No one would tell Starsky anything. People came and went through his foggy perceptions: poking at him, covering him, uncovering him, jabbing him with cold metal that pinched or stung, telling him to sleep, not letting him sleep, man-handling him onto and off of surfaces that sometimes didn't stay still beneath him. The chorus of voices filled his head full of words that said nothing. Even after the awful fever had burned itself out, after the wrenching nausea had passed and he knew he'd been in surgery and it was over and he was in a hospital limbo somewhere, no one seemed to want to tell him anything. They would say "Roll over, Sergeant," and "Sit up, Sergeant," and "I'm going to give you a little shot now, Sergeant," like he was back in the army, and they ignored his questions. There was something he needed to remember, but they kept him in a fog bank, and he drifted and held himself numb because he didn't know, and they were all strangers, and they wouldn't tell him. They wouldn't even give him a hint. Maybe they weren't allowed. He swam around weakly in the fog, and he dreamed:
Three white coffee cups on a black stone table... Two filled with grey poison... One with antidote... Except, one of the cups of poison had been drained into a hypodermic, and Vic Bellamy laughed... Starsky looked down at his arm and stared at the tiny puncture inside his elbow... Oh not that again, not that! and the ghost-face laughed. Across the table, Hutch lunged for the third cup... The antidote... But the second cup was in the way... The cure could not be had without first emptying the other. 'Don't do that!' he wanted to say, but the poison pain was coming down hard, and he couldn't speak... He was filling with cold greyness, and he could do nothing, only watch as Hutch lifted the cup, drank down the poison, and the last cup alone was left...
The table dissolved and Hutch was cradling him in one arm as one holds a child, and the third cup came and touched his lips with odd and insubstantial coolness that slipped into his mouth without his wanting it to enter... It slid down his throat like mist, and Hutch kept pouring it until the last drops were gone, and none was left... As Starsky watched, Hutch's skin began to blanch white, his blond hair becoming a solarized halo. His arms around Starsky turned to ice and began to melt. 'Don't leave me, Hutch,' he pleaded, trying to hold onto his partner, but Hutch was melting, turning into water that looked and felt like slushy blood, and there was a lake of crimson froth beneath them that spread and spread, and Hutch was smiling, a scary smile that meant the end of everything, and --
Starsky woke up screaming.
"Davey! Dave Starsky," a garbled voice was calling, and Starsky wanted to open his eyes to see, to make sense, to get out of the nightmare and escape to some other reality, but he was weighed down and his eyes seemed to be glued shut.
"Ohhhh..." he heard his own voice resound, echoing painfully inside his skull, and he remembered that he was in a hospital. Hospital in a fog somewhere.
"Davey, are you all right? Are you awake?"
"Huh?" That voice. Knew It. Who? Mag. Maggie.
"It's Maggie, Davey. Can you understand me? You were having hell's own nightmares. I was afraid you were delirious again."
"That's right. You're safe, you're in a hospital, and you're going to be all right."
Hospital. Doctors. He realized why everything was dark. His eyes were bandaged, probably with surgical patches. And that cued everything else. His head cleared, and it all came back. And he remembered the thing he couldn't remember before. Hutch. Grief drove a razor of pain through him. Jesus... no...
"How long?" was all he could get out.
"Well, they've kept you pretty heavily sedated for a couple of days because of the surgery. You were sick with quite a fever, too, they had you packed in ice at one point. The doctors say you're out of danger now, though, and your eyes are healing. You'll see again, though you'll have to keep the patches on for another week or so and -- " She paused. "What's wrong?"
He hardly heard her words. The first rush of anguish was fading into a sense of infinite weariness. He was alive, but it gave him no comfort.
"Davey, what is it?"
How could she understand? It was almost too much effort to answer.
"I made a promise... to Hutch. I -- " he swallowed drily -- "I didn't keep it."
"Well, can't it keep until you two get out?"
Stunned, his mind reeled, not sure he could trust his ears.
"Good God," the voice said, coming nearer, "didn't they tell you? Ken is here, he made it. They took him out of Intensive Care this morning. He's in a room down the hall."
For a very long minute, Starsky couldn't speak.
"You mean --. but I thought -- but he... Oh God." His voice broke, and he turned his head away. He tried to raise his hands to his face, but his arms had no strength, and one was taped to an IV board. Maggie had the decency not to say anything, waited for him to recover.
"I gotta see him," he said finally. He cleared his throat with a harsh cough. "Well, I guess I can't really 'see' him, I mean be with him. Mag?"
"I'll try to find the doctor to ask -- "
"No, wait." An incredible feeling of restlessness was building in him, pumping adrenalin. No matter how crazy it seemed, he had to be sure. "They won't let me. They never let you do anything in these places. Find me a wheelchair, willya? I'm prob'ly little wobbly to walk. How long we been here, anyway?"
"It's Thursday, this is the fourth day. Davey, you've been flat on your back all that time. I don't think you should get up yet."
"If you don't help me, I'll knock on every room on the floor 'til I find him myself."
"You wouldn't get ten feet."
"Try me," he said, rolling to his side. His head spun as he sat up, and a needle in him jerked sharply. He might not make it three feet but he wasn't going to let on to Maggie.
"Stay put! I'll find a blasted wheelchair," she said.
He heard her leave and groped with his left hand right. The IV was run into a vein in the back of his hand. Gritting his teeth, he yanked it out, discarded the armboard. The nurses could give him hell later.
Something rattled by the door.
"Come on, we'll have to hurry. These wheels are hot," Maggie giggled. "I ripped them off from an old lady in the whirlpool bath down the hall."
Starsky got into the chair with a lot more trouble than he hoped was apparent.
"Whoops," Maggie said, and tucked a sheet around his lap. "Short nightie."
Silence seemed the best response to that.
"The coast is clear," she said, pausing before she wheeled him into the corridor.
The place sure smelled like a hospital. Starsky wrinkled his nose. It was fairly quiet, though, probably the end of a shift. His stomach gurgled, and he rubbed the back of his hand thoughtfully. Hospital food or glucose from a tube. Not much of a menu. He kept his hand busy with musing about what he would have for his first meal when they got out. Don't think. Don't think. Not yet...
The chair stopped, and Maggie walked around him, left for a minute, then came back.
"He's sleeping. Maybe we shouldn't -- "
"Take me in, huh?"
"Don't you think we -- "
"Please, Mag. Just park me next to him, and leave us alone for a while. 'Kay?"
"I'm going to be banned from the building after this," she sighed. "I'll wait out here and try to intercept any trouble."
"Mag, you're beautiful. You're a helluva friend." Her hand ruffled his hair, and he caught it. "When we get outa here, we'll have the biggest celebration L.A. ever saw."
"Or at least the rowdiest," she said, and squeezed his shoulder, then wheeled him into the room. "Shhhh. He's here on your left. I'll be back in ten minutes, if all hell doesn't break loose first."
Her footsteps moved away, and he heard the door close. The room was warm, and very quiet. Traffic hummed distantly. He listened, and could hear slow breathing, even and reassuring. Hutch. Alive.
Moving with exaggerated care, Starsky felt along the sheet on the bed, touched an arm. Tape, gauze. A plastic ID bracelet. He settled on warm fingers, and the tension in him drained away in a rush that left him faint with relief. He rested his head against the edge of the mattress, next to Hutch's hand. There was a slight movement up by the pillow, and the breathing quickened.
With the curtains pulled, it was dim in the room, and for a moment, Hutch couldn't see the form next to him clearly. He blinked sleepily and focused on the top of a curly head, dark, down by his hand. Fingers wrapped around his own. A wheelchair. A gauze band matting the brown hair against the skull.
The shadowed face came up, hollowed cheeks glistening.
The traffic outside growled louder for a moment, then subsided.
"How... is it?" Hutch whispered.
"Okay. Still a little queasy. You?"
Starsky's hand on his was like the touch of springtime sunlight: gentle, and life-giving. An energy flowed through it into him, Hutch felt it surge. The too-long-and-slow pitched battle under the dismal ceiling lights of the Intensive Care ward, where it was always artificial day, where the only allies were tubes and pumps and plastics and chemicals and sterile faces in sterile gowns, where it hurt to move, it hurt to breathe, it hurt to think -- easier to die, but they wouldn't let him -- now he knew it was over. He had beaten the odds. They both had.
He savored the touching.
"I feel... lucky," he said fervently. "Very lucky."
"Me too," Starsky said. He couldn't hold back the happiness tugging at the corners of his mouth. So good... "Christ, Hutch, you sound like hell."
"You look... like hell." Hutch hesitated. "I asked about you... but all they said was... you had surgery. Starsk -- what about your eyes?"
"Haven't talked to the doc myself, yet, but Mag says it's okay, I'll be fine."
The intensity between them almost crackled. Hutch tried to turn his wrist, take his friend's hand, and Starsky slipped his fingers into Hutch's palm. They clung together, saying nothing for a while.
"Hey... buddy, listen," Hutch breathed. He felt an overwhelming need to put words to the confusion of emotions bubbling inside him. This person -- this human being with the crooked grin plastered on his face, the tears drying on his cheeks, the living warmth in his hand -- how much they had been through, together. It could not be grasped in a cohesive thought. "I love you, man." Hutch remembered it. The memory was clouded by pain and the sensation of hallucination that memories of pain always carried, but he knew it had been said. He remembered how he had tried to tell Starsky what he felt, too.
Starsky held his breath, bowed his head slightly, waiting. He knew that tone to Hutch's voice, Something heavy was coming. It had to.
Inevitable. Necessary. He was a little afraid -- but he also wanted it. If they were to come back to life, leave the pain behind, they had to recoup the lightness. And the only way to do that would be to acknowledge, not ignore or deny, the truth between them.
"The things I said... when I thought I was going to die," Hutch went on. "I meant them."
Starsky's heart was trying very hard to pound its way out through his chest. Curiously, his usual reaction, which would have been to grin and say something asinine, didn't grab him. Defenses down, he bit his lip, flustered. He couldn't belittle what had passed between them.
"I know, partner," he said. "So did I."
Hutch's grip tightened, and he sniffled. Reaching with his other hand to clasp Hutch's between both of his, Starsky somehow got the IV tube snarled around his wrist.
"Jesus," he giggled, because if he didn't laugh, he was going to cry again. "This is a helluva way to eat dinner. Or is it lunchtime?"
Hutch smiled helplessly. The electricity was still there, but it was bouncing mirthfully between them, reverbing, feeding on itself.
"If I'd known you were coming," he said. "I'd have ordered pizza."
Starsky laughed. "With pepperoni 'n anchovies!"
They were both giggling now, weak, feeble laughs, the hard moment past.
"And olives and peppers -- and onions -- if that's what you want," Hutch wheezed. "Oh God -- it hurts to laugh!" But it wasn't a complaint.
"You'll never get the olives to fit down the tube," Starsky cackled, and he felt so good that he threw his head back and hooted. "Yessir, give me some garbage pie! I'd kill for an anchovy."
"Oh Starsk -- oh hell -- I'd even eat a corndog!"
Limp with hilarity, they were defenseless when the head nurse barged in. She scolded everyone in sight, threatened Hutch with restraints and Starsky with a sedative, and carted the unrepentant Starsky back to his beef broth lunch and confinement.
When the uproar finally disappeared down the hallway, Hutch let himself relax into the mattress again, but he couldn't stop smiling. He was worn out -- plain sleepy, in fact -- and he knew he'd be dozing in a minute, but the tiredness had a different flavor. The heaviness hid gone out of it. His healing ribs throbbed from the boisterous activity, but it seemed a small price to pay. He could still feel the electricity he'd generated with his partner tingling through him. It was joy. More. It was love. You could go a long way on love. A million miles to the gallon, he thought drowsily. Maybe more...