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“He been out of there today?

“No. I suggested it- just about got out with my jaw intact.”

“OK . You got the stuff I asked for?”

Huggy indicated a duffle and a basket on the seat beside him.

“Yes, but.....”

“Don’t worry- I can handle him. If you really need him, we’ll be in Dr Blair’s room. But it’d better be an earthquake-and a big one at that.”

“You’re a brave man, Mr Doctor Professor Pierce, Sir.”

“No. Just a man not bringing any baggage to the table.”

“They say you saved Starsky’s life. Reckon that amounts to baggage.”

“I’ve saved a lot of lives. That’s my job. Right now I’m more interested in saving a mind.”

When he first went into the room, for a moment Ben thought he’d lost that fight before he’d even started. He barely recognised the gaunt, haunted figure hunched in a chair beside the bed-and it looked as if the figure didn’t recognise him either. Then a hoarse, hostile voice said “What are you doing here?”

“Good evening to you, too, Sergeant Hutchinson. Be quiet a moment while I read this.”

Ben took the file from the holder at the end of the bed and read it, ignoring the cold blue stare. Then he assessed the monitors, made mental notes of the readings, and turned to Hutch with a smile.

“OK. Come with me.”

“Fuck off.”

“No. You’re coming with me, and I’m going to take you somewhere quiet where you can shower, eat a little, let me look at whatever horrors are going on under that bandage on your hand and sleep a little so you can come back for another shift and not keel over.”

“I’m not leaving him. He needs me...”

“Oh yes, this mystical bond I’ve heard so much about. Well, I’ve got news for you. He doesn’t need a mystical bond right now. What he needs is good drugs, excellent doctors and nurses and fantastic technology. Very soon he’ll need you strong and well and able to deal with the shit that’s coming his way as he gets better, so you need to be ready for that. Ah- you want to hit me? Go right ahead. And when you’ve laid out the man old enough to be your father who is one of the reasons David is still alive, be in no doubt I’ll call the police and have you arrested. At least that’ll get you out of here for a while. That what you want?”

Ben stood his ground, watching the turmoil on Hutch’s face, longing to take the younger man in his arms. At last a voice so quiet it was almost inaudible said “What if he wakes up and I’m not here? He’ll think.....”

“He won’t. But if he does, Huggy knows where you’ll be. It’s two minutes away. Come on, son. Let me care for you a little.”

All of a sudden, Hutch gave way.

“Fifteen minutes.”

“That’ll be a good start.”

He risked taking Hutch’s arm as he led him out of the room, nodding to Huggy as he grabbed the duffle and the basket, and led him down the corridor to the room he had commandeered . He steered the unresponsive Hutch in and locked the door behind them.

“Dr Blair does himself well. That chair looks comfortable.”

Hutch ignored the lounger and chose an upright chair in front of the desk-and Ben shrugged as he poured a glass of water.

“First, drink that. You look a little shocky to me, and dehydration won’t help.”

Hutch sipped, then put the glass down.

“Feeling sick? It’ll be OK if you take it slow. What are they telling you?”

“Fuck all.”

“Are they doing the “it’s a waiting game” thing? Bit more water.”

Hutch picked up the glass, then put it down again.

“It’s driving me mad. Why won’t they tell me? First they were sure he was going to die-now...”

“They have to be cautious. I don’t. Do you want to know what I think?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything any more. I’m....I’m......”

“Running on fumes.”

Ben caught his breath at the crucified face turned up to his, then said very gently.

“It’s not you keeping him alive.”

“I wish I could believe that.”

“Hutch. Things could still go wrong. But unless something unexpected happens, he’s going to live.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Ben shrugged.

“Up to you. But I’ve read the file, reviewed the stats and that’s my professional opinion. And I think they’ll tell you the same in a couple days time.”

“What’s the catch?”

“The catch? The catch is that he may well regret staying alive. It’s going to be a long and ugly recovery. And he won’t ever be the man he was. He won’t be a police officer again.”

“I don’t care. I don’t care. So long as I get him back....”

“You’ll get him back. Now, how about we try and get you back?”

Without protest, Hutch showered, dressed in the clothes Huggy had packed in the duffle for him, ate the soup and the bread Huggy had packed in the basket for him, then, finally, stretched out his arm on a folded towel, and let Ben peel the bandage away from the knife wound he had suffered a ten day life time ago in the Parker Centre garage. He had been aware of the pain-had even welcomed it as a tiny token of Starsky’s suffering, but, looking at it dispassionately now, it was obviously a mess. He glanced under his lashes at Ben as he examined the injury, dreading his reaction, knowing that he wouldn't be able to stand either disapproval or sympathy, but neither came.

“Too late for stitches, so I’ll just clean it up-which is going to hurt-and load you with antibiotics. In an ideal world, I’d have you in bed and hooked up to an IV- but that’s not going to happen, is it? No, thought not. I’ll give you a couple of shots to kickstart getting the infection under control, then some pills you’re too smart not to take. You’re going to have a pretty dramatic scar.” The voice was kindly but detached. “And there’s a bit of tendon damage that won’t mend. This finger isn’t going to bend as well as it did or be as strong as it was.”

Distracted for a moment he missed the expression on Hutch’s face and looked up at the silence.

“Ah, fuck, son, I forgot. That’s your trigger finger....”

Hutch went so white that Ben lurched forward, ready to catch him when he fell. But realisation began to dawn, and slowly his face was suffused with transcendent joy.

“You mean-I’ll never be able to fire a gun again? Never? That’s the best thing....”

Then the tears came at last, and Ben took Hutch in his arms and held him for a very long time.