Ten Percent Solution
It wasn’t the skyrocketing blood pressure or the low white count. It wasn’t the fact they couldn’t do an MRI because of possible metal fragments lodged in the abdominal wall. It wasn’t the fact that once again Wilson had tried to pass the guy off as his cousin. It wasn’t even the formidable man sitting in the chair beside the bed, glasses perched on his nose, calmly reading the Times with a Magnum strapped to his side.
No, the one thing that lured Dr. House into a patient’s room before he’d even decided to take the case was the rumor that Nurse Brenda was sitting cross-legged on the end of the bed, a checker board balanced on her legs, shouting, “King me!”
Sure, it had been Chase who had told him and he could hardly be counted on as a reliable source, but the idea that Brenda, Beelzebub’s sister, could actually be interacting with a patient in a way that didn’t include a prick or a prod or a bitch - well, that was a real puzzle. And anyone who knew him knew he could not resist a real puzzle.
“Nurse, we usually don’t screw the patient until after they get the bill.”
House swept into the room, registering the guy with the gun, Wilson, Cameron and Cuddy. Who was this guy? He noticed the pale skin, the salt and pepper hair, estimating his age to be around 60. Saw that he held his right arm stiffly to his side, that he kept glancing at the guy in the chair. That he kept glancing at Cuddy’s cleavage - splendid today in that red silk shift that had caused him to run into a closed elevator door the first time she had worn it to work. Admired the fact that the guy could work Cuddy and Brenda at the same time. Nice.
The guy in the chair rose slowly and turned toward House. “Can I help you?” he asked. House took two steps closer and happily engaged in the stand-off. He ticked off the basics. Shorter. Bulkier. Used to be blond. Didn’t like to be fucked with. Kept elbow tucked close to big gun. He watched as the man in the bed broke the spell, placing a hand on Blondie’s forearm.
“Hutch, it’s okay . . .”
Cuddy stepped in between House and Hutch. “Ken, I’d like you to meet Dr. House . . .”
“Hutch,” the man corrected and offered his hand to House. House ignored him and limped over to the other side of the bed, snagged the chart and poked Brenda with his cane. “Don’t you have leeches to change, blood to let?”
Brenda slid off the bed. “I’ll be back later, Dave.” She frowned at House and gave a nod to Cuddy as she left.
“House, what are you doing here?” Wilson emerged from the wall where he had been leaning.
“I’m here to see my patient. I had no idea it took two department heads and Cameron to diagnose indigestion and high blood pressure.”
“It’s not indigestion. Or high blood pressure. And Dr. Wilson is our doctor.” Hutch moved closer to the bed.
For just a moment, House contemplated flight. This was already more complicated than it should be. Cuddy had her nose up in it, Wilson was hovering, and Blondie was starting to annoy him. But then the man in the bed spoke.
“Hello - remember me? The patient? Do I get a voice or do I have to just lay here wondering when I got too old or when nurses got so damn young?”
He smiled at House. “I’m Dave Starsky. And the sulking man there is my partner, Ken Hutchinson. I promise he won’t bite and I promise he won’t shoot you unless you deserve it. Jimmy told us about you - said you’re the best.”
“Who said I won’t shoot him?” Hutch muttered and crossed his arms in front of him.
Starsky ignored him. “We were up in New York visiting my brother and I got sick. And Nicky remembered about Jimmy and Jimmy said . . .”
“Jimmy says a lot of things,” House muttered into the chart. He flipped the last page and stopped. Stared. Cursed.
He tossed the chart at Cameron, who had been hovering around the IV pole, and headed out the door. “Take another history. Then get everyone in my office.”
“He’s an ass and I don’t want him anywhere near you.” Hutch slid the door shut and turned to Starsky, who just smiled at him and shook his head.
“Why do you always pick fights with doctors? Jimmy said . . .”
“And if I hear you say, Jimmy said, one more time . . .”
“Hardly - he’s half your age. I just don’t know why you think this Jimmy’s going to have the answer. Especially since it was Nick who said . . .”
“Hutch, shut the blinds, shut up, and get over here.”
“Starsky, you’re sick.”
“I’m not that sick.”
Hutch sighed and walked to the door. He felt a little better now that he had Starsky in a real hospital with supposedly real doctors. If you could call this a real hospital. There wasn’t a wall in sight. Just hallways full of glass. The architect should be shot. He tugged at the blinds and as they flicked closed, he wondered again what the hell was wrong with Starsky. The night he had collapsed at Nick’s - was it really only three days ago - he had a suspicion that it was more serious than the flu Starsky had insisted.
But the doctors at New York General had given him antibiotics, and the ones at Bellevue had said it was food poisoning. Nothing had worked. Starsky had spent the last two days curled on the couch, feverish, moaning, while Hutch paced and Nick smoked. Finally Nick had remembered their distant doctor/cousin, Jimmy Wilson, who worked in some hospital in New Jersey.
Of course Hutch had then spent the next hour grilling Nick on the definition of family, the possible uses of the word cousin. He didn’t need anymore of this Starsky’s bullshit - didn’t feel like handing Starsky over to some “family” doc who owed Nick a favor, or money, or any number of nefarious things that Hutch could imagine about Starsky’s worthless sibling. After all these years, Nick Starsky had never changed - still running the con, making the deal. Hutch would never make the mistake of trusting him.
But Starsky, not one for change himself, still insisted that blood meant something more, and so, for only the third time in 30 years, Hutch had found himself in New York playing nice with Nick.
He had been encouraged when he got online and found that Dr. James Wilson was indeed a doctor, with a page full of recommendations and publications. But the fact that Dr. James Wilson was also an oncologist had pushed his stress level right through the roof again. Starsky did not need an oncologist. Starsky did not have cancer. Starsky could not have cancer. But what was wrong with him?
Hutch closed his eyes briefly to dispel the fear and doubt before he turned to the bed. Starsky was pale, gaunt, his right hand trembled. Even though the hospital felt cold, beads of sweat gathered on his upper lip, which meant he was in pain. Hutch knew the signs. In the early days, Starsky had tried to hide the chronic pain he had inherited from too many fistfights, too many gunshots, too many races to the edge and back. But Hutch always knew. So after enough years, Starsky had dropped the pretense and just complained out loud. Hutch liked it better that way.
“You need something?” Hutch leaned down and ran a hand through Starsky’s hair before placing a kiss on his forehead.
“Just tired of being in this bed. I feel better - let’s go home.” Starsky caught Hutch’s arm and tugged until Hutch sat down on the bed, sliding his hand down his arm until he curled his fingers around Hutch’s. Stilled the worrisome tremor. They sat silent for a while.
Starsky’s breath evened out and Hutch looked down to see that he had fallen into a restless sleep. He untangled his fingers and eased down into the chair, giving Starsky a little space, but kept his hand on Starsky’s leg. As long as he could touch him he could believe that everything would work out. Made him less anxious if he could feel the muscle under his hand, warm and alive.
Touching this man had become so much a part of him now that it felt odd when they weren’t touching. When they couldn’t touch. When they felt compelled to “dial it down,” as Huggy’s son Teddy had said them.
Poor Huggy had never gotten over the fact that his only son not only did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps and take over the family business, (Huggy’s daughter, Corinne, finally took over The Pits, when arthritis made it impossible for Huggy to continue) but that he had followed his uncles onto the police force.
Last year Uncle Starsky and Hutch had helped Teddy, a detective now himself, do some surveillance work up in Mandalay Heights. Felt good to be back on the streets, if only as back-up.
“Hutch, man, chill - Starsky’s not going anywhere,” Ted had remarked as they sat at a table in a hole in the wall on Mason Street, waiting for Ted’s connection. “He’s your man. For real. But you are seriously going to get us cut if you don’t dial it down. This ghetto is not your ghetto anymore. Two old white guys feeling each other up - it does not play.”
He smiled at the memory and looked around the room. He could have been looking around a hundred rooms. Hospitals never really changed. The lights were always just a little too bright, the air just a little too cold, the beep of the monitors just a half beat off the drip of the IV. Hutch ran a hand over his face and sighed. He just wished he knew what the hell was wrong with Starsky.
Chase sat, legs spread, reading the sports page, Foreman ate a sandwich and House poured himself a third cup of coffee. The board read, Jimmy’s Wise Guy, with an impressive list of symptoms already. Diaphoresis, nausea, tremor, anxiety, tachyarrhythmia. The last, Jimmy, was added when House found out that there actually was a family connection - and not just in the usual New Jersey kind of family. Some cousin of Wilson’s had married some cousin of the sick man’s mother. So it was Wilson’s fault he was not home already, watching Spongebob and eating macadamia nut pancakes.
“Where the hell is Cameron? This seems excessive, even for her.”
House limped over and lifted the pickle from Foreman’s sandwich, but Foreman quickly snatched it back. House lifted his cane, and Foreman used his elbow to knock it away. He hunched over to protect his sandwich. “One of these days you’re going to find that cane . . .”
“There she is,” Chase interrupted and pointed to the window and they all turned to watch Cameron rolling a dolly with two big file boxes stacked on it to the door. Chase jumped up, opened the door, and Cameron wheeled in.
“If that’s the history you just took, we have got to get you into some kind of program . . .”
Cameron rolled up to House and sat the dolly upright. “These just arrived. Patients’ history. From California. Overnighted. They’re police officers. Retired police officers.”
All three men gathered around. Impressive. Even to these doctors, who routinely filled up entire file drawers with patient charts. House lifted the lid off the top box with his cane. Full of charts. Some of them old, all of them thick.
“We don’t need these.” House turned back to his board. “Let’s get on with this so we can get Sipowicz diagnosed and out of here.”
“It’s for both of them.” Cameron said.
“They’re both sick?” Chase pulled a file out of the box.
“No, it’s both their charts. Doctor Hannah said we would need them. Seems they share a lot of history.”
“They’re cops?” Foreman pulled out another file and flipped it open. His eyes grew wide as he read. “Chlorotrymatriptomine? He was injected with Chlorotrymatriptomine? And he survived?”
Cameron sat down in the chair. “They’re famous. Sort of. They were the ones who put James Gunther in jail.”
House tried to resist, but he found himself being pulled in. He snatched the file Chase was reading and opened it.
“James Gunther?” Chase asked. “Who’s James Gunther?”
House rolled his eyes. “Way before you were born, Junior. How do you know these were the guys? No one ever knew their names. Not even Deep Throat.” He looked at Cameron. “Spill woman - what did you find out?”
“His kidneys are failing.” Wilson walked into the office and threw a chart on the table. “And his liver’s heading that way.” He walked over to the board and erased Jimmy’s Wise Guy, writing the name Starsky. He erased Jimmy as a symptom and added the kidney failure.
“House, quit grousing and diagnose him. You can whine about conspiracy theories later.” Wilson held out the pen.
House grabbed it and added the name Hutch to the board.
“Hutch is sick, too?”
Foreman interrupted them, “Did you know he’s been shot seven times? Back, chest, abdomen, shoulder, leg, arm . . . no wonder we can’t do an MRI.”
“Let me see.” Chase leaned over Foreman’s shoulder.
House slammed his cane into the middle of the table, which surprised and silenced the room. “Everybody out.”
“But . . .” Cameron started.
“Out. I mean it. Go run tests. Draw blood. Get an LP. Smear a slide, I don’t care. Just get out. Go figure out what’s wrong with him now - today.”
They got up and surged to the door as a unit, Wilson a step behind.
“Not you.” House hooked Wilson’s arm with his cane. He let the kids get out of sight and then motioned Wilson into a chair. He sat next to him.
“You going to tell me what this is really about?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean - your cousin just happens to be visiting and just happens to be one of the Serpicos who brought James Gunther down and you don’t happen to mention any of this to me? Not to mention that his bodyguard, or should I say his boyfriend . . .”
“His partner you mean?”
“Oh, is that what you girls are calling it these days?”
“Would that bother you?”
“What bothers me is that his blood pressure is all over the charts, his kidneys are shutting down, and if I can’t figure out what’s wrong with him, his “whatever he is” will take out a big gun and put a hole in my body where a hole shouldn’t go.”
“You keep saying that.”
Wilson sighed and tapped the files. “So what do you think it is? The tremors are getting worse. Without the MRI, we might have to do a brain biopsy . . .”
“You want to drill into his head, but you won’t tell me why this guy is so fascinating to you?” House rose from the table and turned back to the board. He rewrote Jimmy under the kidney failure, flourished with an exclamation point, and hobbled over to the box.
“Don’t you think it’s the least bit odd that a doctor in California overnights this guy’s records along with his partner’s?” House scanned another file. “Contusions, a broken arm and pneumonia,” he read. He picked up another one. “Cardiac arrest.” He tossed it to the side and dug in deeper. “Five entry wounds, three exit . . .”
“They were cops for years; you’d have to expect some risk . . .”
“This isn’t risk, this is suici . . .” House paused and read more. “This is cool.” He hobbled back over to Wilson and laid the file in front of him. “Read that. Foreman was right - It was Chlorotrymatriptomine. Injected by force. And they drugged his toothpaste.”
“His toothpaste? Cool.” Wilson moved over so House could read with him. “23 hours - he didn’t get the trymoxiconine until 23 hours after injection? How is he still alive? I thought irreversible organ failure happened at twelve hours, tops. And who knew about Chlorotrymatriptomine in . . .” Wilson turned the page, “1975?”
“Evil scientist?” House turned another page and punched the air with his fist in pure adolescent glee. “Yes! Evil scientist. Oh, this just gets better and better.”
He got up and wheeled the dolly closer. Wilson picked up the first box and set it on the table. They settled in and began reading file after file. Every so often they would lean in, merge shoulders, read something together off a chart. House punched Wilson in the arm once when he dared suggest that the “kidnapped by crazy cultists” had to be at the very least an embellishment, if not a complete fabrication. Wilson shoved House back, suggesting that House was just jealous he hadn’t thought of it as an excuse to get out of clinic duty.
Cameron came back once, to report that the medicine had helped the kidneys, but the tremors were worse. House barked out orders for two procedures, told her to get Foreman to book an O.R. in case they needed to do a biopsy, and continued to peer over Wilson’s shoulder at a chart that had Starsky with a broken leg sustained in a fall off a roof trying to wrestle a gun away from an alleged rapist. Cameron started to speak, but the sight of House reaching around Wilson to pick a stray piece of lint off his sleeve sent her heels clicking out the door. Neither man noticed.
Wilson sat in the cafeteria, nursing a cup of coffee. He had only gone home to shower and change, and he could feel his eyelids losing the battle to remain open. Unlike House, who had regulated his body with caffeine and Vicodin to the point of making sleep optional, Wilson needed at least six hours each night in order to function. It had been a real problem in med school, a problem he was rediscovering with his recent relocation to House’s sofa.
So when he heard a cough behind him, he didn’t bother to turn around as he whined, “No more voodoo, House - I need sleep, not another round of Papa Ted’s magic potion story . . .” and was startled when Hutch slipped into the chair opposite him.
“It was Papa Theodore and it was more powder than potion.” Hutch held up his cup. “Mind if I join you?”
Wilson just nodded and rubbed a hand over his face. “How’s Starsky?”
Hutch’s face sobered. “Young Dr. Chase just ordered me out of the room so he could draw blood, or take a culture, or change the bed - something. He seems to be better this morning. Starsky, I mean. Been flirting with Dr. Cameron which is always a good sign.” Hutch held the cup to his face and inhaled. “God, I miss real coffee.”
Hutch nodded. “Little tick in the blood pressure.” He looked over the rim of the glass at Wilson. “You look like hell. Get any sleep?”
“Not much,” Wilson lied. “Did they get you a bed last night?”
“No - didn’t want to leave him. Chair.”
Wilson nodded and raised his cup to his lips. Hutch reached over and stopped him, wrapping a hand around Wilson’s wrist. Wilson looked at him, saw the worry etched in his face, the resolve in his eyes, which were intensely blue. Like House’s. But different.
“Jimmy, tell me. What’s wrong with him? I know you and House spent the night with our files. What did you find out?”
“I wish I had an easy answer for you, Hutch. I really do. We’re still running tests.”
“And we don’t know yet.”
“But you’ve got him in this hospital - you’re running tests. How can you not know what the hell is wrong with him?”
Hutch let go of Wilson’s arm and Wilson set his cup on the table and leaned in, speaking quietly. “It’s encouraging that he hasn’t gotten worse overnight. And we got his kidneys functioning again.”
“Yeah, you’re right - sorry. I know you’re doing all you can. Bad habit. I hate hospitals.” He took a sip of his coffee and leaned back into the chair. “So, Jimmy, tell me about this House of yours.”
House leaned into Starsky’s room, took a quick inventory, used his cane to slide the door open wider and limped in. “Is the coast clear?”
Starsky smiled and shook his head. “Dr. House - it must be serious. This is the second time you’ve been in my room in as many days. I must be dying.”
“Not if I can help it. Where’s your . . . Hutch?”
The pause was slight, but Starsky caught it. He’d learn to listen for it in the past twenty years.
“Partner. He’s my partner.”
“I sent him down to get some coffee. He needed to stretch his legs. And his back. These chairs are murder on his back.”
House grabbed the chart from the end of the bed. “Looks like we poked you plenty last night.”
“Yeah, I saw more action in this bed than I’ve seen in years.”
House raised an eyebrow. “Does your partner know that?”
Starsky chuckled. “What exactly do you want to know Dr. House? If Hutch and I are partners? Or if Hutch and I are ‘partners’?”
“I want to know why you didn’t tell your partner that you’ve been in pain for over a month.”
“I haven’t been . . .”
House interrupted, “You got a prescription for Hydrocodone a month ago. Why?”
Starsky sat up straighter in bed and crossed his arms. “None of your damn business.”
House’s voice rose, just a notch. “I’m your doctor; all of it is my damn business.”
Starsky voice rose to match. “Well then, Doctor. I have not been in pain for over a month; I have been in pain for over a decade.”
They stared at each other, frozen in a moment of recognition, of understanding.
House broke the spell. “Chronic?” He hung the chart back on its pegs. He knew now there was nothing in it he could use.
“Constant. Has nothing to do with what’s going on now.”
House rounded the corner of the bed and took Starsky’s right hand in his, turned it palm down, felt the tendons. “Tremors?”
“Better.” Starsky pulled his hand away and touched House’s cane. “Chronic?”
Starsky nodded. “Accident?”
“Sort of.” House motioned for Starsky to lay back and lifted his shirt. “Blood clot.” He let out a low whistle when he saw the scars on Starsky’s chest, the real flesh and blood evidence of the fantastical stories he had stayed up all night reading.
“Accident?” he asked as he pressed his stethoscope over Starsky’s heart.
“Sort of. Forgot to duck.” Starsky grimaced as House probed his abdomen.
“Pain?” House looked into Starsky’s face, searching for his own answer to the question.
Starsky looked right back. “Only when I laugh, Doc, only when I laugh.”
House hid his grin by looping the stethoscope back around his neck and looked around for a stool. Starsky noticed and scooted his legs, motioning House to sit on the edge of the bed. House let himself down gingerly, relieved to get some weight off his leg, which had been protesting since early this morning. He reached for his Vicodin and popped the cap without thinking.
“Gonna share?” Starsky held out his hand.
House shook out two, handed Starsky one. They swallowed in a mirror image and sat for a moment, staring at each other.
Starsky reached out and tapped House’s leg. “You tell me about yours, I’ll tell you about mine.”
House looked up at the ceiling and spoke, “1975. Italian restaurant. 38 caliber. First shot grazed left temple, second entered right shoulder, lodging just to the left of C3 - that’s your spine.”
Starsky’s mouth dropped. “You got all that from looking?”
“No, from reading. Bestseller stuff, really. Couldn’t put it down. I do have one question, though.”
It finally dawned on Starsky. “Oh, you read my file.”
“Files - for a minute I thought you were even better than Jimmy said.”
“What did Jimmy say?” House didn’t want to, didn’t need to, in fact it was against his very nature, but he liked Starsky.
“About you? Jimmy said plenty.” Starsky raised an eyebrow and cocked his head. “Dr. Jimmy Wilson has a lot to say about you.”
“We’re friends.” House could feel the heat creep up his neck. What the hell had Wilson said?
“Whatever,” Starsky mocked. “So how’d you get yours?”
“Blood clot in my leg. Infarction. Misdiagnosed and then mistreated while I was in a coma.”
“Damn. How long?”
“Five years. Give or take a dozen.”
Starsky laughed. “Yeah, I know the feeling. Been carrying around all this extra shrapnel for two lifetimes already.”
House watched as Starsky grimaced, rubbed his stomach. He stood and began probing the area, muttering.
“What’s that, Doc?”
“I’d bet good money this was a typical Pheo, except it’s not acting like a typical Pheo. But you don’t have a typical history and I can’t get a damn MRI.”
Oh, that clears it up. Thanks.”
House smiled. Which was odd. Again. He never smiled at patients. He never bonded with patients. He never touched patients. Maybe he was getting the flu.
“It’s a tumor on your adrenal gland. Called the Ten Percent Tumor, because many of the symptoms occur in ten percent of the patients. Ten percent malignant, ten percent don’t present with high blood pressure, ten percent genetic . . .”
“Then you better find me the ten percent solution.” Starsky grimaced again. “Damn.”
“Pain worse?” House asked, then glanced at the EKG and grabbed his stethoscope to confirm what he was seeing. A classic Pheo episode. Rapid heartbeat, sweating, tremors, pain in chest, nausea.
Starsky writhed in the bed. “Feels like I’m dying, Doc.”
House ignored him and went to the door, barked some orders to the nurse, and limped back to Starsky’s bedside.
“This happen before? This sudden onset of symptoms?”
“No . . . no.” Starsky struggled to speak through clinched teeth. “Hurts like hell.”
The door slid open and Hutch walked through. “How’s the patient . . . what the hell?”
“Hutch . . . hurts . . .” Starsky hissed.
Hutch took Starsky’s hand and then turned to House.
“Help him. Give him something. What are you doing?”
“I’m watching him.”
“Don’t watch him. Do something.” Hutch rubbed Starsky’s chest and murmured, “It’s okay, just breathe.”
Starsky drew his legs up and kicked off the blankets. “It’s too hot. Too hot.”
Hutch left Starsky and came around the end of the bed. He was two inches from House’s face.
House just leaned around Hutch. “Do you feel anxious, nervous?” he asked Starsky.
Hutch moved back in House’s view. “Of course he does, you asshole. Give him something. Don’t just stand there.”
House finally looked at Hutch. “Classic episode. We can’t do anything till it’s over.”
“When is that?”
“Don’t know. Minutes. Hours.”
“Hours?” Hutch grabbed House by the collar.
House raised his cane and thwacked Hutch across the forearm. “Get your hands off me.”
“Hutch . . . cool it.” Starsky struggled to speak. “He’s helping.”
Hutch looked at Starsky for a moment. “How is he helping?” He turned back to House. “I want another doctor. At least give him something for the pain.”
“No. It’ll screw up the tests. And we don’t know when he’ll have another one.”
Two nurses came through the door and House handed one of them a chart. “You - let’s get catecholamine and metanephrines started. And you,” he pointed to the other nurse, “don’t let him give him any pain meds until I say. I’ll be in my office. Page me when the symptoms subside.”
He headed out the door and got as far as the nurse’s desk when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
He rolled his eyes and turned. “Yes, Dirty Harry?”
“Don’t give me that shit. You can’t just leave him in there like that.”
“Oh, yes I can. Watch me.” He made an awkward move to leave and his thigh twisted out from under him and he fell hard against Hutch.
Hutch propped him back up, but held onto his shoulders. “You okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” House hissed through clinched teeth. “Right as rain.” He leaned heavily on the counter and reached into his pocket.
He pulled out the bottle and shook two pills into his palm. He was about to pop them into his mouth when Hutch reached over and swatted them away.
House watched the pills skid down the hall. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“He doesn’t get pain meds - you don’t get pain meds.” Hutch stepped back and held out his hands. “Fair enough?”
House wondered where Foreman was when he really needed him. To go fetch his pills and kick this guy’s ass. Then he watched as Hutch turned back around to check on Starsky, who was still in pain, and then turn back to him. He saw the worry and the panic veiled under the tough cop exterior. It was just like in the movies. If he didn’t hold some fear for his own well-being, he could really get into this.
“Okay, Hutch. I understand you’re worried. Well, not understand exactly, but Cameron has told me all about this concerned part. Now what is it she would say to you? Uh, go back in there and hold his hand. Give him some ice chips. Read him a book. Whatever. But let me take care of the doctor part, okay? I’m good at it. Really. Ask anyone.”
“But the pain . . .”
“It’ll subside. And then we can work on finding out what’s really wrong with him. Now that’s all the bedside manner you get from me today. Or ever. The nurses will call me when the test results come back and I’ll send someone else to talk to you.” House limped down the hall and deftly used his cane and his foot to kick the pill into the air. He caught it and popped it into his mouth. Then he turned back to Hutch.
“And if you ever touch my Vicodin again, I’ll have you banned from this hospital.”
He turned the corner and when he was out of sight, he leaned against the wall and opened his cell phone.
“Cameron, get everyone together and in my office. It’s Pheo. Yes, I know you said that’s what it was yesterday. What do you want, a gold star? If I give you one, can you figure out how we’re going to find it without an MRI and without Hutchifer murdering me in the process? That’s what I thought. And find Wilson. This is all his fault; he might as well be there, too.
He snapped the phone shut and closed his eyes against the throbbing in his leg. It was going to be a very long day.
“It’s not a Pheo.” Cameron met him at the door with the file. “Look at his liver.”
House took the file, scanned it, and tossed it on the table. “Could be on the spine.”
“Or the kidneys, or even aortic. Problem is - we can’t tell without an MRI.” Foreman picked up the file. “We could do exploratory surgery.”
“Not with that blood pressure. He’d stroke out on the table.” Chase shook his head.
“And three minutes later, I’d be dead from a gunshot wound.” House walked to the board and tapped a marker against it. “So, how do we find a tumor without an MRI?”
“What about his liver?” Cameron asked again. “His enzymes are through the roof.”
“Could be completely unrelated.”
Wilson walked in. “We are related. I told you - we’re cousins. His mother and my grandfather are . . .”
“Unless your grandfather or his mother had a Pheo, I couldn’t give a damn.” House turned back to the board.
“Mind if I join you?” They all turned as Hutch took a step into the room.
House turned and pointed with his marker. “Yes I mind. Do I go on your stake-outs, jump into your interrogations?”
“You couldn’t handle our interrogations.” Hutch walked into the room and sat in the chair next to Wilson. “What’s a Pheo?”
“Dr. Cameron, please explain to Mr. Hutch why we don’t allow family members to sit in on our diagnoses. And do it quick. Cagney and Lacey is on in ten minutes. And I think this time they’re finally gonna do it.”
“Your leg hurt?” Hutch raised an eyebrow.
The room fell unnaturally quiet. Everyone waited for the fallout.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
“I don’t care where you take it as long as you take it out of my offic-“
“-because you’re more of an asshole when your leg hurts. Same as Starsky.” Hutch smiled and shook his head. “Real piece of work.”
“Gosh, I might cry.”
“You might have the balls not to hide behind the pain and tell someone what’s really going on with you.”
“Or I might just have Foreman and his buddies jump you in the parking lot. Who can tell with me? Now can we get on with this?” House turned back to the board, tried not to shift his weight off his leg.
House shoved the door open with his cane and tossed his bag on the floor. He couldn’t carry it another step. His leg was killing him. And tonight that felt more than metaphor. He had stayed three days too long at work, trying to figure out Starsky and his AWOL tumor. He had finally been persuaded to leave when he stared across the table and saw that Cameron was the only one left, watching him, waiting for him to talk to her. So he ordered another CAT scan and fled the scene. Wilson had disappeared with Hutch hours before and the boys were down in the lab, doing whatever they do down there. Running tests. Staining slides. Fucking for all he knew.
He limped over to the couch, plopped down and that’s when he heard the piano. His piano. No way could Wilson play Mood Indigo. No matter how morose he was. He rose up, confirming what he already knew. Hutch. Ellington, apparently, as he got caught up for a minute in the haunting chord progressions, the way the notes bled from Hutch’s fingers. The cop was good.
“It’s called breaking and entering.” House didn’t want to get up. Didn’t want Hutch in his house. Didn’t want to kill Wilson for letting Hutch in his house. Especially in front of the big bad Detective. Who had probably taken some oath about that kind of thing . . . he’d have to go on the lam, change his name, bleach his hair . . .
“Jimmy went to get dinner.”
“This isn’t Jimmy’s house.”
“Tell him that.” Hutch finished, letting the last notes carry him over to the couch. He stood and looked at House for a minute. “You look like shit. Leg hurt?”
“Should I be worried about your unnatural fascination with my leg?”
Hutch chuckled. “Just don’t want anything to get in the way of you fixing Starsky. You want a beer?”
House sat up and gingerly swung his legs to the floor. “Play my piano, drink my beer. What’s next, Goldilocks? Gonna break my bed?”
Hutch came back out of the kitchen with a sealed bottle of Glenlivet. And two glasses. And a smirk. “You saving this?” He handed House a glass.
“Yes, you’re saving this or yes, you want a shot?”
“Both.” House took the glass and held it up. Hutch cracked the seal and poured. Two fingers.
“Generous with my hooch.”
“Nothing. Just an ancient joke. You wouldn’t get it. Looks like you could use some of your ‘hooch’.”
He poured himself an equally generous splash and held up the glass. “To Starsky’s recovery.”
House clinked and drank. Held out his glass. Hutch poured again and raised his glass.
“I don’t believe in toasts.” House swallowed the contents and turned away. Grabbed the remote. Sat on the couch, tried to ignore his guest. Jimmy’s guest. Not his.
“Hotels all booked up?”
“Jimmy insisted. I wanted to stay at the hospital.” Hutch shrugged. “Got outvoted on that one. Might go back up there later anyway. When he’s asleep. When his mouth’s closed.”
“His liver’s better.” House blamed it on the “hooch” - this sudden curiosity about Starsky. And Hutch. “You live with him in California?”
“What are you asking me?” Hutch joined House on the couch, splashed another finger into his glass. “And that’s good, right? His liver?”
“It’s good. For now.”
“Yes, we share a home. Like you and Jimmy.”
“You sleep on the couch, crack your knuckles during the Wheel and generally make him miserable?”
“Man, you are one tough nut.”
“I’m the nut that’s going to cure your . . .” House help up a hand. “What? Husband?”
“Hardly. Partner. That works.” Hutch snatched the remote from House. “Will you be straight with me? For just a minute. Then you can go back to making everyone around you as miserable as you are. Okay? I’m just asking for a minute.”
House frowned and then held out his watch. “Okay, sixty seconds. Go.”
Hutch rubbed his hand over his face. “You’re going to regret wasting all this time.”
“You’re the one wasting time. Forty eight, forty seven . . .”
“Okay. Tell me. What are the odds you can find this Pheo before it’s too late?”
“If we could do an MRI, it’d be a done deal.”
“Yeah, Jimmy told me. Fragments. And the pin in his shoulder.”
“The pin’s not the problem. We could remove the pin. We know where it is. But he won’t survive surgery, which is the other option.” House saw that each word he said landed like a blow. His curiosity ratcheted up another notch. “But, I’m sure ol Jimmy mentioned that I have never lost a patient.”
“Well, we did misplace a couple. But then, I was high as a kite that day so . . .”
“You’re a real bastard. If I were a few years younger, I’d kick your . . .”
“I have a cane.”
“I have a gun.”
“And a firearm. I know. Whoops, minute’s up. Now give me back the remote. Baywatch rerun.”
Hutch tossed the remote on the coffee table. “Get it yourself.” He held out the bottle.
House held out his glass. “Are you trying to get me drunk, Officer?”
“No. Just thought you’d be more tolerable if you were.”
“Yeah, figured that one out already.” Hutch poured himself another one and then set the bottle down and laid his head back against the couch. “Damn, this is either good Scotch, or I am really tired. I could sleep right here.”
“Might get awkward, what with good ol Jimmy right on top of you.” House snorted at the image. Regardless whether it was intentional or not, he was definitely headed towards tipsy. At the very least.
Hutch raised his head and looked at House. “You’re kidding, right? Jimmy doesn’t really sleep out here, does he?”
“I just thought . . .”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure that’s why.”
“Why what?” House felt the conversation floating away from him. What were they actually talking about?
“You remind me so much of me. A hundred years ago.”
“Is that supposed to be a compliment? I read your file. People were always shooting at you a hundred years ago.”
“Oh I’m sure you got plenty of people wishing they could shoot you. What I mean is - you remind me of me because you’re so blind.”
“I saw you stealing my remote. Not that blind.”
“He loves you, you know.”
“Oh my. You gays do love to recruit.”
“Just don’t waste it. That’s all I’m saying.”
House wondered if that third shot had been a good idea. Everything was getting fuzzy and he was hot . . .
“We almost did.” Hutch wasn’t talking to House anymore. “Thank God Starsky figured it out. I don’t think I ever would. Would have just kept making the same mistakes over and over again.”
“What kind of mistakes?”
“You really want to know or you just yanking my chain for your own amusement? Because I won’t have you mocking Starsky - you got that? Man saved my life . . . is my life . . .”
“Wilson doesn’t love me. He’s my friend.”
“Buddy, anyone who’s your friend for more than a minute and a half has got to love you.”
“He’s been my friend for nine years.”
“He loves you.”
“He tolerates me.” House tried not to think of Wilson and love in the same sentence. “How long with you?” There. Steer the conversation back to the new puzzle.
Hutch’s eyes went to the ceiling and House watched him calculate. His own fascination with Starsky and Hutch and their partnership was fast eclipsing his interest in Starsky the patient.
“I’ve known him almost 35 years. Partners for 17 of that. Lovers for . . . it gets complicated.”
“Well, there is fucking and there is . . . more than fucking.”
“More than fucking? Now I am intrigued. How does that work?”
“You know better than me how that works. I’d bet you’re real good at fucking. Not so good at the more than part . . .”
“Is that a proposition?”
how did you guess?”
They both turned at the sound of the key in the lock. Wilson poked his head in. "Everything okay in here?" He pushed the door open, and then kicked it shut behind him.
House rose unsteadily from the couch, swiping away Hutch’s helpful hand and turned to Wilson, eyeing the two sacks he held in his hands.
“You’re in so much trouble. And that better be from Kin Soon.”
Wilson frowned. “No . . . Kin Lin. I thought . . .”
“See?” House turned to Hutch. “He’s so easy.” He limped past Wilson and down the hall.
Wilson smiled weakly at Hutch, who was standing with the glasses and liquor bottle.
“Think I’m going to sneak back to the hospital.” Hutch made a short trip to the kitchen, then came back out, and slipped into his jacket.
“But, Starsky said . . .”
“Starsky’s asleep by now. I just need to check on him. Make sure he doesn’t need anything. Make myself feel better. Thanks Jimmy.” He nodded toward the bathroom. “Tell the bastard we’ll continue our discussion later.”
Wilson turned away from the closing front door to the opening of the bathroom door.
“He ran, didn’t he?” House limped and leaned and tottered down the hallway. “Pussy,” he muttered and swiped a bag from Wilson’s hands. “This better be Kung Pao . . .”
“What did you do?” Wilson followed House into the kitchen.
“The question is, Jimmy - what the hell have you been telling him that you’re not telling me? Huh?”
Wilson didn’t speak. Took out a container, opened it, let the steam rise.
“That’s what I thought.” House grabbed the container, pulled a fork from the drawer and limped into the living room. “You can fix me some pancakes - make it all up to me. I’m busy now, though - Baywatch rerun. You know how it is. I love the ladies.”
Starsky was not asleep. He sat giggling in the flickering light of the midnight movie. Hutch stood in the doorway for a minute, watching. Only Starsky could have managed to get hospitalized during a Three Stooges marathon. He blamed the giggles on the painkillers. He blamed his increased heartbeats on the look on Starsky’s face. The smile. Thirty years melted away and he was watching another Starsky, giggling in another bed, trying to keep Hutch quiet and balancing a platter of antipasto on his bandaged chest.
“Room for me in there?” Hutch asked as he stepped into the room. And if he thought Starsky’s smile made his heart skip, nothing could match the look he got when Starsky realized it was not just another nurse.
“Hutch. You reading my mind again?”
Hutch walked over and kissed him on the forehead. “Just ignoring you again.”
Starsky sighed and grabbed Hutch’s hand. “I know. Missed you the minute you left.”
Hutch twisted around, looking for the chair, but Starsky tugged at his hand. “Here, sit with me.”
“Been a long time since we both fit in a hospital bed. Let me go get the chair.”
Starsky didn’t let go. “No, come on. We fit. I’ll scoot.” He pulled again and Hutch crawled in the bed. His ass was only partly hanging out and if he concentrated, he could almost find a balance.
“There.” Starsky tossed the blanket over him. “We fit.”
Hutch groaned and managed to hook his arm under Starsky’s head. “Stooges?”
“Thank God. I’m going a little stir crazy in here. Hate just lying around.”
“I know. Not much longer.”
Starsky sighed. “Dr. Chase was in earlier. Asking me all about the shootings. Hadn’t thought about a lot of that in a long time. He’s a good kid. Good doctor.”
“I had an interesting conversation with House. Not a good kid. Reserving judgment on the doctor part.”
“He’s okay. Lot of demons.”
Hutch chuckled. “Yes, Mulder. Lots and lots of demons. You feeling better?”
“Feeling no pain. Better now.”
They watched for a while. Hutch had to put his foot on the floor after a while. Finally gave up and when Starsky’s eyes drooped, he slipped out of the bed, went out in the hallway and got a chair. And a pillow. Came back and settled in for the night, feet propped on the end of the bed. He had just gotten used to the beeps, used to the lights, used to the chair digging a trench through his ass when he heard Starsky moan.
“You okay?” He reached up and touched Starsky’s arm.
He was out the door and back in with a nurse before Starsky could turn over. He was on the phone before the nurse could get the thermometer into Starsky’s mouth.
To House’s credit, he made the eight mile drive back to the hospital in six minutes. When he limped into Starsky’s room, Wilson a step behind, he frowned. Starsky was sweating, writhing. Cursing. Hutch stood, holding his hand. Helpless.
The nurse filled in the details and House quickly ordered the pain meds. Didn’t want Starsky to suffer when they couldn’t even tell where the pain was coming from. Didn’t want Hutch to steal his Vicodin again, beat him to a bloody pulp, whatever.
“Hey, doc.” Starsky hissed between the waves of pain, “fix me this time or you’re fired.”
“He just woke up like this.” House figured out the rest by the look in Hutch’s eyes. Must have been bad.
For a minute, House traveled to an entirely new place. Empathyville. Wondered what he would be feeling if Wilson was the one in that bed. Vicodin couldn’t touch the shock of pain that ripped up his chest. He shook his head, grabbed the chart, tried to act like a doctor.
Wilson was busy examining Starsky. “Davey, if you can concentrate for a minute - tell us exactly where it hurts the worst.”
“All over . . . stomach’s on fire . . . head . . . shit.” He turned and puked all over Hutch’s chest. And then passed out.
The medical staff took over. The nurse urged Hutch out of the way and Wilson and House stood on either side of Starsky, assessing. Talking in low voices.
“He said stomach first.” Wilson glanced over at Hutch, who was peeling out of his shirt, pulling scrubs over his head.
“He also said head. Shall we flip for it?” House probed Starsky’s stomach. “If we don’t know the exact location, he’s a leaky boat. And I’m scheduled to go down with the ship.”
House glanced up as Hutch joined them.
“So, we wait.”
“I swear if you say that again to me, House . . .”
Wilson placed his hand on Hutch’s arm. “He’s right, Hutch. For now. Until something else happens that will tell us more about the tumor.”
“And that something else is happening.” House commented as the numbers dropped on the monitor. “Get him out of here,” he barked. “He’s in v-fib.”
Hutch struggled against the hands as more people surrounded Starsky’s bed. He died a hundred times in the space of a beep. The stuttering of the sound took him to a knee. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. He could only hear the beep. One long whine, threading through his brain, searing every cell. He’d heard it in his nightmares for years. He couldn’t survive it again. He’d always known that. His mind clamped down and he sank to the floor.
House sat on the edge of Starsky’s bed, tugging at his lower lip, eyes drifting from the monitors, to Starsky’s face, to the case file opened on Starsky’s chest. They had stabilized him. For now.
He looked over to the other bed. The new bed. Moved in after Hutch took a header into the glass wall, slashing his forehead on the edge of the cart and had to be stitched up and calmed down. Blood pressure through the roof. It had been Wilson’s idea to keep him in here close to Starsky. Saved the nurses from the god awful roar that would have surely started the minute Detective A couldn’t find Detective B. Saved House from making that exact decision based solely on the disturbing fact that he would want to be with Wilson. Now if he could only stop making creepy comparisons and figure out how to save Detective B before Detective A woke up.
“Any change?” Wilson walked over and stood beside House.
“Calm before the storm.” House nodded towards a sleeping Hutch. “He should be waking up any minute.”
“He can sleep through an avalanche.” Starsky whispered, his eyes still closed.
House slid off the bed and swiped the stethoscope from around Wilson’s neck.
“He fell like an avalanche.” House pressed the scope to Starsky’s chest. The monitor beeped steady, but House just wanted to check for himself.
“What happened?” Starsky struggled to sit up.
“You went into cardiac arrest and then he took a header into the window. Thought you cops were tough. He wilted like a daisy.”
“He okay?” Starsky put his hand over House’s, over the stethoscope.
“He’ll be fine.” House patted Starsky on the shoulder.
“Are you okay?” Wilson stared at House, his eyebrows disappearing into his hair. He moved beside House. “I mean, really. Are you okay?”
“Don’t you have to radiate someone?”
“If I didn’t know better, I think I just witnessed a little bedside manner.”
“And if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were jealous.” House took the stethoscope and tried to press it against Wilson’s chest, but Wilson swatted it away.
“Oh, get a room already,” Starsky croaked and turned to Hutch. “His blood pressure I bet. Didn’t take his pill. Never takes his pill.”
“We can get his prescription filled downstairs. What does he take?” Wilson walked to the other side of the bed, but didn’t take his eyes off House.
House just stuck his tongue out at Wilson and continued his exam. “You in pain?”
“S’okay right now.” Starsky took House’s hand again. “What are we going to do?”
House took a moment and stared back at him. He got lost in the way the fear and hope twisted themselves together just above Starsky’s left eyebrow. He gripped his hand tighter, wishing he had some damn vocabulary for this kind of thing. He glanced over at Wilson, who was standing, opened-mouthed, watching. He was no help. He made a quick note to himself to listen more carefully the next time Wilson rolled out the “everything is going to be okay until it’s not,” speech.
“I have no idea.” The truth. Odd. Uncomfortable. But true.
Starsky squeezed House’s hand and then let go. “Thanks.” He turned back to Hutch. “He’s not going to be happy.”
House raised an eyebrow back at Wilson, who had yet to close his mouth and turned to the other bed. He leaned down to Hutch’s ear.
“Yo, Serpico, wake up.”
Hutch, his eyes still closed, struck fast. He had House by the throat and pulled across his body before anyone could react.
“Give me a reason I shouldn’t kick your ass.”
Wilson flew around Starsky’s bed and was pulling on House’s shoulder by the time House struggled to get his cane loose. Get his hands loose. Get loose.
“Let him go, Hutch.” Starsky’s voice stopped every movement in the other bed. Hutch released House, who slid off the bed into Wilson, who stumbled back, but managed to keep them both upright.
Cameron walked through the door and stopped at the sight of House in Wilson’s arms. “I . . . uh . . . Dr. House . . . I . . .”
“Drat! She caught us again.” House pushed himself off Wilson. “We weren’t doin nuthin, Auntie Allison. Swear.” He took a step and snatched the file Cameron had been wringing out in her hands.
The movement prompted Cameron. “We think we have an idea.”
“Better be good.” House and Hutch spoke at the same time.
Starsky chuckled and then winced. “Better be soon.”
House took a look at the contents of the file, limped past Cameron and out the door.
Wilson followed, giving a cursory nod to Starsky, and Cameron stood for a minute, smiling at the two men in the beds.
“You can go too, sweetheart,” Starsky said. “Not gonna be safe in here for lovely young ladies when I tell this guy what’s been happening since he checked out.”
Cameron nodded and left.
Hutch leaned up so he could see Starsky better. “It’s not going to be safe for you either, if you don’t start talking. Are you okay?”
“Better now. The docs fixed me up. You on the other hand, are a pain in my ass. Fainted like a girl . . .”
“It’s definitely adrenal.” Foreman offered as House and Wilson walked through the door.
“You send Cameron to sound the alarm so you can tell me that a Pheochromocytoma is adrenal?” House turned to Wilson. “Can I fire him now?”
“We got the original ultrasound from New York.” Chase held out the thin film. “No way it’s spinal. And if it were in the distal . . .”
“He’d be dead by now.” Cameron joined the group.
House held the film to the light. “Okay, let’s say I believe you. That the tumors are sitting pretty atop the kidneys right where we can get at them.” He shook the film at Foreman. “What do you suggest we do about a bleeder that can’t be MRI’d?”
“Laparoscopic. In and out. Benton at Mercy can do it.”
Wilson shook his head. “Benton won’t touch it.”
“You could do it, Chase.” Cameron slid into a chair.
“Me? No way. I don’t want to go in blind on a bleeder.”
House smiled and limped to the board. “Thank you, Chase. For not only showing your true yellow belly, but for stating it so eloquently. No one wants to go in blind on a bleeder.”
“How about Metyrosine?” Foreman looked at House. “We haven’t even got him on any medicine yet.”
House stood facing the white board as the debate between surgery and medicine floated around him for a good five minutes. When the rest of the room fell silent, he turned to Chase.
“So if I knew for sure that the tumor is adrenal, and if I knew for sure what side, then would you do it?”
“It’d be easier. In and out, like Foreman said. But . . .”
“Be right back.” House limped out of the room.
The rest of them sat quiet for 30 seconds and then surged as a group to the door.
“He wouldn’t really . . .” Cameron asked as they hurried down the hall.
“Yes, he would,” Wilson answered. “It’s been on his secret wish list for years.”
“Bloody hell,” Chase hissed and broke into a run.
Foreman beat him to Starsky’s room. Hutch was sitting on the edge of Starsky’s bed and the two were obviously engaged in a heated discussion. Well, Hutch was. Starsky just sat there, smiling. Nodding.
Wilson came up behind Foreman. “Where is he?”
“How do I know?” Foreman turned to Chase and Cameron. “I say we start the meds and wait for him to show up. Or you could sit here and wait for him. I’m going back to the office.”
Wilson walked over and talked to the nurses for a moment, and then returned. “I’ll start the Metyrosine. Chase, you check the Clinic and Cuddy’s office. Cameron, do the roof and the cafeteria . . .”
“Jimmy.” Starsky’s voice shot out of his room. Wilson hurried in.
“My partner here is starving. Do you think you could convince Dr. Cameron to take him down to the cafeteria and feed him?”
“I know where the cafeteria is.” Hutch stood.
“I’m headed down there anyway,” Cameron smiled as she stepped into the room. “I’d be happy to go with you.”
“See, Hutch? She’d be happy.” Starsky smiled. “And I need to talk to my cousin.”
Cameron tucked her arm in Hutch’s and, after a quick scowl back at Starsky, he led her out of the room. Wilson pulled a chair closer to the bed.
“How are you feeling?”
Starsky frowned. “Feel like shit. Wanted him outta here so I could moan in peace. Feel like my skin’s crawling off.”
“We just ordered a medication that should take the edge off most of the symptoms.”
“Feel a little weird, too.”
Wilson stood and unwrapped his scope from around his neck. “Does your chest feel tight?”
Starsky stopped him. “No, Jimmy. Weird, not sick. Feel like I’m going to die. All I keep thinking about is that I’m about to die and Hutch is not going to make it if I die and every time a nurse walks by I get this feeling that I’ve already died and the nurse is coming in to tell Hutch . . .”
Wilson put a hand on Starsky’s arm. “It’s the tumor.”
“Feeling like I’m being stalked by the Grim Reaper is a symptom?”
“Yes - feelings of impending doom, an elevated level of anxiety . . .”
“Sounds about right. Oh hell, Hutch is never going to believe that one. He would have just told me it’s all in my head.” Starsky winced and sucked in a breath. “Any chance you got a secret stash like your buddy House?”
Wilson smiled. “No. They only allow one drug dependent physician on staff here. Insurance I guess.”
“He’s a piece of work, your House.”
“He’s not my-“
“Yeah, yeah, whatever Jimmy. Just don’t waste all your time denying something for the sake of denying it, okay?”
Wilson shifted in his seat. “We’re friends.”
“And how long you been in love with each other?”
“We’re not . . .”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. Well, let me tell you a little story, then.”
Wilson nodded and settled into his chair.
“Once upon a long time ago, Hutch and I were tight like the two of you.” Starsky held up his hand to stop Wilson’s protest. “Friends. Best friends. Partners. That’s all. We went through hell in those early days. Some tough cases. Real Elmo Leonard stuff. Well, you know. You read the files, right?”
“Right. And what I gathered between the lines of all the phone calls between your mother and mine . . .”
“Right. So, those days, you couldn’t slide a piece of paper between us, we were so close. Lived for each other. Died for each other.”
Wilson nodded. “But doesn’t some of that come with the territory? Band of Brothers? Brothers in Blue?”
“You read a lot of crime novels, don’t you Jimmy?”
“I read a lot of things, Davey.”
“Okay, so then we got stuck in something we couldn’t get out of . . .”
“Yeah, James Gunther.”
For a moment Starsky stopped talking. Wilson could almost see the demons swirling.
Starsky waved a hand in the air, dispelling them all. “So you know I got shot up. For real. Six months recovery, cardiac arrest, infection, the whole nine yards. Ticker stopped right in front of Hutch. Twice. Just about killed him.”
“That’s why the MRI is out.”
“Yeah, fragments. Pain in my ass for years. But I guess if I’m being honest, I should start before I got shot. You know Jimmy, when there’s a truth so obvious that you start to trip over it every day, it can wear on a person. And it just about wore us out. We were so busy finding ways not to be together, not to love each other, that we almost ended up hating each other. Hutch disappeared into booze and women, I hid behind my badge, got so goddamn officious I couldn’t even stand myself . . . until of course we tossed it all into the drink and then I got shot and at the end of it all, there was Hutch. Looking like crap. Big cheesy moustache. But still there. And I knew then it was time to stop denying the obvious truth. He was the one. Capital O.”
“But Hutch is not House, Davey.”
Starsky chuckled. “Jimmy, House is more like Hutch, from what I’ve seen, than even Hutch sometimes. Impatient, always thinks he’s right, stubborn, with a mysteriously rigid moral compass that needs a decoder ring to figure out - ring any bells?”
“You could say that about a lot of people . . .”
Starsky frowned. “Divorce number three not proof enough?”
Wilson fidgeted in his chair. “Proof enough that I shouldn’t be married.”
“Proof enough you ought to stop looking out in the world and start checking out the person who’s been standing beside you all this time. That’s all. I’ve seen the way you guys look at each other. Surprised everyone else around you hasn’t noticed yet.”
“There’s nothing to notice. We’re . . .”
“Friends. Yeah, got that. But just to finish my story . . .” Starsky raised an eyebrow.
Wilson held up both hands. Tugged at his tie. Wondered how soon the sweat forming on his forehead would trickle down into his eyes. Hoped Starsky didn’t notice that every word was slamming into him like a fist to his gut.
“. . . and so I just leaned in and it was over.”
Hell. Wilson had missed it. The story. The happy ending. The guidebook on how to go from House’s friend to House’s more than friend. He smiled, hoping Starsky wouldn’t notice and told himself the disappointment he felt had nothing to do with his sudden interest in the correct steps. In the guidebook . . . in the whole idea . . .
“You didn’t hear a word I said, did you Jimmy?”
“I . . . uh . . .”
“Already plotting your own search and destroy campaign?”
“Well, I . . .”
“I’d get him drunk first. Guys like House need to be lubricated before they come around.”
“This a private party, girls?” House said from the doorway. “Or can anyone come?”
Wilson stood quickly, wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his lab coat and turned to House.
“Where have you been?” Wilson put his hands on his hips.
House ignored him and walked to the end of Starsky’s bed. “Where’s the old lion?”
“Dr. Cameron is feeding him.”
“I hope she brought her whip and chair.”
“If she didn’t, I’m sure Hutch will let her use his.”
House snorted and then turned to Wilson. “Did you kill all your patients?”
“I’m just making sure you don’t kill yours.” Wilson stood his ground.
House stared at Wilson for a moment. Then took a step to the left. Wilson took a step to his right, mirroring House’s move. House moved back right and Wilson followed. House tried a fake right, step left, but Wilson was undaunted. Starsky chuckled and clapped twice.
“See, you two are already great dance partners.”
“House, don’t.” Wilson moved a step closer to House, into his path. Into his space. They stood that way for a moment - Wilson wondering when House would call his bluff and House wondering why he could feel his pulse in his neck. In his chest. In his . . .
“House, don’t.” Chase shouted, as he and Foreman burst through the door.
“Leave them alone,” Starsky commanded, “they’re doing just fine. I got them dancing.”
Wilson abruptly stepped back two feet. House stared at him for a few seconds and then an evil grin appeared. He took two steps toward Wilson. Wilson stepped back. House stepped forward. Wilson held up his arms and stepped back two more steps, which forced him against the empty bed.
“Is that all you people know how to say? ‘House don’t?’”
House took another step until he was pressed against Wilson and Wilson had to grab his shoulders to keep from falling back on the bed.
“I say go for it.” Starsky crossed his arms and settled back into the pillows. “But what do I know - I’m just a sick old man. What do you think Dr. Chase?”
“Wha . . . I don’t . . .”
“It’s too dangerous,” Foreman answered for him.
“Dangerous?” Starsky shook his head. “I’d like to be on one of your dates.”
“He’s talking about you,” House said to Starsky, but kept his eyes focused on Wilson. “So, you think it’s dangerous?”
Wilson swallowed hard. “You can’t do the test.”
“I’m not talking about the test.”
“What test?” Starsky sat up.
“This feels like a test to me.” Wilson wriggled a little to the left and managed to get one leg free. He turned and pushed and suddenly he was standing, looking down at House, who was sprawled on the bed.
“Get out of my bed,” a voice growled from the doorway. “Get a room means get your own - not Starsky’s.”
House sat up and patted the bed beside him. “Come on, Goldilocks, there’s room for you.”
“Can it, House.” Hutch entered the room and moved to Starsky’s side. “These yahoos bothering you, buddy?”
Starsky chuckled. “Hardly. Haven’t had so much fun since we stopped rousting dandies from outside Huggy’s.”
Hutch patted Starsky on the leg. “I don’t remember that as being particularly fun.”
“That’s because you always wanted to be good cop. S’no fun being good cop.”
“I had to be good cop. Any time you tried to play good cop, you ended up getting pissed and dragging the guys out in the alley anyway.”
“What about Fat Rolly?”
“What about Fat Rolly - why are you making me think of Fat Rolly?”
“Fat Rolly?” House moved to the side of Starsky’s bed. “You guys really are a comic book come to life. I guess next we’ll hear all about the hooker with a heart of gold turned snitch Sugar Valentine and her dancing Pomeranians.”
“Her name was Sweet Alice and she didn’t like dogs.” Starsky said and reached up to lay a hand on Hutch’s forearm. “So what about this test?”
Wilson came and stood by House. “He’s not going to do it. It’s too dangerous.”
“What is it?” Hutch stopped clenching his fist and took Starsky’s hand.
“It’s a simple, yet risky procedure where I induce an attack. If you head south immediately, we know the tumor is sitting on top of your kidneys and the chorus boys behind me scurry down to surgery and remove it.”
“Induce an attack? How?” Hutch’s fists clenched again.
“OR’s ready.” Dr. Cameron walked in the door. “Benson and Cuddy are waiting for you.”
Wilson shook his head. “House, what if you miss?”
“Miss?” Starsky struggled to keep Hutch on his side of the bed. “You can miss?”
“I won’t miss.” House raised his cane and a million things happened at once.
Foreman jumped for the monitors, Chase reached for the IV stand, and Cameron unlocked the brakes on the bottom of the bed. Hutch let out a strangled roar and headed round the bed towards House. Wilson swiped at the cane, missed, and Starsky watched calmly as House brought the cane down hard into his midsection.
Starsky let out a loud gasp and then everyone in the room stopped. Except Hutch, who tackled House to the ground and punched him hard in the face.
“You son of a bitch!”
House managed to get his cane between himself and a concussion, but Hutch’s knee in his groin brought tears to his eyes and he dropped the cane. Hutch’s second attempt connected just under his jaw and he could feel his neck twist. He picked up the cane with his right hand and swung hard, cracking Hutch on the side of the head. Hutch fell backwards and House finally got a glimpse of the bed. Starsky, who was struggling to breathe, managed to give Wilson a thumbs up right before he passed out.
“Go, go . . .” hissed House from the floor.
Hutch rolled over and rose to a knee. “What’s going on?”
Foreman and Chase wheeled Starsky out of the room. Wilson tossed the IV onto the bed and bent down to check on House. Cameron turned and helped Hutch off the floor.
“It worked. He’s having an attack, but we’re going to get him into surgery now.” She turned to Wilson. “I’ll take Hutch down to the OR waiting room.”
“I’ll take care of things here.” Wilson probed House’s jaw, but House swatted his hand.
“You can thank me later, Detective,” House taunted from the floor.
“Be a cold day in hell,” Hutch muttered and followed Cameron out the door.
“Why do you do that?” Wilson asked as he rose to his feet and opened a drawer. He pulled out a pack and popped it once on his knee, then knelt back down and pressed it on House’s jaw. “You know he could kill you, right?”
“Thought he had killed me for a minute.” House rolled back on his back and sighed. “My head hurts.”
“You’re lucky.” Wilson stood and reached his hand out and helped House off the floor, and House staggered to the bed.
“This you call lucky?”
“The test. Lucky it worked. Lucky Cameron does what she’s told. Lucky you’re not in traction.”
House patted the bed beside him. “Do you do what you’re told?”
“Again with the don’t?”
“You give me no choice. I’m not going to discuss this at work.”
“Which intimates you might discuss it not at work?”
“All it intimates is that I’m not going to discuss this. While I’m at work. You can figure out the rest of it yourself.” Wilson smoothed his lab coat and turned to the door. “I’m going to check on your patient.”
He stopped and turned back to House. “And you can be very sure that I will never, ever, climb into a hospital bed with you.” He disappeared down the hall.
House fell back on the bed, twirling his cane, wishing he had a Vicodin with him and wondering just what kind of bed Wilson would consider appropriate.
Starsky heard voices floating all around him. He tried to move, but his arms weighed a ton. He concentrated on the voices, trying to understand.
“So you’re saying I can’t sue his ass . . .”
“It’s not recommended, but it worked . . .”
“Dr. House, did you think of the repercussions . . .”
“And he just hit him right below the rib cage . . . popped the tumor - it was a beauty . . .”
“House, go home. They’ll call you if there’s a change . . .”
Starsky listened to the voices as they shifted and distorted, felt a hand on his forehead and heard a soft murmur that carried him further away. Then two different voices shot out of the fuzz and he found himself standing beside his beloved Torino, in the alley behind Huggy’s . . .
“You cats be careful,” Huggy called from the doorway.
Hutch stood at the front end of the car, staring at Starsky. Starsky reached into his pocket for the keys, hoping he could drive home. The night had not gone as well as planned. The day had gone just as planned. Court. Gunther. Life sentence. Starsky had hoped that finally getting that bastard behind bars would snap Hutch out of whatever funk he had decided to be in for the last week. Month. Year.
“You want me to drive?” Hutch still stood at the front of the car.
“Huh! Coldest day in hell, buddy. Coldest day in hell.” Starsky hunched over the lock.
Starsky remembered nights when the drive home from Huggy’s had been the best part of the evening. Both of them well oiled, happy, talking about the day - the night. Now he got a whatever? Whatever.
His hand slipped and the keys clattered to the pavement. He looked up to make sure Hutch had his full attention for the smart-ass comment he knew was coming, but then he saw the look on his face.
“Hutch?” He took two steps toward him, and then the memory that had just drained all the blood from Hutch's face caught him just below the ribcage and he stumbled against the car.
They had been so happy. The squad room’s much-needed facelift was giving them their own fresh start, their own respite from the year of hell. But ping pong and victory dinner had fast turned into shattered glass and his life streaming away from him on the pavement. He recognized the look on Hutch's face. It was the last thing he remembered as he slid to the ground. He never wanted to see it again. He had to do something. Now.
He leaned down, scooped up the keys and walked around the bumper to Hutch, who had not moved, lost in his own head. Starsky reached up and slid his hand behind Hutch's head, fisting his hair and pulling him closer.
He watched Hutch's face go from surprise to irritation to understanding, to a look that stopped Starsky in his tracks. Something broke in both of them and Starsky was surprised the whole neighborhood couldn't hear it. His heart was beating out of his chest when his lips finally met Hutch's.
And like the path that brought them to this moment, the kiss was awkward and harrowing and complicated and passionate, and Starsky never wanted it to end. He turned slightly and Hutch pushed him up against the hood of the Torino and slid his hand under his t-shirt. Starsky moaned and wrapped his leg around Hutch's, pulling him down onto him.
From somewhere in the haze, he hoped the rivets in his jeans wouldn't scratch the new paint job and then Hutch moved his hands lower and he forgot everything he ever knew. He was drowning in the sensation, in the taste, in the smell of the one person in which he thought he had nothing left to discover. But he was wrong. In a good way.
Finally Hutch slid off and stood, running a hand through his hair, breathing hard. Starsky rolled off the side of the hood and leaned against it, hands on his knees.
Hutch smiled and traced a finger along his bottom lip. "Yeah, damn."
Starsky suddenly felt uncomfortable. Shy. Hell, this was Hutch. His Hutch.
"My Hutch . . ."
Starsky winced. "Just thinking out loud." He took another look at Hutch, standing now with a hand in his pocket, his hair a beautiful mess. He chuckled. It was the perfect description of Hutch. Of them. They were a damn beautiful mess.
"Let's go home." He reached again for his keys. He saw Hutch hesitate for just a moment, but Starsky just slid into the car, leaning over to unlock Hutch's door, and just like a thousand times before, he shifted the car into drive and they headed out into the night.
"We never spent another night apart. It was like we finally caught up with ourselves."
Wilson and Hutch sat in the cafeteria, sharing a sandwich and way too much information. Dr. Cuddy had stopped by to let them know that Starsky was out of surgery and should make a full recovery, but that a funny tic on the monitor worried the staff enough to make the decision to send him to ICU instead of back to his room. So they waited. And Hutch talked. About everything.
"So what did your department say? About you two? I can't imagine it was easy back then."
"Back then? In the olden days? Hell, it's not easy now. This is the first hospital I didn't have to draw down on the staff to let me stay with him."
"Well, we're . . ." Wilson stuttered.
"Yes, you sure are, Jimmy. When you going to let him in on it?"
Wilson busied himself with the last of his turkey sandwich and Hutch sighed, looking around the cafeteria. "So, when can I see him?"
Wilson knew they were all being over-cautious, but he wanted to be sure that Hutch knew that. "Cameron said she'd page me when he was settled into ICU. They just want to make sure he's doing okay. You know you can't stay with him in there, right?"
"Yeah, I know all about ICU.” Hutch ran a finger around his coffee cup. “So, what do you think? A couple of days?"
"Not that long. Probably just twelve hours, then back to a room, then if all the tests keep coming back normal, he could be out of the hospital and home next week."
Wilson smiled. "As long as he's cleared to fly - home, home. It's over Hutch. He's going to recover and he's going home. With you."
Hutch sighed, leaned back in the booth, and, in a gesture Wilson had learned was more of a habit, ran a hand through his hair. He leaned forward and put his hand over Wilson's.
"Thanks, Jimmy. That's excellent news. Just . . . great news." His voice broke and he closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and then slapped both hands on the table. "Okay, then. I say we celebrate. Where can we get drunk, Jimmy?"
"Don't do it, Jimmy - you know you can't hold your liquor, and who knows what he'll do if he gets you all alone in some dark bar somewhere . . ."
"That's your fantasy, asshole," Hutch growled as Wilson moved over to make room for House.
House just smiled and grabbed Wilson's pickle, took a healthy snap and put it back. Hutch watched and shook his head.
"So, girls - what are we celebrating?"
Wilson moved his plate away from House. "Your crazy idea worked, that's what. Davey's in recovery. Looks good. Chase got out fast. Cuddy doesn't have to fire you. Again."
"Did you have any doubt?" House reached for the pickle again, but Hutch snatched it up first and pointed it at the pair.
"You guys are starting to get on my nerves." He shoved the pickle in his mouth.
House rolled his eyes at Wilson and then reached over for a chip. Wilson swiped the plate away and held it up.
"You can come back to our . . . to House's . . . to . . ."
"Great idea." Hutch slid out from the booth and stood. "You still got that hooch from the other night, House?"
House was staring at Wilson. "You just invited him to my house? To drink my hooch?" He grabbed the chips off the plate Wilson was still holding up. "I'm starting to doubt your loyalties, Dr. Wilson."
Hutch grabbed the chips from House's hand and turned to go. "You guys gonna stay here and flirt all night or are we going to get drunk?" His voice carried just enough that a snort and two giggles followed him out the door.
"You are so not getting the couch tonight." House slid out and followed Hutch, the giggles turning into laughter.
Wilson ducked his head and tried to look nonchalant, but failed miserably. Just as he pushed the door open he heard, "Have fun Dr. Wilson . . ." and the entire cafeteria erupted.
He vowed to start bringing a sack lunch.
As it turned out, no one slept on the couch.
They had polished off the good bottle in the first hour and were well into the not-so-good one. They played quarters, and poker, and I Never. It was this last game that sent Wilson off to dreamland. Seems that Dr. James Wilson, who had a crooked nose and couldn't bluff to save his life, had done just about everything else. Twice.
"I never had a threesome in the morgue." Hutch said and then watched in awe as Wilson frowned and emptied his glass. Again.
"Jesus . . ."
"Anyone I know?" House didn't know if he wanted to hear the answer.
"Not really, it was a while ago . . . couple of nurses . . ."
Hutch chuckled. "It's always a couple of nurses. Or a couple of waitresses. He tipped his glass in the direction of House. "Or in your case, a couple of hookers."
"At least." House wondered if Hutch was going to find out everything about him tonight.
"I need to lie down." Wilson tried to get up, but instead slid down the wall to the floor. When he didn't move or speak for a moment, Hutch looked at House.
"Lightweight." House stumbled over to the piano, ignoring them both.
Hutch bent down and heaved Wilson over his shoulder, groaning about his back and that Starsky would kill him if he knew how he was breaking the "don't carry anything heavier than your gun" rule, and staggered down the hall, collapsing with Wilson onto House's bed. House sat at the piano, trying to keep his hands steady enough to show off his skills. Trying not to notice that Wilson was now in his bed. With Hutch.
He started to play "Here Comes the Bride," but couldn't remember the fingering so just settled on a suspect rendition of "I Hate Mondays". And then slid into a muddy version of Chopin's “Waltz in C Sharp Minor” as Hutch walked back into the room and plopped down on the couch.
House gave up trying to find C sharp and joined Hutch. "I heard you the other night. You're good, too."
"Yeah, but you're really good."
House reached for the bottle. "It's a hobby." He tipped it towards Hutch, but he put a hand over his glass.
"God no. I'm about two drinks past my limit. And you're actually not pissing me off anymore, so I'd better stop now."
They sat silent for a moment. Hutch settled back into the cushions, closed his eyes and sighed.
"Long fucking week."
House just took a drink and remained silent. Thinking.
Hutch sighed. "I am definitely too old for this shit."
"Lethal Weapon. 1987. Murtagh played by Danny Glover."
"Oh, I thought we were playing a new game. Guess the Movie."
"Well, the not pissing me off just ended. Give me a drink."
House tipped the bottle into Hutch's glass. "I didn't think anybody really ever said that."
Hutch took a swallow and coughed. “It fits. Too old to drink, too old to chase bad guys, too old to sit in hospitals . . . too damn old.”
“God, you’re not going to cry are you?”
House pulled himself off the couch. “See. There you go again. Recruiting. What’s the matter - haven’t met your quota for the month? Men’s Chorus needs another tenor?”
“Heh! If I were recruiting you, you’d be ass up already.”
“You’re not my type.” House took Hutch’s glass and the bottle and headed into the kitchen. “Too old.”
Hutch laughed and shook his head. “Too smart you mean. Can see through your bullshit even without my reading glasses.”
He joined House
in the kitchen, leaning against the counter. “So, since you brought it up -
what are you going to do about Jimmy?”
“You’re the one who put him in my bed.”
“You’re the one who doesn’t know what to do with that.”
“Oh, I know what to do with it.” House walked around the island, trying to get some distance. Some perspective.
Hutch chuckled and heaved himself off the counter. “And I know not to take that bait. Especially this late, with this much booze. Starsky would kill me.”
“So he wears the pants?”
“He wears whatever the hell he wants.”
“Me? I’m just trying to figure out how to thank you without kicking your ass.”
Hutch came around the island, crossing into House’s personal space. House took two steps back until he was against the counter. He braced himself with both hands and closed his eyes. He had no doubt Hutch was just drunk enough to do some real damage.
Instead Hutch leaned in and whispered, “Thank you, asshole. For saving his life. For saving my life.” He moved in closer and House could feel the breath skim through his hair, laced with Scotch and cigarettes. He felt Hutch’s heartbeat at his chest, the scrape of Hutch’s stubble against his cheek. He caught himself leaning towards the warmth. Hutch opened his mouth and House closed his eyes, all rational thought obscured by the solid weight against his chest.
“Now all you gotta do is save yours.” And then Hutch was gone.
House gripped the counter hard and took a deep breath. He hoped to hell the heat spreading through his chest didn’t head south. He heard Hutch bump into the coffee table, winced at the long oath that followed, and tried to act unmoved when Hutch poked his head back into the kitchen.
“Think I’m going to go back to the hospital. You got a phone book?”
House limped over to the fridge and recited the local cab company number. Then he busied himself with gathering glasses and putting them in the sink. He didn’t want Hutch to leave and he so wanted Hutch to leave. An anomaly. A puzzle. His favorite thing. Except when it had to do with him. With this. With . . .
“Tell Jimmy I’ll talk to him tomorrow.” Hutch shrugged into his jacket.
House stood in the doorway. “You know they’re not going to let you into ICU.”
“Yeah, probably. But I just want to be there when he wakes up. Don’t want him to be alone.”
“Go in the west entrance, by the ambulance bay. Take the first stairwell on your right. Nobody will see you.”
Hutch smiled and held out his hand. “Thanks.”
House just waved from the doorway. “You get caught, you don’t know me.”
Hutch shook his head and stuck his hand in his pocket. “Oh I know you. I was you, remember? You drop me a line when you finally get your act together, okay?”
The beep of the cab trumped any response and Hutch was out the door.
House stood for a moment and then hobbled past the couch, took three steps down the hall, stopped, thumped his cane on the floor twice and finally turned around and settled himself on the piano bench.
“Asshole was right,” Hutch muttered as he cracked the stairway door and found himself staring directly into Starsky’s room. He slipped through and carefully opened the door. The hospital was quiet. Nothing but beeps and drips and hisses and dings to drive him crazy all night long.
He found a chair and moved it beside Starsky’s bed. Then he moved a big cart of important gadgets to block the view of the chair from the door. He slipped off his shoes and stuffed a pillow behind his head. He reached for Starsky’s arm and felt him move.
Hutch stood and leaned over Starsky. “I’m here, buddy.”
Starsky frowned. “You’re drunk.”
“A little. I was celebrating.”
Hutch smiled and rubbed Starsky’s chest. “I’m saving the real celebration for you. With you. Just had a couple of drinks with Jimmy and House.”
“You didn’t kill him, did you?”
“No, you’ve got me trained well. Just scared him a little.”
chuckled, and then winced. “Damn. They did a number on me.”
“Just a few days, you’ll feel better.”
“Already feel better.” Starsky’s eyes were closing. “You staying?”
Hutch pulled the blankets up higher, smoothing out the wrinkles. “Of course. Always.”
Starsky smiled and let out a deep sigh and closed his eyes. Hutch watched him for a minute and then, when Starsky’s breathing evened out, he wrapped himself into the chair again. Tried to sleep. Couldn’t. Spent the rest of the night counting up the nights and the chairs and the waiting rooms that threaded through their 30 year history. Figured he’d slept in the chair 17 more times than Starsky. That Starsky had been sick a month more. He, on the other hand, had been injured four more times. He hoped they never caught up with each other. Hoped this was the last time. Knew it probably wasn’t. Then all the hope and the numbers and the beeps and the permanent crick in his neck disappeared as he drifted off to sleep.
Three Months Later . . .
It was May. A spring storm the night before had left a sheen on every surface and the chairs on the balcony glistened in the mid-morning sun. The only reason House remembered such a ridiculously lame detail is that the damp chair had been the catalyst for the entire event. That and the ridiculous postcard addressed to “Jimmy and the Asshole”, with a picture of two shiny, naked men wearing nothing but stethoscopes and signed, Your recruitment officers. House had come out to the balcony to think. About the postcard. And Hutch. And Starsky and Hutch.
And Wilson, who had noticed him staring into the sky and opened the door to join him. But after nimbly hopping over the wall without getting a drop on his shiny doctor coat, Wilson had started to sag into the chair, remembering one second too late it was wet, and then performed an odd little thrust maneuver upward, punctuated with a squeal as he threw himself forward until he oomph-ed against the wall of the balcony. Which was wet.
House, standing precisely in the middle of the balcony, so as to not touch any wet surface, laughed. And Wilson, examining his damp tie, checking the pens in his pocket, turned and laughed with him. And then House stopped laughing. His chest felt tight, his ears grew hot, the hand resting on his cane lost all feeling and, as he watched Wilson smooth the diagonal boxes running down the front of his tie with those long glorious fingers, the cane clattered to the ground.
The noise startled Wilson and he drew his eyebrows together and tilted his head and the whole world exploded inside House’s head. He closed the gap between them in two hops and a shuffle and clamped onto Wilson’s shoulders, the postcard forgotten, landing in a puddle at their feet. House was glad Wilson’s mouth was open because when he dipped his head and silenced the protest he was sure was headed his way, his tongue slipped easily into the heat and the mint and the coffee and the . . .
His eyes flew open when he realized he wasn’t touching Wilson anymore. Wasn’t kissing Wilson anymore. Realized Wilson had stepped back two steps, head still tilted, fingers running along his lower lip. House had to reach down and grab the back of a chair for support. Which was wet. And slippery.
Wilson, in his defense, did make a decent attempt to grab onto House before he tumbled into the chair and out of the chair, finally landing on the wet, cold cement. Cursing. Rubbing his thigh. Flinging himself onto his back, giving into the inevitable. He was wet.
He stared up at Wilson, who hovered over him, looking, well, like a giraffe. If House had to define the perplexed, curious, clueless look, he would have to say giraffe. Or retriever. Golden, of course. Except for his pathological need to make himself miserable while helping others, Wilson could easily be stretched out in front of a roaring fire; with a collar . . . He immediately switched off that picture. Of Wilson. In a collar. Stretched out . . .
He could feel the wetness seeping into his jeans, his head, his t-shirt. Felt the realization of the last few moments seep into his brain. I just kissed Wilson. Jesus.
“House?” Wilson crouched next to him, careful not to lower a knee onto the wet.
“Wilson.” House crossed his arms on his chest. Tried to look comfortable.
“Do you need help up?”
“Do you need help down?”
Wilson stood. “No. It’s wet.”
“Slippery, too.” House couldn’t be more pleased. He had Wilson tied into a hundred knots, had his world off-kilter. Wet. And yet Wilson stayed.
“C’mon, Jimmy, what’s a little rain among friends?” House stretched out one arm and tugged at Wilson’s coat.
Wilson stepped back again and hit the edge of the other chair. House watched with delight as Wilson twisted away from the wet surface and stumbled back into House’s legs. His delight turned to horror as he realized the only way Wilson was going to stop his out-of-control free fall was on House’s body. Legs. Thigh.
Which he managed to drag out of the way just before Wilson landed half on/half off his chest. House wrapped his arms around Wilson, ignoring the pain in his thigh, as Wilson’s legs scrabbled for an anchor.
“There are easier ways to get me on my back.”
Wilson pushed on House’s chest, struggling to get up, but House held firm.
“House, let me up.”
“For a price.”
“Just . . . just . . .” Wilson’s face was getting red.
“Just what?” House knew Wilson was at the edge. That one push too hard and he would be up and over his wall and the moment would be forgotten and House would have to spend another month gathering up the nerve to find out what a second kiss would feel like . . .
“What’s this?” Wilson scraped the wet postcard off the cement. He shook it out and read the back. “What does that mean?”
“Just a little note from our favorite detectives. Stop changing the subject.”
“The subject is if you don’t let me up . . .”
“A threat?” House just squeezed tighter, tugging Wilson so close that their breaths twisted together. “You’re threatening me?”
He watched Wilson’s brows dip, his lips purse, his eyes close. Then everything obscured as Wilson pressed his lips onto House’s, moving lightly, flicking his tongue against House’s lips until House opened slightly and sucked his tongue in.
House loosened his grip, moving his hands into Wilson’s hair, moving under him. Wilson placed both his hands to the side of House’s head, lifting slightly, so that he was directly above House. The rain was forgotten in the mutual need for answers to the question that had been hanging above their heads far longer than the day Starsky and Hutch had arrived.
Finally, in an attempt to wrap his leg around Wilson, House bumped him too hard, and Wilson rolled off to the side. They stayed that way a moment, breathing hard.
Without saying a word, Wilson pulled himself up and then reached down and hauled House to his feet. House tried to dry his hands off on his shirt, and Wilson leaned down and picked up the pens that had fallen out of his pocket.
House watched him, afraid to say anything, to break whatever spell the rain and the wet and the postcard had weaved around them. Wilson glanced up at him and shook his head.
Wilson smiled. “Yes, House, you win. You got me wet. Now what?”
House hesitated for a minute and then leaned down and picked up the postcard. He dangled it in front of Wilson. “Think we can get stethoscopes like these?”
Wilson took the postcard, took a good look, turned three shades of pink, and then put his hands on his hips.
“Since you lack the maturity needed here . . .”
House stuck out his tongue. “Do not.”
“ . . . I suggest we go home. To change into dry clothes.”
House wondered if Wilson’s eyes always danced like that or if it was all the rain. “Is that really what you’re suggesting?”
Wilson didn’t waver. “Is that what you think I’m suggesting?”
“I wouldn’t suggest knowing what you’re suggesting. But can I make a suggestion?”
Wilson pressed two fingers to the bridge of his nose and sighed. “House. I’m going to the apartment. To strip out of these wet clothes and take a shower. Then I will change into dry clothes and come back here to the hospital.”
House waited for the other shoe to drop. With his fingers crossed behind his back.
Wilson continued. “So, if you are also so inclined to go to the apartment, strip out of your wet clothes, and take a shower, I’m suggesting that we could go . . . together . . .”
House wavered between a snark and a sob of relief. Instead, he hobbled over and took the wall to Wilson’s office in a single hop. He opened the door and held it open. Wilson picked up House’s cane and walked through the door.
“I’m driving.” Wilson shoved House’s cane into his chest as he walked past.
House didn’t answer, just followed Wilson down the hall, trying not to slip on the floor, trying not the give into the urge to shove Wilson into a supply closet and strip him out of his wet clothes right there amongst the toilet paper and dressing gowns. Trying not to jump so far ahead in the story. Trying to remember the quickest way back to his apartment.
Starsky got the postcard a week later. The postman sniggered as he shoved it into his hand.
To Davey and his asshole,
Hope things are going well.
Things on this end turned out okay.
Recruitment office closed.
Love, Jimmy and the other asshole
His chuckle turned into a low whistle as he turned the card over and stared for a good 30 seconds at the image of two very well oiled, muscular, tanned men, wearing nothing but badges. Strategically placed, gold plated badges. Big badges.
Hutch trotted down the steps toward him, a book in one hand. Starsky turned and handed him the postcard. Hutch laughed and shook his head.
Starsky wriggled his eyebrows at him. “I got an outfit like that.”
“You wish.” Hutch reached his hand out. “Anything else?”
Starsky held the rest of the mail behind his back. “Oh there’s plenty ‘else’.” He walked past Hutch and up the steps. “You come in here and you’ll find out just how much ‘else.’”
He disappeared into the house. Hutch took the porch steps two at a time, making sure he locked the door behind him.