"Wake up, Hutch. Come on now. You can do it." Starsky spoke softly, his voice pleading. He drew his chair close to the bed and picked up Hutch's hand, cradling it between both of his.
He closed his eyes, willing his warmth to penetrate to Hutch, wishing so hard it seemed he was shouting from his heart.
"Starsk?" The word was low, the voice rough with dryness. "What's wrong?"
Starsky held his breath, afraid to open his eyes. I'm hearing things...
"Starsky...? A sigh, full of entreaty.
He looked and found clear blue eyes regarding him.
"'Course I am." Hutch smiled indulgently as if nothing extraordinary had happened.
Starsky was nearly speechless. "I thought you'd never... God, Hutch..."
"I'm okay. Don't look so worried. You called me and I knew it was okay to wake up at last. You did it, babe."
He blinked, tears spilling from his eyes, falling on the sheet that lay over Hutch. His partner laughed and pushed back his covers. He sat up, drawing in a deep breath, stretching and yawning. Starsky just leaned back in his chair, stunned and happy.
Hutch climbed out of bed. "Where's my pants?"
Starsky closed his eyes. "I've got your watch."
"Come on. Let's get out of here."
Starsky turned in time to see Hutch striding through the door. He had dressed in a pair of faded jeans and his black leather jacket. The long blond hair belled out above the collar. Starsky got up fast, stumbling around his chair in his haste to follow.
By the time Starsky reached the door, Hutch's long legs had taken him down the hall to the elevator. Starsky saw the doors open and he started running. Hutch stepped in, holding the doors open, waiting.
"Come on, Starsk. Let's go!" His voice was like music, his eyes laughing blue sparkles.
Starsky was almost there, ready to jump into the elevator to join his partner. With him still one step away, Hutch winked slyly and stepped back. The elevator doors closed, cutting Starsky off from him, taking Hutch away.
Starsky turned, running for the stairs. He descended as fast as he could, chasing the elevator, down and down. Four flights, five, always just behind the elevator. He reached the hospital lobby and stood there panting, but the doors didn't open. Instead the elevator started back up again.
Breathing hard, Starsky pounded his fist on the closed doors. "Hutch, you bastard...!" He stood watching the indicator on the wall above as the elevator ascended and then came back for him.
When the doors opened, he stepped in, still rubbing his side where his breath caught painfully. If he hadn't been shot, he's still be able to run as fast as Hutch. He'd have caught his infuriating partner, showed him just what he thought about his running-away games. When the elevator stopped, he exited and walked slowly down the hall. He felt lost in the dark, dingy corridor, lonely amid the bustling nurses and orderlies passing by.
Way down at the end of the hall, he came to the door of Hutch's room. It was empty. It seemed like he'd been chasing after a Hutch he couldn't find for so long.
Hutch was there, though, lying propped up in bed. He grinned, still teasing, but his wide eyes asked for forgiveness.
Starsky came to stand at the bedside. "You're a mean son of a gun, you know that?" He stared down at Hutch, waiting to see what he'd say.
"I know. You mad?"
"Yeah. Remind me to yell at you." Starsky glared at his fiend, but Hutch opened his arms, reaching out for him. Shaking his head, he went to him, moving into the offered hug, feeling strong arms wrap around his shoulders.
Starsky's eyes opened abruptly, and he groaned with frustration. Just as he'd been getting close to Hutch, the dream had to end. He rolled over in bed, straining to see the lighted dial of his alarm clock. "Four thirty -- shit." He sat up, then pushed back the covers, and got out of bed. Moving to the window, he pushed back the drapes to look down on King William Street.
His room at the Ambassadors Hotel was comfortable and homey, right in the center of town, but he had chosen it more for location than looks or price. Tonight he felt the velvet flocked walls closing in on him. Wide-awake, he knew he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep.
He felt keyed up, nerves tightened with unused energy. Spending his time in Hutch's hospital room left him emotionally but not physically tired. Guess I need some exercise. Maybe then I could get back to sleep. Starsky found his jeans where he'd draped them over the back of a chair and pulled them on. He slipped a cable knit sweater over his head and bent down to pull on and tie his sneakers. Grabbing his jacket, he headed for the door.
The empty streets of the city were strangely soothing to him. He walked off his frustration and tension, wandering blocks from his hotel, ignoring the chill wind that cut sharply across his cheeks. The glow of street lamps painted rainwater in the gutters with gold, and for a time he felt at home. Peaceful like this, Adelaide was like Los Angeles, waiting in the silence between crimes. Yet Adelaide had a sense of newness, of promise, that had gone from L.A. a long time ago. It hadn't been there for him, Starsky knew, for at least two years.
He came to a stop as he stumbled up stone steps. Glancing up, he found himself at the hospital. He'd walked there without paying attention. A look at his watch showed it was only five a.m. Too early to visit Hutch. He started to turn back to the hotel, then realized there wasn't anything else for him to do anyway. Dr. Samuels said I could come any time. Shrugging, Starsky pushed open the heavy doors and went inside.
Starsky bent over Hutch's bed, massaging his back. His hands moved with assurance, thumbs and fingertips going deep to reach down into the muscle tissue. It was hard work, and tiring, but Starsky was already seeing results. In the two weeks he had been working on Hutch, his muscle tone had improved noticeably. Dr. Samuels had commented on how good Hutch looked to her. His color was better, too; the massages helped his circulation as well.
With a groan, Starsky straightened up for a moment, putting a hand to the aching muscles of his own lower back. Then he returned to his task. Beginning at the base of the neck, he worked his thumbs alternately along the groove beside the spine, down Hutch's back. Doing that used to make his partner draw in his breath sharply and then let it out in a grunt of pleasure. Now, Hutch was quiet as Starsky worked.
It's so odd to stand here talking to you, touching you... he thought, moving to work on the sacrum and lumbar area. It's like hearing only one end of a phone conversation, all the questions but none of the answers. Even the touching was strange, something Starsky hadn't realized he'd need to get used to. He hadn't thought much about it at first, but then it occurred to him that he had had very little physical contact with other people in the last two years.
He hadn't liked the physical therapists touching him. It was embarrassing to seem weak and be in pain in front of strangers, despite their clinical professionalism. And, since he hadn't been emotionally close to anybody while Hutch was missing, he hadn't had to be physically close to anyone, either. Touching Hutch had reawakened him to what it felt like to reach out to another person.
It was like being allowed all your favorite foods after a long, boring diet or slipping on a pair of jeans that were faded and perfectly fit all your contours after having to wear an uncomfortable suit all day -- you could have lived that way, but something seemed to be missing. Sometimes, touching Hutch, Starsky felt his eyes and throat sting with strangled emotion. He'd just stop, drawing in a deep breath, and let the sensation fill him, trying to get it to penetrate all the way to his heart. It warmed him, melting a coldness he'd hardly realized was there.
He'd forgotten how much he enjoyed giving massages. It was a skill he had learned in the army, and he found he still had the talent. He used to ease the lower back pain Hutch suffered after an eight-hour shift in the car; his buddy would sigh with relief and fall asleep wherever he was -- the middle of Starsky's living room floor, usually. Starsky'd let him lie undisturbed for an hour or so before waking him and sending him home. It had been nice, having Hutch there, silent and safe with him. A little like now...
His hands were busy kneading the buttocks, then moving to work the backs of the thighs. Hutch was so thin, his bones seemed very close to the surface. His skin was delicate, baby soft, pale with its downy covering of blond hair. Like any good masseur, Starsky's touch was not erotic, but it wasn't merely clinical, either. Massage was an art, a ritual; he and Hutch were being slowly tied together by the sensual bonds Starsky was weaving between them. Hutch's body was absorbing his touches, as clearly starved for the contact as Starsky was to give it.
Each day, Starsky prolonged the massage a little more than the day before. He took time to make each session more detailed and complete, as more of his training came back to him. Now his thumbs moved in a spiral over the sole of each foot, seeking the thousands of nerve endings, stimulating them and the reflexes which connected with the entire body.
"Used to tease you about these big feet, remember?" Starsky continued by stretching each toe, his touch gentle and assured. "You tripped over 'em all the time." His palm stroked a supple sole, defining the perfect arch, admiring the utter logic of Hutch's build, long thighs and legs supported by feet that were actually the perfect size for the rest of him.
His hands were warm from the contact with Hutch's skin, and Starsky felt good. His whole body seemed to resonate with the power of touch. He lay the foot back down and let one hand rest on the back of each leg, beginning a long, connecting stroke that swept all the way up to Hutch's shoulders. He'd been ready to move on, to turn his friend over, but his fingers found a little knot of tension at the base of the neck.
He grasped the muscles, squeezing firmly to knead, trying to loosen the knot. "What's going on in your mind that you're so uptight, huh?" He was really digging in with his thumb and fingers, reaching deep into the tissue, knowing he was successfully soothing the remaining tightness.
Hutch groaned, a sound of deep satisfaction and rich pleasure.
"Mmmm... that does feel good, doesn't it?" Then Starsky froze, his fingers stilling their motion as abruptly as if someone had yelled 'halt.' He hesitated, not sure for a second that he hadn't imagined hearing Hutch make a sound. He leaned over to peer at his friend's face. "Hutch? Did you -- say something there?"
Hutch was smiling -- not broadly, and probably not so that anyone else would be able to tell, but Starsky could see it. That look of utter contentment Hutch wore when he stood on a beach and admired the waves, or when he checked for rain at a window and discovered the sun had come back out, that was the way he was smiling now.
Starsky's heart was going a mile a minute. Carefully, he hurried to turn Hutch over to lie on his back, deft movements not betraying his nervous anticipation. He bent over his partner, taking his face gently between his two hands, searching for any further sign of awareness, his spirit soaring, his eyes devouring Hutch's blissful expression.
"Come on, babe. Come back to me." His breathy whisper nudged the hair across Hutch's forehead. Hutch stayed quiet, his respirations easing in and out with a soft sigh.
Starsky blinked rapidly. He felt dizzy and nearly overwhelmed, filled with love and hope. He dared to move closer, and touched Hutch's lips gently with his own. The kiss was brief, a sanctification, saying more than words could between them. Starsky added one more, tenderly, then stood up, still touching Hutch as he pulled up the forgotten covers.
He sat next to him on the bed, maintaining a light touch at Hutch's shoulder. He felt like he was poised to leap off the roof of a building. He knew he hadn't imagined it. Hutch had made a sound, one that definitely expressed his feelings. Starsky maintained his precarious stance on the edge of that roof, hope daring him to jump off, caution telling him he was destined for a long fall.
I've gotta be calm. It's not like he spoke to me, or opened his eyes and knew me. Starsky continued to gaze down into the quiet face. But it was a good sign, I know it was. He's getting closer to the surface, closer to me.
With infinite care, he leaned down until his cheek pressed against Hutch's. He burrowed closer, as if by merging so deeply into Hutch's space he could will him awake. He lay there, simply communing for long, precious moments. His fingers brushed fine tendrils away from one ear, then curved to permit a whisper meant only for Hutch.
"I love you. You got that, partner?" It was the first time he had said it, here in this room. "I love you."
He drew away from the silken cheek, his eyes moving over the treasured features. Once more... it's been so long... Again he pressed a kiss to his partner's still mouth. Hutch's lips were soft, warm, and he wanted with all his heart for them to kiss him back. Someday... You let me know this afternoon that it'll happen someday. You'll come back to me, all the way. Soon, Hutch... "Please," he whispered, heart aching, "let it be soon."
He sat up, filling his lungs with a deep, calming breath, pulling himself together. The intensity of emotion was very draining. He offered a sheepish smile to Hutch. "Okay, I know. You just want the rest of your massage, don't you?"
He raised each of Hutch's arms in turn to take off his hospital gown, then pulled the bed a little further from the wall in order to stand at his friend's head. He lifted it, allowing the neck muscles to stretch up and down and side to side. He worked on the shoulders, then treated face and scalp to a delicate massage. Leaning forward, he walked his fingers down the ladder of Hutch's ribs, long strokes of his hands, then pulling back up each side from waist to armpit. He kneaded the pectorals with practiced care. Then, moving to stand at the side of the bed, his hands slipped down to rest gently on Hutch's belly. Spiral motions described large circles, then smaller ones, across the tender plane of the abdomen.
A tiny shiver of reaction followed his fingertips as they found a ticklish spot. Starsky paused, trying a repeat of the touch that had caused it, while closely watching Hutch's face. The wide mouth twitched, just at the corner, and Starsky laughed out loud. "Oh, am I gonna tickle you good someday, boy."
He felt ready to jump for joy; the only thing holding him back was Hutch's continued slumber. He could wait a little longer easily though, knowing through the reactions he was witnessing today that his wait was coming to an end.
He concluded the massage by paying careful attention to Hutch's arms and hands, and the front of his legs. When he was finished, he slipped the white hospital gown back on and made sure Hutch was comfortable in bed.
Tired from the physical effort but exhilarated by the hopeful signs, Starsky sat down in his bedside chair, reading contentment in the peaceful face. He felt good inside. It was really satisfying to do these things for Hutch. All the awkwardness and embarrassment were gone. Being intimate, taking care of each other, that had been their way of life. How many times had they cared for one another? Starsky even remembered helping Hutch when a leg cast, crutches and an attached IV made going to the bathroom too complicated for one man to handle alone.
The door to the room snicked open and Mary Brownwell stepped inside. She headed directly to the bed.
Starsky spoke up quickly. "He's all right. I just finished his massage, so he doesn't even need to be turned."
The nurse smiled. "I see." She took the empty feeding bag and made a note on Hutch's chart. Then she bent at the foot of the bed. Standing, she looked over at Starsky. "I see you've emptied this, too."
"Yeah." He shrugged. "I was here. Didn't see any point in calling you away from your other duties."
The eyebrow Mary had raised came back down. "You've been busy. Did you make a note of how much there was before you emptied it?"
"Sure. Of course." Starsky found the paper he'd written on. His eyes went back to Hutch as the nurse left the room.
He glanced at his watch. Time I got back to our reading. He picked up the book he'd begun yesterday, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. In a few moments, he lost himself in the story, he and Hutch being transported to a faraway world together.