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