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In the Company of Death

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the night after Starsky's cardiac arrest...

“Ken Hutchinson.”

Hutch jerked awake from his light doze on one of the chairs in Dobey's command center, where he'd been forced to go after falling asleep and tumbling off the chair outside Starsky's room. He was alert almost instantly, and acutely aware of the throbbing pain in his left wrist. A second later, he became aware of someone in the dimly-lit room, and his hand obeyed the unconscious demand to grasp the butt of his holstered Python.

Quickly, Hutch assessed the figure and its potential for danger. Though the room was dimly lit, it was easy to discern the intruder was a handsome man, with longish black hair, hazel eyes, and skin the color of cafe au lait. Yet his features resembled no one ethnic group or race. The man was impeccably dressed: dark charcoal gray suit striped with thin lavender threads and cut expertly to his slim, athletic build, an open-necked, button-down collar shirt whose color matched the pinstripes, and a cravat of royal purple paisley with a matching kerchief folded to two points in the suit's breast pocket.

“Who the hell are you? You're not supposed to be in here.” Hutch made sure his tone conveyed both authority and menace.

“My name doesn't matter. What does is that you and that partner of yours have denied me my due.”

Hutch shuddered at the mellifluous, accent-less voice that had an undertone of enmity. Feeling increasingly threatened, he readied himself to bolt off the couch and tackle the mystery man—a better option than firing a .357 in a hospital. “Who do you think you are? You have no right to talk about my partner.”

The man took a step toward Hutch. It was so fluid, Hutch thought the man was floating more than walking. He took a quick glance at his feet. He suppressed a gasp when he recognized the man's shoes; they were exactly like the expensive Italian shoes his father had worn when he was laid to rest just ten months ago.

Hutch jumped up, moved into the man's personal space aggressively, noted they were the same height as he drew his weapon halfway out of the holster. “Who the hell are you?” he asked even though he knew the answer.

The man snickered. “What gave me away? The shoes? I thought wearing them would be a nice touch.”

“Get out of here. Now,” Hutch said through clenched teeth, which failed to conceal the tremor in his voice.

The man's lips curved in a black-hearted smile, showing teeth that incongruously gleamed white even in the room's dusk. “I'm here for what is due me. I've been denied long enough, Detective. For too long and for too many times, you both have cheated me out of my claim to both of you. Finding antidotes, thrusting one out of the way of bullets and steel rods and vehicles, and so much more.” He paused, stood taller, now towering over Hutch, whose only reaction was widened eyes.

“Just hours ago, I had him. He fought me, kicking, screaming, clawing, striking, but it wasn't enough. What was it the doctors said? 'Massive damage... A body can stand only just so much'? I had him, until you came bursting through those doors like some single-minded white knight on a mission, sending him the power he needed to defeat me! Again!

Hutch was petrified of the fury pouring off the man who was now perspiring and clenching his fists. He gulped in hopes he could speak. He took a breath and said calmly with a voice that crackled with fear but mostly with sheer stubbornness, “You can't have him. He's mine, and he stays with me.”

The man howled, whirling 360 degrees and growing taller still but also wider. He stopped in front of Hutch, who couldn't hide his trembling any longer.

“Are you aware how much he will suffer?” The man spoke softly, cajolingly. “And suffer horribly for months? He will be troubled by his injuries for life. Is that what you want for him? The man you claim to be your partner, your friend, your other half?”

Hutch inhaled sharply then held that breath. How does he know we feel that way? He exhaled when he realized that this “man” would know that about them. However, there was something he couldn't know, and Hutch planned on using that.

“You don't know that about Starsky. You don't know the future, except for one thing—everyone dies. And obviously, you don't even know when that will happen, at least not for us.” Hutch wanted to show smugness; instead, he let his expression go neutral to hide his anxiety about how right the man probably was. Massive damage.

The man's eyes narrowed and one eyebrow arched. “I will have him.” His iron will came through loudly and clearly. “I will not leave until I have him.”

Hutch, rocked to his core, reached out to his guiding star lying comatose in a bed just yards away. For you, Starsk. As you would for me. Then, rearing his head back to glare at the giant before him, he said, “Take me instead.” No quaver or hesitancy, just the tranquility of love.

Two beats later, Hutch palmed and pressed his head, as if that would stop the most excruciating headache he'd ever had in his life. Though mystified how it could be, he was sure he heard Starsky exhorting him to stay. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath that wouldn't come.

=S&H=

Starsky swam in a blackness deeper than midnight, thicker than molasses, surfacing at unknown intervals to capture bits and pieces of what he thought might be happening around him but didn't understand and to experience hellish agony, before the blackness drew him back in.

He emerged from the viscous blackness once more, and everything, for a change, was so clear this time. That woman—beautiful beyond description, seductive in a non-sexual way—he had fought against so hard when she tried to pull him into a brilliant blue sun was back. Now she was a he. My own Christine Jorgensen, only the other way around. Looked different, sure, Godzilla-ish big, but the haughty, cavalier attitude was the same.

And Hutch was with him/her.

And he knew what it was. He hadn't earlier, but he knew now.

Then it was black again, triggering desperation in him. He didn't know why, but he had to get to Hutch, protect him from that bastard. Hutch! Tell me where you are!

He realized he could still hear, even if he couldn't see any longer. Heard it say he was going to suffer horribly, for the rest of his life, ask Hutch if that was what he wanted for his other half. Heard Hutch challenge it about the future. Heard it say I will have him as clear as day. Heard Hutch say Take me instead. His voice sounded like a perfect bell, deep and rich and sure.

Starsky shoved aside that gorgeous sound and shouted No, take me! over and over until his inner voice was hoarse and choked with fierce tears.

He panicked when he realized he could no longer hear Hutch yet could feel his blistering headache. You should be the one to stay, to live. Not me. Listen to me, Hutch. You stay, I go. That's the way it's gotta be. You hear me? Do what I say, dammit! If one us has to go, it should be me, babe. I'll gladly do that for you. I want—need to do this for you.

As if a light had switched on, Starsky became aware of new voices around him. Perplexed voices. He caught snatches of conversation...

Seizure? Trying to get up? Are those tears? Heart rate 140. Valium. Coma. Tie him down?

Starsky could feel Hutch slipping away. Oh, no you don't, partner!

He turned to face the man responsible for Hutch's imminent death. You take me, you cruddy asshole, and you leave him be for a hundred years, so take a fuckin' holiday 'til then. No quaver or hesitancy, just the pure passion of love.

=S&H=

The man wailed in utter frustration, powerless once again to sever their bond. With a nod of his head, he reluctantly eradicated the lethal aneurysm he had created in Hutchinson's brain. He fled, defeated and empty-handed.

=S&H=

Hutch jolted awake, sweating heavily and disoriented. Blinking a few times to clear his blurry vision, he became aware of the remnants of a headache. Seconds after that, he remembered the dream.

Nightmare, more like it.

Dream or nightmare, it had seemed so real. Starsky had been in it; he had heard him, felt his warm presence. Death had been there, in all his pompous, entitled glory.

Starsky!

Hutch practically catapulted out of the chair and raced down the hallway towards Starsky's room. Along the way, his memory of the nightmare faded as rapidly as his heart beat and his legs pumped. By the time he arrived at the window, all that remained of the terror he'd dreamed was Starsky's demand that Death take him and not Hutch.

At first, he couldn't see Starsky; his bed was surrounded by doctors and nurses and orderlies, talking, doing things he didn't recognize.

Dread froze him. Eventually—seconds or minutes or eons later, he wasn't sure—he thawed and shoved the door open. Staying in the threshold, he asked in a quiet, hopeful voice, “Is he okay?”

Carolyn, the nurse closest to Hutch, must have heard him over the hubbub because she left Starsky and approached him. Placing a comforting hand on his tense arm, she said, “Yes, he's still with us.”

“So what's going on?” he asked, not quite keeping the wobble out of his voice.

“A couple of minutes ago, he started thrashing around. At first, we thought it was a seizure, but it was unlike anyone has ever seen. It was too purposeful. It seemed to some of us as if he was trying to get out of bed. It resolved only a few seconds ago, without any Valium. As far as we can tell, he's back to where he was before this all started.” She smiled when Hutch let himself relax under her reassuring touch.

“I can let you go to him, but only for a minute. We need to find out why this happened.”

Hutch smiled his thanks. Something tells me you never will. “I'd appreciate that very much.”

As soon as Starsky's primary nurse for the night finished drawing blood and applied a bandage, Carolyn shooed a couple of people away so Hutch could be at Starsky's left. He sat in the chair Carolyn had moved to the bedside. He took Starsky's hand in both of his, then leaned over the unmoving but living body and whispered, “We're still here, Starsk.” Then he pressed Starsky's fingers to his forehead. The lingering headache vanished. Relief and gratitude took its place and grew until they filled his entire body. Shortly thereafter, he was sound asleep.

=S&H=

All of a sudden, that asshole was gone. Starsky was furious and distraught beyond quantification, thinking that the son of a bitch had taken Hutch instead. You ain't gonna get me now. You try, and I'll beat you so bad you'll wish you'd've taken yourself, you ugly shithead.

The dense blackness started to encroach again. He fought it, certain there was something he needed to know before he returned to oblivion. It slowed its progress, then stopped when Starsky felt something hurtling toward him.

Hutch!

He settled down, sure now that Hutch was still here with him. He hurt, massively so, yet he was content. He stopped fighting the blackness, at least in part, that he finally understood was a haven from the pain. The last thing he felt before yielding was his hand in Hutch's.

the end

August 2019