The beeping and blinking of ominous pieces of machinery filled the room with sound and lit the room with shadows, playing across the face of one very ill man, deepening the lines of his face drawn from pain and exhaustion.
His partner sat by his side, watching.
Starsky had awakened briefly a few days ago, struggling through a morphine haze long enough to weakly grip Hutch’s hand before fading away again. Since then he’d had more moments of coherency, enough to complain with gestures about the respirator. The doctors had reluctantly removed it, bowing to pressure from Hutch, and had since watched to see if Starsky needed it again. So far, so good, but he was kept on oxygen constantly, since his condition was still very touch-and-go. They would not remove him from the critical list.
The sight of those little white tubes in Starsky’s nose made Hutch feel nearly as vulnerable as his partner – that his strong, vibrant friend needed such help – and the more vulnerable place inside of Hutch wanted to scream and sob and ask someone, anyone, God, WHY.
But he didn’t. He had sat beside his partner, night after night, sleeping with his head lying near Starsky’s hand where it rested on the blanket, lax and pale.
He hitched his chair closer to do just that after checking the clock. Two-thirty in the morning and he had to report to work in a short few hours. He was asleep almost immediately, his body taking over once presented with the opportunity for rest.
He climbed back to wakefulness under the sense of being touched. Fingers worked through his hair and for a minute he simply allowed it, enjoying the peace it brought and the love it meant, before he raised his head to gaze at Starsky.
“Hey.” The whisper was no more than that, dry and quiet.
“Hey, partner. How’re you feeling?” Hutch took Starsky’s questing hand between his own, massaging. Starsky’s eyes drifted closed and then blinked slowly open again.
“You’re hurting? You need me to call the nurse?” He glanced at the clock to calculate the time since the last medication dose.
“Yeah. No. Wait.”
Hutch had already reached for the call button, and looked between it and his partner.
“Okay, Starsk. Whatever you want.”
“Yeah. About that.”
“What I want.”
Hutch chuckled. “And what may I get you, my lord?”
Starsky gave him half a grin, but became serious. “My will.”
Starsky shifted uncomfortably in the bed, trying to sit up. Hutch hurried to the end of the bed to turn the crank. “Better?”
”Thanks.” His voice was stronger now, but still quiet, and Hutch returned to the side of the bed to listen, gathering up Starsky’s hand again. “Hutch, remember we wrote those wills a few years ago?”
Hutch stared at his friend a moment before blinking and laughing, remembering one inebriated New Year’s Eve. “I remember being drunk when we wrote them. Didn’t I leave you Park Place from Monopoly?”
“And Boardwalk.” His voice was beginning to fade again.
“We didn’t even – you’re not telling me you kept those silly things?”
But Starsky didn’t answer – he’d slipped back into sleep, even without the benefit of more medication; simple talking had worn him out. Hutch cranked the bed down before his partner’s neck paid the price and resumed his seat.
His will? Hutch crushed the thought down, not ready to face what Starsky seemed to be considering.
Pale yellow light filtering through the slats of the window blind woke him, and he found himself once more held in place by a heavy hand. Starsky must have awakened again at some point, but as Hutch gently raised his head he could see his partner was sleeping now, face turned toward Hutch as if he’d been watching over him. The thought brought an affectionate smile to Hutch’s face as he gently disentangled his hair from fragile, limp fingers. That was a good sign; not enough morphine and Starsky’s first reaction was to clench his hands, even when asleep, as if preparing to punch out his pain.
However, a glance to the other side of Starsky’s body told a different story – his left hand twisted the sheet into a ball, and a closer look to his face revealed a concentrated tightness around the closed eyes.
Hutch hit the call button, swallowing down the lump in his throat as he realized the effort Starsky had taken to not harm him, even while asleep.
“Didja get it?”
“Get what, pal?” Hutch leaned closer, using a cool, damp cloth to wipe Starsky’s face. The day for his partner had been a long and painful one, with Starsky doing his best to snap at the nurses by the time Hutch arrived after work. Hutch had quietly sent them away and taken over the sponge bathing.
Starsky opened one eye. “My will.”
Hutch’s hand faltered momentarily. “Oh. No. I don’t know where it is.”
“Feels nice when you do that. Album,” Starsky mumbled.
“…Ours…” Starsky drifted to sleep as the day’s exhaustion claimed him, seeming to relax under Hutch’s gentle touches.
Hutch stroked damp curls from Starsky’s forehead, recalling just which album his partner meant. Between the two of them they had collected several photographs of themselves from friends and family, and he and Starsky had put them in an album together, arguing good-naturedly late into a humid summer’s night as to when a particular shot had been taken, where and why. Starsky and Hutch, laughing together; individual shots, smiling at the camera or taken on the sly; talking together earnestly; wrestling; toasting; posing outrageously.
Two particular photographs, one of each man at the same event during a time when they were in a snit and not speaking. The ache of separation was apparent in their faces, and their bodies were half-turned, as if trying to look over a shoulder, or perhaps hear, without being obvious. Pulled toward each other, even then.
Kept as a reminder that they never wanted to feel anger that way again.
One special photo, enlarged and given as a gift. A shot of them, close, smiling softly at each other, Hutch’s arm around Starsky’s shoulders. A public moment with a private message preserved.
Hutch stroked a finger across that picture when he paged through the book early the next morning, allowing himself a moment to remember Starsky whole and alive, not hurt and weak and asking for his will.
Said will was tucked into the first empty page, folded together with Hutch’s. While Hutch had dictated his out as a joke, it seemed Starsky might have found a moment of sobriety when writing out his own.
The paper crackled in his fingers as he moved to unfold the pages. The sound was sharp as a gunshot in the silence of Starsky’s dark and lonely apartment. Abruptly he changed his mind and instead shoved the papers into his jacket pocket. Starsky had only asked him to retrieve, not read.
And reading his best friend’s will was not at all what he wanted to do. Ever.
Police work without Starsky was frustrating. Deskwork was all he could do without a partner because for now he simply couldn’t bear the thought of someone else covering his back.
Cases requiring research sat on his desk. His eye for detail and head for hunches helped his fellow detectives while they were out on the streets, but today his concentration was shot. The papers in his pocket rustled and creaked against his gun, whispering a constant and draining litany of fear. Starsky’s dying, Starsky’s dying, Starsky’s dying.
The breaking point hit him and he slammed his hand against his desk, threw a file into the wire basket, and stuck his head into Dobey’s office without knocking. “I gotta go, Cap,” he said, not really expecting or waiting for permission.
Dobey nodded silently and Hutch ducked out several hours early to sit his nightly vigil.
According to the on-duty nurse, Starsky was having a feverish, restless day. Hutch found him mumbling incoherent words and kicking blankets to the floor. Hutch petted his partner’s head and squeezed his arm before reaching to pull and tuck the bedding back in place. Quiet, soothing words soon settled the man down, leading him into sleep for a few minutes before opening glazed eyes.
Hutch pulled up his chair and leaned in close. “Yeah, pal, I’m here.”
Starsky’s face winced in pain, and he looked near to tears. “I hate it when you’re gone.” A hand reached out and Hutch clasped it gently. “Can’t you stay?”
“Nurses not pretty enough for you, buddy, that you need to see my ugly mug all the time?”
Starsky didn’t even try to smile. “Want you. They…“
“They can’t just be your friend, huh?” Starsky nodded wearily, squeezing his eyes shut. “Okay, partner, I’ll see if Dobey can find his way to clear to letting me bring some work in here. Sound good?”
“Need me to bounce stuff off, anyway.”
Hutch grinned. “Hey, I thought I was the brains of this outfit.”
“You wish.” That in a whisper as Starsky faded to sleep.
I wish, thought Hutch. I wish we weren’t here, buddy. I wish we were sitting a stakeout and I wish you’d said that with your usual flair and wink.
He gently placed Starsky’s hand under the covers and patted the blanket down. Shrugging out of his jacket, he tossed it around the back of the chair and quietly left the room to call his captain.
Forty-five minutes later he returned, a cup of coffee and some scribbled notes in his hands, to find his partner awake. Hutch followed Starsky’s line of sight.
“You’re not sleeping much today,” he commented, coming around to sit in the chair as he set his things on the side table, effectively cutting off Starsky’s view of his jacket.
“You found it.” Starsky’s voice was faint but sure.
“Yeah. I did.”
“Didja read it?”
Hutch shook his head. “No.”
“I want ya to.” Starsky gasped suddenly, squeezing his eyes shut, his hand reaching wildly for his partner. Hutch grabbed Starsky’s hand.
“I’m here, buddy, I’m here,” he murmured as he hit the call button.
Two nurses swarmed in, effectively shoving Hutch aside as they assessed their patient for changes. Starsky’s face had gone white and he wasn’t responding to their questions.
“Mr. Starsky. Mr. Starsky? Can you hear me? Mr. Starsky!”
Hutch heard the call over the speakers, wondering faintly how the voice knew what to say, as he stood stricken in the corner of the room.
“Code Blue, Room 217. Code Blue.”
In the darkest hour of the night, when not even the moon will show its face to light a path, a soul can feel beyond lost. It wanders, daring not to make a sound for fear of calling danger to itself, tiptoeing through a forest of memories that collide and lead to still more disjointed images of times and places, all the while warding off the possibilities of a darker future. The soul walks on, silently pleading for the light to return, for the simple touch of a loved one’s hand, just one more chance to look upon that other soul that completes and fulfills, provides meaning and context in a world that makes no sense.
He had been sent from the room and had not yet been allowed to return. A harried doctor stopped long enough to let him know that Starsky had gone into a coma. His heart had not fully arrested, but had gone into a severe arrhythmia, and he’d been put back onto the respirator. If there was family to contact, perhaps Mr. Hutchinson should consider doing so.
He hates the respirator, thought Hutch. He felt his gut twist in empathetic pain, and his soul fell further into the darkness. Calling Starsky’s mother…not now, not yet.
There was still hope. Wasn’t there?
He crept down the hall, expecting any moment for a nurse to chase him back to the waiting room, until he reached Starsky’s door. With no window to peer through and hearing the low murmurs of medical personnel beyond it, he slid down the wall and wrapped his arms around his knees, resting his forehead on them, and sat there, a huddled ball of misery, pressing himself as close to the wall as he could as if to pass his strength through to the man in the bed.
Time passed -- how much he could not tell -- but eventually the door opened. He raised his head warily, fearful of what he might be told.
“Mr. Hutchinson, why don’t you go on inside and sit with him.” One nurse knelt beside him.
He couldn’t answer, suddenly paralyzed by the memory of the last time he’d been in there.
“He does always seem to do better when you’re around.” The second nurse offered a hand to help him up. “I’ll bring you a blanket and you can rest.”
He nodded, placing a trembling hand on the doorknob, watching as they walked away. Taking a shaky breath, he pushed the door open and stepped inside.
The clicking rise and fall of the respirator seemed overly loud and mocking. He needs me, needs me to breathe. He needs me, needs me to breathe. He glared at the offending machine, battling between hating what it did and being grateful for its doing it.
One light had been left on, dimmed, and Starsky’s face was obscured by shadows. The tube from his mouth shone faintly, almost wetly, and Hutch felt his gorge rise at the helpless sight.
God, Starsky. Please.
His eyes strayed to the heart monitor, measuring every beat of a hurting heart struggling to stay in motion. The song it sang both soothed and annoyed him, itching down his spine.
He sought out his chair, finding it turned haphazardly near the window, probably shoved in haste by a doctor. His jacket hung from one corner, papers nearly falling out of the pocket. He reset the jacket and pulled the chair to Starsky’s bedside, collapsing into it as he gazed at his partner.
He was barely aware of the returning nurse draping the blanket over him and tucking a pillow into his lap to use as he wished. Belatedly he turned to thank her, but the door was already closing by the time he tried to speak. He lifted the pillow and clutched it to his chest, wrapping his arms around it as he wished he could for Starsky.
Exhaustion stole in, walking his soul into the dark forest of his memories, taking shape in happy dreams he didn’t want to wake from.
Sent away for his own good, “Just for a short while, Mr. Hutchinson,” he wandered the hospital, counting blank doors, listening for emergency codes. The fancy window of the chapel loomed before him and he stopped to stare.
There was no specific pattern to it, just colored shapes built with glass, a well-known symbol of faith inside. To Hutch it seemed fractured – like Starsky’s life, fractured by three bullets, each separate part of him shattered and stitched back together. Red for blood, blue for friendship, yellow for love…
He stood for a long moment and then his feet moved, passing through the doorway and leading him to a pew. Not a churchgoing man, he sat and stared at the wooden, polished altar, faintly lit by the glow of candlelight, unsure of what to do. What to say.
What to think.
What to believe.
He pulled Starsky’s will from his pocket, still folded with his own.
A knot of pain swelled in his chest, pushed itself up his throat and out his mouth, a gulping sob that filled the tiny space. The tranquil room held the sound for him, carried his pain, allowed him release it and acknowledged it without judgment or retribution.
The pew allowed his body to rest against it; the cushioned seat was a pillow for his head. The candles lent him soft light and the room’s silence offered him peace enough to pray.
Please let him live, he asked. Please let him live. A desperate prayer, a plea without a bargain. I need him. Please let him live. I love him. Please let him live. Please.
The quiet entry of another person into the chapel woke him, his cheek pressed against the papers. He sat up, smiled weakly at the older lady who looked upon him with sad eyes before she moved on to light a candle. He tucked the unopened wills away and left, feeling more at peace than when he’d entered.
A glance at a clock told him he’d been away from his partner for over two hours. Scrubbing at his face, he made his way back to Starsky’s room.
Nothing much had changed there; Starsky still lay unmoving, lights still blinked, and the monitor still beeped its monotonous song. However, a tied document pouch sat in the chair; files from work, with a note from Dobey, visiting in Hutch’s absence. He regretted having missed the man, anxious for a familiar face while Starsky was…away.
The wills beckoned to him, Starsky’s last request reverberating in the room. Needing to be close to his partner, he perched carefully on the side of the bed, patted Starsky’s leg, and unfolded the pages, his own name catching his eye as he began to read softly out loud.
“He, Kenneth Richard Hutchinson, of completely soused and dirty mind and skinny blond butterfly-boned body, does hereby authorize me, Starsk, to write out his will and testimint. Testoment. Testament.” He stifled a snort.
Sure enough, he’d left both the Boardwalk and Park Place cards to Starsky, along with a few of his plants, his poncho, his guitar, Helen Reddy records, and his…car.
“Don’t you start laughing, Starsk,” he admonished to the still body on the bed, wagging a finger at his partner, then swallowing hard as inside his heart twisted. Laugh anyway.
He took a deep breath before pulling Starsky’s page to the front. Once more he sent an imploring look at his partner.
“I, David Michael Starsky, of only slightly inebriated mind and very relaxed body, do hereby make this will and testament, for Hutch.
“It’s New Year’s Eve…well, Day, now…and you’re passed out with your head in my lap after saying you’d leave me your car in your will. I tried not to laugh when you said it, cross my heart. Your breath stinks of cheap beer and you look like hell – but you’re my friend and I want to state here, in case something happens to me and I never get to say it out loud – I love you.
“I love you, Hutch. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”
Hutch set the pages down on the bed and stroked one finger down Starsky’s lax hand. “I love you too, Starsk. You mean…so much.”
“If I die before you do (but we plan to go out in a blaze of glory like Butch and Sundance, right?) I want to be sure you have some things to remember me by. I’m sure my wit and charm won’t be enough.” Hutch chuckled at that.
“First, my guitar. I never could play it like you can, no matter how hard you try to teach me, and I know you’ll make it sing. Play some Croce on her and she’ll be happy.
“Second, my photographs. Send to my family the ones that would be important to them, and keep the ones important to you, especially our album. That book means a lot to me.
“Third, my rings. My mom gave my dad the gold one, so please send it back to her. The silver one goes to you.”
His voice was beginning to fail him, fading into a choked whisper as he fought back a wave of emotion.
“Fourth, a kiss. A real one. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do that before I die, because saying ‘I love you’ just ain’t enough.”
A rustling sound drew his attention to the bed, where Starsky’s fingers were feebly moving, pulling at the sheet.
“Starsk?” The heart monitor sped up, but no alarms went off. “Hey buddy, you awake?
Heavy eyelids slowly drew up, unfocused eyes roamed the room. Starsky lifted his hand to scrabble at the tube in his mouth, but Hutch reached out to stop him.
“Sorry, pal, but you need it right now.” Blue eyes pleaded and then closed, tears squeezing out the corners.
“Hey, hey, don’t. I’m here, Starsk, I’m here.” Hutch gently thumbed the moisture away and cupped a pale cheek, pulling Starsky’s captured hand close. “I know you hate it. Let me call the nurses so they know you’re awake again, and we’ll see about when they can take it out, okay? Okay?” Starsky opened his eyes and gave a faint nod, following Hutch with his eyes as his partner reached for the call button.
He didn’t want to call the nurses, as much as he wanted to reassure Starsky. Selfishly he wanted this time, a few moments with his partner, to share the meaning of Starsky’s words with no obtrusive medical personnel who tried to make him leave the room, poking, prodding, and stretching out Starsky’s pain.
But he pushed the button anyway.
He gave Starsky’s hand a final squeeze before stepping away from the bed, will in hand, retreating to his hiding place in the corner as the nurses took over control of Starsky’s life.
Two days. It was two days before the doctors consented to remove the hated tube. Every time they said no, Starsky would lay there, defeated and despairing, and Hutch would dry the tears of frustration in between handling case files, all the while holding Starsky’s hand when his pain became too great. Dobey visited every morning on the way to work, exchanging the files and checking in on his men.
The day the tube was removed, Starsky smiled for the first time since he’d awakened. “Hey,” he croaked at his partner, just as he returned from a dinner run.
“Starsk! They took it out, huh? How you feeling?”
“I sound like a frog.”
“I could start calling you ‘Jeremiah’.” He started to sing. “Jeremiah was a bullfrog, he was a good friend of mine…”
It hurt Starsky to laugh and it turned quickly to weak coughing, but he waved off Hutch’s slightly panicked response in adjusting the oxygen tubes. “ ’m okay.”
Hutch slowly collapsed into his chair, wiping across his face with his hand. “You scared me.”
“Sorry,” Starsky croaked. “Hutch, my will?”
Hutch froze for a moment. “That scares me, too.”
Starsky looked up at him, puzzled. “Why?”
Hutch moved to sit on the edge of the bed so his partner could see him better. “You do believe you’re going to get better, don’t you?”
Silence. Deep blue eyes gazed at him, but offered no verbal answer.
“Starsk. You ARE. You’ve come so far already. Every morning when I wake up, practically in bed with you, and feel your hand resting on my head…I - I know you’re still here, still working on getting better. You’ve got to believe, Starsk. You’ve got to.”
Starsky reached his hand out to his partner and Hutch took it, clinging. Finally, Starsky whispered, causing Hutch to lean in close. “I don’t know. I really don’t know. It hurts. Really hurts. It never goes away, or gets better.” He stopped to take several breaths before continuing. “I went into another coma. I had that stupid tube again. Please, read my will, in case I don’t…”
“You won’t, Starsk.”
“Just in case. Get it, Hutch. Please.”
He could never turn a Starsky plea down. So many years of teasing and sarcastic responses, but in the end he always gave Starsky what he wanted. And to his friend’s credit, he returned that favor when it really meant something to Hutch.
Reluctantly, and without releasing Starsky’s hand, Hutch stood and reached for the papers.
Resuming his seat on the bed he gently pressed his partner’s hand to his forehead before laying it on his knee and unfolding the pages.
“I, uh…I was reading it right when you woke up. Did you hear me?”
“I dunno. Maybe. Where’d you get to?”
Hutch flushed slightly. “Um…the kissing part.”
Starsky nodded, closing his eyes. “It’s true, you know.”
“Yeah? You really want to – kiss – this hairy, fuzzy face of mine?”
A grin twitched. “Y’re beautiful.” His hand squeezed Hutch’s knee. “Yeah, I wanna.”
“When?” The question was out before Hutch realized he was going to ask it.
One blue eye opened to a slit. Closed again. “When y’re ready.”
Mouth open, Hutch stared at his partner. “When I’m ready?”
“That’s wh’I said.”
“Wh-what about now?”
Starsky opened both eyes. “Y’re not ready. Keep readin’.”
Taking a deep breath, Hutch forced his eyes back to the paper. “Um…uh…okay.”
“Fifth. If I DO get to kiss you before I die, then at that point I’m gonna want more. And that might freak you out. So if I’ve had a chance to talk about how I feel about you before I die, great. Hopefully you won’t want to punch me out.”
A glance at Starsky. “How you feel about me?”
“Tell me now, huh, Starsk? Tell me now?” It was a desperate whisper, unheard by the man asleep on the bed.
He slumped in the chair, pondering these revelations. Starsky was so calm about it all – hell, he’d fallen asleep! He tried to glare at his partner, but couldn’t, really.
He poked half-heartedly through his work papers, but his heart wasn’t in it. His thoughts kept drifting on his imagination, envisioning kissing scenarios that varied from the grandmotherly to the romance novel. He dozed off at one point and dreamt that he and Starsky were standing on a cliff over a stormy, rolling sea, bare-chested, wearing only silk pants and boots, wild wind whipping their long hair (long hair?) around them as Starsky bent Hutch backwards, claiming his lips. A hand roamed to Hutch’s backside, gently squeezing, and Hutch felt his erection grind against Starsk –
He woke with a jerk, his face aflame. He pressed his hand against the fly of his cords, willing his cock to behave.
The heart monitor’s beeping increased slightly for a few beats, then returned to normal.
Felt that, did you, partner?
And the more he thought about the whole possibility, the less odd it seemed. He and Starsky were already so close, come through so much, relied on each other for just about everything else…was it too far a stretch to imagine them being…together? In bed?
No, it wasn’t a stretch. Never had he felt more loved and cared for than in those times when Starsky was there to hold him, because of a bad breakup or because he simply couldn’t take another bad turn in the efforts of their jobs. Hands that had ruffled his hair or patted his shoulder, or arms that had taken him into the biggest bear hugs. Words that made his worries clear and put them to rest. Starsky’s strength was heartening, and he always gave it in spades, never stingy, and never denied. Hutch had come to rely on it. Took it for granted. His soul grew in every touch, every word, every look.
Strength. Life. Love.
Hutch glanced toward the bed, a smile stretching across his face. Blue eyes held a steady gaze right at him, full of love – and life – and without a word, he moved to the side of the bed, stroked back the hair from the pale forehead, and bent to Starsky’s mouth.
Warm. Soft. Starsky’s lips returned a gentle pressure, and Hutch was dimly aware of his partner’s hand gripping his elbow. He pulled back reluctantly, mindful of Starsky’s need to breathe.
Starsky smiled. “Guess you were ready.”
Hutch blinked rapidly, nodding. Words were too hard.
“Tomorrow, Hutch, I’ll tell you the rest.”
“Yeah?” he finally whispered.
Starsky nodded. “Yeah. And then you’ll tear up this will and write me a new one.” He patted the bed. “Pull up your chair and lay your head, man. You look exhausted.”
Hutch obeyed, pulling the provided blanket around his shoulders before he settled beneath Starsky’s gentle hand. “I’m not tearing it up.”
“Nope. Keeping it.”
A low chuckle, a ruffle of hair. “Okay.”
“I love you too, you know.”
As Hutch drifted off under the caress of his best friend’s hand, his last thought was of what a wonderful tune that heart monitor sang.