Author's Chapter Notes:
This is my first time playing in the Fandom... I hope it's OK.
DARWIN CAN FUCK HIMSELF
(Late August 1979)
It took three days for Hutch to realize he was in over his head.
The doctors had told him that rest was the best thing for Starsky. Rest, plenty of fluids, balanced diet, regular medication, and supplemental oxygen as needed. Hutch had been assured that everything was OK. Considering the trauma his partner had endured, everything was progressing wonderfully. Few complications, aside from Starsky grumbling hatefully about the ‘supplemental oxygen’, the medications, and shiny new restrictions on his diet. But, Hutch reasoned, he couldn’t blame the man for grumbling. Starsky was a creature of habit, and it would take a while to break a lifetime’s worth of them concerning his body and health.
So, it wasn’t a surprise when Starsky cursed bitterly from the sofa that first evening home, said he wanted a burger and fries and a couple beers, not this cardboard colored bullshit ‘milkshake’ Hutch had foisted off on him.
“You’re on half a dozen medications that say specifically ‘do not consume with alcohol’.”
“One beer isn’t gonna hurt anything!” He dropped his head back against the sofa and rolled his eyes in Hutch’s direction, “We had significantly more than beer when you brought me that veal!”
“That was different,” Hutch motioned at him with a spatula and continued scraping the eggs out of a pan onto a plate.
Hutch didn’t want to admit that it had been different because he’d been drunk himself and not thinking clearly about what heavy pain medications and alcohol would do to his partner’s system. “It’s different because you’re my responsibility now, not the nurses.”
Starsky sighed audibly and rolled his eyes in a dramatic fashion, as if he were about to lose consciousness. “Come on, Hutch. One beer.”
“No,” He sat the plate of eggs on the coffee table.
“I’m fine, I can handle it. One beer isn’t gonna kill me! It’s not even gonna give me a buzz.”
“Starsk, one beer might not kill you, but how many ‘just one beer’s is it going to be from now on?” He circled the sofa and leaned over it, hands braced on either side of Starsky’s head; “Your mind is dull as ever. You may feel normal, but your body isn’t the same anymore.”
“Who says I feel normal? Walkin’ up the stairs winded me—I feel like the fat kid in gym class.”
“And you look like a scarecrow.”
“I do not!”
“You kind of do… You lost what, fifteen—sixteen pounds?”
Starsky mumbled; ‘Twenty-four,’ barely loud enough to be called a whisper, and Hutch pretended not to have heard him. Swallowed past a lump in his throat.
“You lost muscle tone. It’ll take some time to get it back. And beer isn’t the way to do it! You need protein, minerals—”
“—VITAMINS!” Hutch gave the sofa a hardy shake for emphasis. “Beer is not a vitamin!”
Starsky peered up at him sourly. “Benny.”
“Benny Goldberg… Skinny, bug eyed fink, used to hang out at the Pits every night drowning himself in tequila sunrise. You remember him.”
Hutch rocked back and forth on his feet and let out an exasperated sigh.
“Benny Goldberg only had one kidney and all the booze in the world didn’t hurt him.”
“Yeah, well where is Benny Goldberg now?”
Starsky glanced away innocently; “That ain’t fair, it wasn’t the kidney that killed him!”
“No, it was his liver—Which, I remind you, you only have half of now.”
“Three quarters!” He poked Hutch between the eyes with a rigid finger. “And the doc said it’d grow back!”
Hutch thumped his brow against his partner’s lightly, ignoring how Starsky spluttered when hair fell into his mouth. “Choose… One beer, or the burger. Can’t have both.”
Starsky was shoving at the blonde hair curtaining itself around his face. “That’s just mean! ‘s like askin’ a guy to pick his favorite child!”
“Hurry up or I’ll change my mind.”
“Burger… happy now?” Starsky pushed him away and crossed his arms over his chest.
Hutch retreated and collected the telephone.
“Anyway, what happened to the whole ‘Welcome Home Surprise Party’ you were planning?”
“Scrapped it when I realized there wouldn’t be anything surprising about it. Besides, the doctor said to keep you calm.”
Starsky was quiet for a five count, listening to the blonde speak tiredly to Huggy over the phone. “Tell him extra fries!”
“No fries? I thought you wanted them.”
“Yes, I want them.”
“Okay yes, he wants them.”
“Extra fries, Hutch.”
“Wait, now he says no fries. Yeah, I know. Weird.”
“Damn you, I said EXTRA FRIES.”
“Hold on a minute, Huggy,” He pressed the receiver halfheartedly to his shoulder and ignored the sound of chuckling from the other end, “Look, Starsk, you’ll have to make up your mind. Do you want fries or not?”
“Then just calm down, and let me make the order,” Hutch could feel an itch on the side of his head. He wondered vaguely if Starsky hadn’t developed some supernatural ability since cheating death. Maybe he could shoot lasers out of his eyeballs now, or make people disappear like that kid from the Star Trek episode. Starsky sure looked angry enough to try it anyway.
Starsky slouched deeper into the cushions; “If I’d known you were gonna be like this I’d’ve stayed in the hospital.”
“If I’d have known you were going to be so difficult I would have let you,” Hutch muttered.
The first evening was pretty much normal, aside from the sidestepping and waltzing Hutch and Huggy did around Starsky’s injuries. Starsky ate, laughed, tried not to choke on his food. Told jokes and fell asleep watching some crummy flick on the TV. And the second day wasn’t much different. Starsky stayed in bed late. Bitched vehemently when Hutch woke him up at about eight AM for his medication and to make him put on the oxygen cannula because he was wheezing in his sleep something terrible. He went back to sleep and was pretty much motionless until afternoon when Hutch woke him again. More medication, two hits from an inhaler and shuffle to the sofa where he sat with his knees drawn up under his chin. He stared blankly at some game show on TV while he slurped noisily at soup.
That evening Starsky took a walk around his apartment, picked at the plants Hutch had lined his window sills with. Sorted through his mail. Blew some dust off a few of his ship models and muttered ‘fuck’ as he waved the now airborne debris away from his face.
Hutch watched him from over the top of his newspaper as he moved around, bouncing a little on his feet. It was good to see him up and moving. Pulled at a knot that still lingered in Hutch’s chest that reminded him with every twinge, that Starsky had almost died. He sat studying the man for a long time; taking in the differences, and signs of illness. The pallor of his skin, and the shadow under his eyes. It was most evident in the deceptive fragility of his wrists and arms, the prominence of his jaw and hip bones. The way his jeans didn’t fit so snugly in the thighs and waist.
He wasn’t wasted, no. The physical therapists at the hospital had made sure Starsky could move about under his own power before they’d cleared him to leave. He wasn’t by any means hollow or emaciated, but he seemed… thin. Diminished somehow. As if the weight of damaged and missing organs visibly took away part of his mass. It was ridiculous, Hutch knew, but his eyes still stole to his partner’s ribs and belly. Lingered on the impression of gauze patches he could just make out beneath a t-shirt.
The doctor had advised that they keep a few of the incision sites covered for a while longer. The flesh still tender and fragile beneath. Some still flecked with scabs. The bullet wounds themselves still looking like they could split open and bleed, despite having been packed, cleaned, and stitched closed weeks ago.
Starsky caught sight of himself in a small mirror hanging near the kitchen. He tilted his head a little and scratched his fingers through his hair. Rubbed the little dark prickles growing on his chin and jaws. Smiled wide like a loon and checked his teeth.
Hutch snorted into his coffee and tried to hide behind his paper.
Starsky entered the kitchen with a swing of his hips and arms. Tugged the fridge open and peered inside. “What’s all this green stuff?”
“That’s not spinach. Spinach comes in a can.”
“Thought I’d make pesto.”
“Pesto?” He lifted his brows, “With spinach?”
“There’s basil too.”
Starsky made a sound, impressed and reached for a beer.
“Not a chance, slick.”
“Aw, come on! It’s my fridge!”
“And it’s my beer.”
It wasn’t even that things declined quickly after that, because Hutch didn’t really know anything was wrong until it was suddenly right there in his face.
That second day, Starsky simply seemed restless, even when he was just sitting on the sofa or lying on his bed dozing. Restless like he usually did when he felt healthier than he was. Hutch had known him for more than ten years now, he knew how Starsky functioned when he was sick. Be it a papercut, or a gunshot wound. Hutch knew. There was Antsy Starsky, Whiny Starsky, Bitchy Starsky, Angry Stubborn Starsky, Sneaky Starsky, and Reluctantly Patient Starsky. That was how he worked. That was how it always worked. But, like he’d said that first day. He may feel normal, but his body had undergone a life altering trauma. That wasn’t how things worked anymore, and it took Hutch three days to realize this.
Eight AM on the third morning Hutch pushed open the bedroom door and flicked on the light, medication and a glass of water ready. “Come on, rise and shine, Gordo!”
Starsky pried open gummy eyes and blinked at him slowly. His body was curled a little bit to the right, oxygen hissing in a clogged nostril. He said nothing, just sat up and took his medication. Hutch didn’t even notice the tremor in his hand until the glass slipped and water upended over Starsky’s face.
“Fuck,” Starsky spluttered, dropped the glass all together and yanked the cannula out of his nose. He flung it toward his feet and scrubbed both palms over his face and chest. Swiped quickly at the water pooling at his hips and lap.
Hutch snorted; “Should’ve stayed awake when you got up at six… I told you not to go back to bed.”
Starsky just shifted himself stiffly out of bed and shuffled to his dresser for a dry pair of underpants. “Would you get a towel?”
“Nothin’ like ice water on your lap to start a morning off right,” Hutch went for the bathroom, came back to find Starsky still standing by his dresser, scratching numbly at his hair, clean underpants dangling from his left hand. Hutch ignored him, mopped the water up from the mattress as best as he could and changed the sheets. Cream colored with green and orange stripes. They were somewhat threadbare, but would do for now. He shook out the blankets and squeezed water out of them. Draped the driest over the closet doors to put back on, piled the wettest in the corner. He’d pin them up outside to dry later.
But when he turned to his partner, Starsky was still just standing there. Elbow propped on the dresser, head in his hand, staring vaguely at his navel. “Starsk, are you just gonna stand there and drip?”
Starsky didn’t move, but his breath hitched and came out metered and slow. Went back in carefully.
Hutch’s brows drew together; “You OK?”
He moved forward quickly, put a hand on his partner’s hip; “What’s wrong?”
Starsky’s eyes closed slowly, “’s hard to breathe.”
Hutch’s chest ached, “I’ll call—”
“No… no—It’s ok. It’s n-normal.”
“No, it’s not normal—”
And Starsky looked at him evenly. “Yeah it is… Now.”
Hutch’s mouth was dry; “What d’you mean?”
Starsky shifted on his feet, pressed his head into the angle of the blonde’s neck; “I got a bad lung… Didn’t really—really realize it ‘til now.”
Hutch pressed a hand to the nape of his friend’s neck; “Oh, buddy—”
“Bad lung, one kidney… Half a liver—”
He wheezed a little laugh that turned into a cough; “Hutch.”
“It’s ok,” He drew him in, both arms tight and supporting more than a little bit of his partner’s weight. “It’ll be OK, I’m here,” But he didn’t know it would be OK.
Hutch was struck suddenly by the realization that he was in way over his head. He didn’t know what to say to make it better. Didn’t know what to do to comfort, so he just held on, pressed a kiss to the temple near his lips and felt Starsky sag against him. A warm dampness spreading across his shoulder. His stomach juddered and his mind raced. This was new territory, something undiscovered and terrifying. He didn’t know if they could overcome this, or if they would have to admit defeat. He scratched at the walls in his mind and collected every bit of foolhardy hope and every little wish and prayer he’d hidden over the years and propped confidence into his voice like a crutch.
“Hey, it’ll be alright. The doctor said it’d take time… Your body’s still healing. It’ll—it’ll take time for your lungs to learn how to work again, for your body to adapt.”
“This ain’t like my liver. Lungs don’t grow back, Hutch—”
“No, but you’ve got enough left that the doctor thought you’d be OK without oxygen support.”
“Then what’s that can over there!”
“Temporary—O-only when you need it! W-when you’re stressed, or you’ve overdone yourself.”
“I had it on all night and still felt like I was suffocating!” The urgency and fear had drawn his voice tight and thin.
“Take it easy—take it easy, just listen to me. Listen.”
Starsky stilled, breath quick and wheezing through mouth and nose. Hot against Hutch’s shoulder. His hands had tangled in the back of Hutch’s shirt, stronger than they looked, stronger than what Starsky obviously felt.
“Y-you just went from round the clock nursing care, regular pain medication and twice daily check ins from the respiratory therapist to practically nothing… You need time to adjust. Gotta take it easy,” Hutch passed his palm up and down the back of his partner’s head, petting, trying with everything he had to soothe the smaller man. “It’s OK, we’ll get there. It’s just gonna take some time. Some—some things’ve gotta change, but it’ll be alright. I’m here. I’m not goin’ anywhere.”
“W-what if it don’t get any better?” He snuffed wetly.
“How do you know that?”
“Because that’s how the body works… You’re still healing. Not even half-way yet. Humans—we-we adapt. We grow. We heal. That’s how we work. Survival of the fittest remember?”
“Darwin can fuck himself. It’s been three months and I feel like shit!”
Three months, twelve days. “You gotta look at it differently… This—this was big, Stars. Really big. Your body has more to heal now than it ever has before. It’s gonna take a while. You’ve gotta give yourself time, and care enough to do it right… You half-ass this it’s your life we’re talking about.”
“That—that’s too much. It’s too much.”
“We’ll get through it. I’m not—I’m not going anywhere.”
Starsky was quiet for a long while, holding and being held. His face hidden in Hutch’s shoulder, breath shuddering and quick. He felt slightly dizzy, either from the fading adrenaline or lack of air he didn’t know, but he held on. Turned his face into the gentle presses of Hutch’s lips and squeezed his eyes shut against everything else.
Hutch kept whispering, soft careful words of encouragement, what exactly he said didn’t matter. Just primal sounds of comfort and offered stability. Breathed slow and deep until he felt the rise and fall of the other’s chest sync with his. The tension leaking away slowly. “You OK? Are you OK now?”
“But you will be. You’ll be OK?”
“Yeah,” He took a breath and let it out slowly. “Yeah, I’ll be OK.”
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