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Wuemsel's Fanfic Corner

Two Eight Zero (Final)

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Hutch wasn't sure what'd woken him. Blinking against the sleep still seemingly gluing his eyelashes to his skin, he raised his head off the pillow, confused. It was dark outside the window, almost dawn, a few birds were already up.

But it hadn't been the birds. He'd heard something else, hadn't he?

Rubbing his face, he sat up, yawned--and froze when he heard it again.

A whimper. So soft it seemed he'd imagined it.

Starsk.

Scrambling his way out of the tangled blankets and sheets, he rushed out into the living room. It was dark, the dim mixture of moonlight and the first rays of sunshine illuminating the outlines of the apartment, the furniture.

And a huddled figure in a far corner next to the green house entrance.

"Starsky?" Hutch asked, cringing when his whisper seemed like a scream in the silence.

Slowly, the curly head came up, eyes squinted to make out Hutch's approaching form in the darkness. "Hey Hutch." A sniff followed like the ones Hutch had heard too often recently. Starsky wasn't crying, but on the verge of it. His voice quivered with fear, and he himself trembled as if cold, though he still wore the clothes Hutch had last seen him in. He obviously hadn't gone to sleep, the blond thought, glancing at the couch in confusion. A neatly folded blanket lay on the armrest.

With a sudden shudder, he wondered just how long his friend had sat there already, huddled in the dark, scared.

Crouching down in front of Starsky, Hutch could now see that the smaller man had his knees drawn up to his nose, his head resting against the wall beside him. What shocked Hutch mostly, though, was the awkward position Starsky had his arms in. His shoulders painfully drawn back, he'd folded his hands behind his back, as if...

Oh my god.

"S-Starsk?" Hutch asked again, swallowing dryly, fighting rising panic. "Y-you know where you are?"

"I'm glad you came back," Starsky whispered instead of an answer, but the following words were answer enough, anyway. "Get so lonely when they don't let me sleep." He sighed slightly, exhausted. "You keep me `wake, `kay?"

His heart breaking, Hutch reached out to cup Starsky's cheek, gently forcing him to look at him. "Starsky. You're home. Remember? You're safe."

Starsky stared, sniffed. "You think they'll make that sound again?" he asked fearfully, cringing at the mere thought. "I-I hope not. Hurts. But... doesn't hurt you, does it?"

Looking directly into his partner's wide, staring eyes, Hutch realized there was nothing he could do at the moment but wait for the flashback to pass. All he could do, was to ease his partner's pain.

Kenneth Hutchinson, welcome to the darkness.

"No," he whispered, amazed that his voice didn't break, "it doesn't. Don't worry `bout me."

"Good," Starsky sighed. "Wouldn't want you here if it did. Hurts pretty bad, y'know," he added sadly.

"Yeah, I know," Hutch replied, wondering what kind of sound hurt. Probably some high frequency designed for... well, torture.

"You cold?" he asked softly, rubbing his hands over Starsky's arms, trying to get the hands up front, but was met by a strong, though unconscious resistance.

Starsky shrugged. To Hutch it looked like he shivered even worse. "No, `sokay. Not as bad as last time."

"Hm. Still, you're cold," Hutch insisted and carefully stood up. "Be right back." With that, he turned for the couch, hurrying, when Starsky's startled cry followed him.

"Hutch! Please, don't go! Don't-"

"Shh, `sokay," Hutch soothed, when he returned to his position before his friend, stroking his head. "'Sokay. Just went to get a blanket. Everything's fine. I'm here. I'm here. Okay?"

Letting out a shaky breath, Starsky nodded. "Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Don't go again, huh? Please? Don't wanna be alone. Please? Hutch?"

"Okay," Hutch whispered, unfolding the blanket, his gaze wandering over Starsky's form. He still hadn't released his hands from their probably painful hold. "I won't go, promise. Starsk..." he started, biting his lip, not sure if he was doing the right thing. "Hey, buddy, uhm, can you..." His hands reaching forward again, a sudden thought hit him. "Hey, I'm gonna untie you, okay? Starsky?"

Starsky frowned. "D'you think it's allowed?"

"Yeah," he nodded. "It's okay. Trust me."

"Uh... Okay."

Sighing inwardly with relief, Hutch reached around his friend, let his hands linger on his wrists for a moment and then slowly drew his hands up front. Instinctively, he started softly massaging them as if Starsky had really been tied. "There. Better, isn't it?"

"Yeah," the smaller man smiled shyly. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Hutch replied and was about to suggest the blanket again when Starsky lifted one of his hands out of the blond's grasp and lightly scratched at his throat.

Only then did Hutch realize his friend's head still rested against the wall, even if it made it difficult for him to look at Hutch.

"Uh... Buddy, y-you, uhm, you... There something else you want me to do?" Underlining his words, he brushed the back of his curled fingers over Starsky's throat, causing a violent flinch.

"Shhh, `sokay. I won't hurt you. There something else?"

He felt Starsky swallow under his hand, felt him tense up.

"Starsk? What's here? I-I can't see it, cause it's too dark."

Hutch had almost stopped hoping for an answer, when Starsky finally whispered, "Chain. Hurts."

Squeezing his eyes briefly, Hutch fought for control. I knew why I didn't wanna know `bout the darkness, didn't I?!

"I see. Want me to take it off?"

"You'd do that?"

"Sure, buddy," Hutch smiled, once more reaching around Starsky and gently stroke the back of his neck. "There. It's off. Can you feel it?"

Stretching his neck a bit, Starsky nodded and presented him with a grateful smile. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it. And now c'mere, you're shaking." With that, Hutch scrambled over to sit beside his huddled friend, wrapped one arm around him and spread the blanket over them both.

With a happy sigh, Starsky's head lolled against the blond's shoulder, seemingly bathing in the comforting warmth.

Thinking that maybe just some rest would drag his confused friend out of this, Hutch settled them both back against the wall, his free hand softly stroking through the curly hair. "Just sleep, Starsk, okay? When you wake up, it's gonna be alright again."

"Hutch?"

"Yes, babe?"

"I didn't mean to hit the wall."

His heart leaping in expectant excitement, Hutch swallowed dryly. "'Sokay, you-"

"I didn't know it'd be punished like this," Starsky continued, much to his friend's dismay. "I'll never do it again. I told them. But--looks like they didn't believe me, huh?"

"It's okay, Starsk. Why don't you just sleep a little, hm? I'm right here. I won't go."

But in the safeness of his partner's presence, Starsky's fears seemed to release themselves, and Hutch felt him tremble against him, not because of the cold this time. "Hey, buddy, shh, don't think of it. Close your eyes and sleep, huh? Starsk?"

"L-last time they sent in rats," Starsky whispered, snuggling up closer, as if wanting to hide in Hutch's arms. "Think they'll do that again?"

Rats?! What the hell is this?! Medieval Times?! "No, buddy, they won't. Don't worry. I'm here and I won't let them send in anything, got that? Trust me and go to sleep now."

"No use in that," Starsky replied, sounding almost disappointed, like a sulking little boy. "They won't let me sleep, anyway."

"I'll let you," Hutch promised, gently brushing his hand over his partner's eyes to close them. "I'll stay with you, and I'll make sure nothing will happen to you."

Silence followed, and Hutch was almost convinced that Starsky had really fallen asleep, when a tiny, heartbreakingly sad voice reached his ears. "You won't be here when I wake up."

"Babe, of course I'll be here," Hutch replied in dismay, shifting Starsky in his arms to fully hug him, his own face suddenly wet. "I am here. Right here."

Lifting his head, Starsky looked at the blond, suddenly very still, then glanced around, then back at Hutch. His mouth opened, closed, opened again. "I..."

"Starsk?" Hutch asked hopefully. "Y-you with me?"

Starsky swallowed, scrambled away from Hutch, just a bit, but so that the blanket still covered him. His gaze dropped. "Told you it'd never go away."

"Oh, c'mon, you know that's not true," Hutch replied softly, tipping his finger under Starsky's chin to lift it. "You just had a flashback."

"That's pretty much what I meant."

"Starsk... Buddy, look at me."

Hesitantly, Starsky obeyed.

"What you experienced would have been enough to break anyone. I know it would have destroyed me. But you survived."

Starsky sniffed.

"You survived, because you're stronger than this. You were smart enough to know what you had to do to not get killed or..." A half shrug was accompanied by an ironic smile as Hutch stated, "In a way you tricked them, you know? You didn't forget, but you submitted enough to not let them know. No one else would have managed to do what you did." Reaching over, he brushed away a tear glittering on Starsky's cheek. "These flashbacks, they'll pass."

"`Nam didn't pass," the smaller man mumbled.

"No," Hutch said calmly, wiping away another tear, "but you live with it, don't you? You know how to deal with it, you know when you're getting in trouble and you know what to do then. Like you do with Marcus and Bellamy and-"

"Forest?"

"Yeah," Hutch smiled, understanding, "all of them. We'll get through this too. Like always."

"Yeah." A pause, then, ashamed, whispered, "I hate them, Hutch. I want to... All those other times, we... we did something, you know?"

Since yes, he knew, Hutch looked away. "Buddy-"

"We arrested them or, I don't know, but we did something. How can I ever watch someone being sent to... one of those places ever again?"

"Starsk-"

"What if we come across a lunatic again, a-and... I wouldn't know if he wasn't going to..." Agitation took over, a haunted gaze tried to catch Hutch's. "We don't know how many we've already sent just there! Think about it, Hutch. Diana," he added, grasping a name that popped to his mind. "Diana might be in there just now. And we sent her there."

"Starsky, stop," Hutch cut him off softly, grabbing his arms. "It's no use, buddy."

Panting from his outburst, Starsky frowned at him. "What're you talking about?"

"Y-you..." Hutch started, swallowed, braced himself. "You can't tell anyone."

"Wha-"

"I made a deal. To get you out of there."

Starsky's eyes grew wide as the full impact of the words sank in. "You made... What? I don't under... What the hell d'you do?"

Still holding onto his friend as if for support, Hutch briefly closed his eyes. "I turned over the leak inside the... firm. In return, they let you go."

Starsky's chin traveled south. "Th-the leak?"

"San Diego," Hutch replied. "I guess they're gonna... fire the management there. But I-I had to guarantee you'd never... talk about it." He looked away again. "You can't do anything, Starsk. You wouldn't make it to any trial. Y-you probably wouldn't even make it to utter an... accusation."

He could almost hear the wheels behind Starsky's forehead start to move, could sense the tension growing. "I can't... I don't know where I was, anyway! I wouldn't... But... Wh-what'd you tell the doctor at the hospital? What d'you tell Dobey?!"

"I'm a cop, Starsk, I don't have to explain anything to doctors. Dobey... knows as much as he should. Huggy too. You and me, we know. And it will stay that way."

"No," Starsky shook his head, anger replacing confusion. Furiously, he kicked the blanket away and came to his feet. Hutch remained where he was, looking up, ready to take it. "You know! You know at least some who are involved! You have to, you made a deal with them!"

Panting from rage, he stared down at the blond, who wouldn't meet his gaze.

"I don't believe it! D'you realize what you did?! That leak might have destroyed them one day! And you... Oh, you're a cop alright, but the kind that immobilizes the only witness he's go..." He stopped in the frantic pacing he'd started, mouth open. His gaze flew back upon Hutch. "They're gonna kill me if I talk, aren't they?"

After a moment, Hutch gave a small nod.

"And..." As the thoughts rolled on, he frowned, still hovering over the blond on the ground. "You don't think they'll let you get away with it then, do you? You know they'll kill us both."

"I guess so," Hutch muttered.

"You gue... That's so unfair, Hutch!"

"I know." A whisper.

"Even if I would want to take the risk, I couldn't, because it'd mean endangering you too!" Starsky almost yelled, exasperated. "What d'you think?!"

"I thought," Hutch muttered to the ground he looked at, "that I don't want you to take the risk."

"You had no right to do that!" Starsky was furious by now, gesturing wildly, while at the same time knowing exactly that he didn't want to scream at Hutch. Didn't really think about what he said. He just wanted to scream.

Hutch didn't watch, but took it, silent, accepting, huddling on the floor, like his partner had before.

"You've no idea what it was like! How can I ever be a cop again knowing that I let them off the hook?! Knowing that I didn't do anything against them doing... this?! There're humans in there, Hutch! And they use them like... like animals! Like guinea-pigs! That's all I've been! They didn't enjoy sending me into their little chamber of darkness, they didn't care! D'you have any idea what they tested me for?!"

The question acted almost like a kick, and Hutch flinched, hugging his knees tighter. "N-no. I don't."

"You wanna know what the darkness was?!"

I've seen it, Hutch thought, but remained quiet. He'd let Starsky yell at him all he liked. And if he wanted to blame him, that was okay. And if he'd never ever talk to him, if he'd leave him. It'd be unbearable, but he'd know he was safe. That was all he wanted. He'd know he was somewhere, alive. That'd be enough. Enough to not feel so alone again.

"It was the severest punishment you could possibly get. It was hell. Th-they tested..." Starsky clenched one hand to a fist, fighting for control at the memories. "They'd not let you sleep, eat, anything. Just keep you like some... some sort of animal and sent all kinda things in there. Rats, gas, they could make it cold or hot, dark or bright, loud..." Briefly, he squeezed his eyes shut and curtly shook his head.

Hutch peeled up, concerned, but stayed on the floor. His heart beat in his throat. Don't leave, Starsk. Please. Please, don't leave again. - Now, you're begging, Ken! Make up your mind.

"They're doing this, Hutch," Starsky continued. "To people. If we are cops, we have to fight them."

Silence.

"Aren't you going to say anything, damn it?!"

"I'm not a cop first."

At the quiet whisper, Starsky stopped in his tracks, looking down at his partner. "What?"

Hutch swallowed passed his fear, his gaze focused on his knees. "If I have to choose between fighting against windmills and saving you from them..." Finally, though it seemingly took him over-human strength to do so, he glanced up, his eyes meeting Starsky's. "I understand it if you hate me for what I did, but I'm not sorry."

All anger vanished from the standing man's face, as if an invisible hand had wiped it away. "I don't hate you," he said, surprised.

Hutch looked down again.

"I could never hate you," Starsky continued, truly shocked by the words. "I just..." But he didn't know what to say. His own words seemingly echoed in his head, and he arched his brows, appalled. "God, Hutch, I'm-"

"When I first found out," Hutch interrupted him in a low voice, sounding strangely as if he thought he'd never get the chance to talk to his friend again, "where you were, what... wh-what they're doing to... people," he finished, using Starsky's words, "I never..." Once more, he broke off, but closed his eyes as if he could only then say it. "I never cared about them. I never stopped to think about them."

Starsky felt his heart wrench looking at his friend who suddenly seemed so small, broken. Images of Hutch lying on the kitchen floor flashed through his mind. The exhaustion on his face, the despair in his eyes.

He couldn't believe what he'd just yelled at the man. Couldn't believe his own blindness. What if it'd been him? What then, oh brave, selfless rescuer of the suppressed? What then?

"Hutch-"

"I-I know I'm selfish, but... I..." A tiny, chocked sob broke free, as Hutch tensed up even more. "I didn't mean to... I just wanted you back," he finally said and looked up again, moisture shimmering in his eyes. "I hate myself for it, but I don't care what they do to the others, Starsk. I just want you to be out of there. I want you to be safe. A-and," he continued, not able to keep back the tears that threatened to spill any longer, "if that means you'll go, I-I mean, if you can't forgive me, than that's okay. As long as you're... safe," he finished and sniffed. Before the other one could cut in, he added, in a voice so empty, so desperate it tore at Starsky's soul, "You're right, I don't know what it was like. I wish I would. I wish it would've been me."

It was the truth. Not just a phrase. And Starsky knew. Even after witnessing the aftermath, the flashback, everything--Hutch would change places gladly.

Hutch would do everything. Put his life in Starsky's hands. Link them.

Slowly, carefully, Starsky approached his partner, who wept silently, his face buried in the blanket over his knees. Gently, he lowered himself next to him, wrapped an arm around him and drew him close. Like Hutch had cradled him so often the last days.

His hand finding the blond head, Starsky softly stroked him, rocking them both as Hutch cried.

"Don't say that, Hutch," he said in a soothing voice. "Please don't say that. I couldn't stand thinking you..." Realizing just then what he was saying, Starsky hugged him even closer. "Oh god, babe, I'm so sorry I yelled at you. I'm sorry. I didn't think."

"B-but y-you're right," Hutch whimpered.

"No," Starsky replied softly. "I was just taking everything out on you. I'm sorry. I didn't think what it... Look at you," he said in a mixture of a chuckle and a sob, nudging Hutch's cheek, "look at what it did to you."

"I'm just too weak," Hutch muttered sadly, clinging to Starsky's shirt as if he wanted to make sure the other one wouldn't nod and leave.

"Weak? Blintz, if you ever were to vanish for two months, I'd ... Maybe I was better off after all," he added with a pure Starsky-chuckle. "At least I saw you."

A sigh that sounded like a quivery chuckle escaped the blond, and they sat in silence for a moment, both savoring the presence of the other one.

"Hutch?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry you had to collapse to bring me back."

Hutch smiled. "I'm glad I did."

"Yeah. Me too."

"Starsk, I'm..." But Hutch's voice trailed off. It wasn't necessary to apologize anymore. It wasn't necessary to say anything.

"You know what?" Starsky broke the silence again after a few more moments.

"What?"

"At least we didn't lose."

"What?"

"If we can't win," Starsky explained, "then... at least we didn't lose."

Hutch grinned, and closed his eyes. "Did I ever tell you I think you're a genius, buddy?"

Starsky laughed slightly as he lifted his head to again stroke his friend's hair. "Oh yeah? Funny, I thought your fever drop..."

But at Hutch's even breathing, he hushed himself. Adjusting the blanket around them both, he leaned his head back and also closed his eyes. "No way I'm carrying you again."

I' m here, Hutch. I' m here. Here with you. Normal.

Already half-asleep, he smiled as he drifted off.

I love normal.

THE END

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