BOOK THREE -- GENESIS
Starsky checked his watch again. Hutch had been sleeping for nearly three hours. Really sleeping, he reminded himself. He's gonna wake up again, and look at me... The smile just wouldn't leave his face. He grinned widely at his dozing partner, wanting to touch him. But Hutch needed the rest so Starsky waited.
Still, he felt restless; energy coursed through his body with nowhere to go. His aborted departure and sudden return had left him feeling keyed up. The excitement of Hutch's awakening made him feel he should be doing something. He'd been sitting all this time, happy instead of morose and worried, but now he had to act. His eye fell on the watering can and he decided watering the plants would give him something to do.
He took his time, noting new growth on the plants, picking off a couple of withered leaves. He became absorbed in the task, remembering the day he'd purchased them for Hutch. The spider plant was his own favorite. The large mother plant had sprouted many "babies," now nearly ready to take root in their own pot. Starsky fingered the leafy tendrils gently, pleased at the greenery's thriving progress.
He was about to move on to the next thirsty plant when he hesitated, an odd feeling settling over him. He sensed someone's eyes on him, watching. Who...? Cop sense on alert, he whirled.
The watcher lay in the bed, blue eyes staring hungrily. Starsky heaved a breath, laughing softly at his mistake. He'd been so used to feeling alone in this room. Not anymore. Smiling, he put down the watering can and approached the bed.
"Hey. You woke up again. How you doin'?"
The wide blue eyes never left his face. Starsky watched them, amazed at the changing expressions, the feeling they seemed to reveal. First, they looked happy to be seeing Starsky, then they reflected confusion. A shadow of hurt and anguish seemed to dampen their glow. Hutch looked like he wanted to talk, to ask a thousand questions, but though the words must be in his mind, he couldn't get them out. His eyes became mirrors of frustration then, moving into helpless fear. Starsky didn't want him to look that way.
He sat down and reached for Hutch's hand. The expression in the eyes cleared, relaxing slightly. "It's okay, partner. Everything's gonna be all right." He wrapped both his hands around the warm one he held, trying to convey reassurance. "Bet you're wondering what's going on, huh? Well don't you worry. You're in a hospital, but you're gonna be fine."
Hutch's gaze left his face then, wandering the room, taking in his surroundings. When his eyes returned to look at Starsky again, they lit up. Starsky felt like crying -- or laughing, or grabbing Hutch up in the tightest hug ever. But he just sat, squeezing his hand carefully, worried that by overreacting he might upset Hutch more.
"Do you -- do you remember anything? About when you got kidnapped?"
The blond head tilted to one side, as if Hutch were trying to make sense of the words Starsky was saying.
"You can't understand me?" It had seemed he was following a little of what Starsky had said earlier, when he mentioned that Hutch was in the hospital. He decided to try a test of sorts. "Can you squeeze my hand, Hutch?"
His friend's gaze moved immediately to their joined hands. A subtle pressure tightened around Starsky's fingers.
"Good. That's real good. Now can you say something? Try, babe. You can do it if you try."
Hutch frowned. He blinked several times, as if trying to process what Starsky had said. His lips opened and closed again, trembling slightly.
"Okay. Take it easy. Hey, I'll bet you're thirsty. You want some water?" Starsky reached for the pitcher on the bedside stand. He'd wet Hutch's lips with cool water many times during his vigil, and had sometimes tried to get him to drink, but the reflex for swallowing didn't seem to be operating while Hutch was in the coma. Starsky poured a little water into the plastic cup now and held it to his friend's mouth, lifting his head gently.
Hutch sipped, coughing a little as it went down. He drank again, seeming thirsty, eyes widening at the cool taste. Starsky let him back down on the pillow.
"You're doin' beautiful, buddy," he told him, grinning, feeling proud of his partner's accomplishment. "Did that taste good?" The eyes watched his, but Hutch answered neither verbally nor by expression. He seemed to understand only some of what Starsky was saying.
He closed his eyes for a moment and the slender body tried to shift position. The movement was weak, ineffective. Hutch sighed, opening his eyes to look at Starsky again.
"You gettin' uncomfortable like that?" He glanced at his watch; it was well past time Hutch was turned. "How about I help you roll over? I'll rub your back too, okay?"
He stood, reaching to turn Hutch onto his side, as he had done so many times in the months of silence. Now as he moved him, Hutch gasped deeply, going rigid, hands flinging out, trying to grab hold of something. Starsky bent over him, cupping his face.
"Hey, hey. Easy there. We've done this before. You relax and let me do the work, now, all right? It's gonna be okay." He kept murmuring reassurance and Hutch relaxed, although the movement still seemed to disturb him. His face looked frightened. Starsky wanted to believe it was because the shift confused him, disorienting his tenuous grip on reality. But it could be something else, he thought in concern. Those guys who took him -- maybe he's still feeling afraid of what they did to him.
"There," he said, when he had his friend settled on his side. "Is that better? You can see the window now. See how the sun is shining?" He began to stroke the long, cool back, parting the sides of the hospital gown. Hutch's muscles had tightened with the movement, now they began to relax for him again. Starsky massaged the tense neck and shoulders and Hutch sighed audibly. "Good. That feels good, doesn't it?" Starsky breathed to him. "Everything's fine, Hutch. You let your partner take care of everything and you're gonna get well so fast..." His hands slipped lower, stroking over the smooth buttocks and down the long thighs and calves. His heart felt so full he thought it would overflow with emotion.
Hutch was awake, he knew Starsky, knew he was there caring for him. Yet they were in a transition phase. Starsky didn't quite know how to treat him. Was this type of massage and the exercises necessary or appropriate now? Starsky thought he might feel shy about having his partner touching him all over the way he had when Hutch hadn't even known what was going on.
Right now, however, he seemed to be basking in the attention. The fear had left his face, his expression was soft and happy. The joy came back to Starsky. Melissa would be able to tell him how to help Hutch's progress along. And he was making progress. Every minute he seemed better.
Just as he thought of her, Melissa entered the room. She smiled when she met Starsky's eyes. "Looks like things are going pretty well here."
Hutch heard her speak; he jumped a little, as if the sound of her voice had startled him.
Starsky bent close to him. "This is your doctor, buddy. She's been taking good care of you."
"I'm Melissa Samuels, Hutch," the doctor spoke up, slipping her stethoscope into her ears. She rubbed the metal disk a moment to warm it before placing it against Hutch's chest. "You're doing beautifully," she smiled down at him after listening. She picked up his chart and made a note. "Let's ease him over on his back again. I want to take some blood." The clear blue eyes were following every movement she made.
Together, Starsky and Melissa shifted Hutch's position. He seemed to get disoriented again, but when Starsky spoke to him, his eyes lost that scared look. They were fastened on Starsky's face when Melissa wrapped the length of elastic around his bicep and palpated his vein.
Immediately, he turned to look, a hoarse groan erupting from his throat, his expression horrified.
"You'd better hold him for me," Melissa directed, her voice calm.
Starsky leaned over him, speaking softly, urging him to relax. Hutch was beginning to breathe heavily, his eyes straying over to his arm as the syringe approached. Starsky held his shoulders. When the needle went in, he jerked feebly, his wavering cry cutting into Starsky's heart.
Melissa's movements were quick and efficient. She pressed a gauze square against the tiny mark at Hutch's elbow, soothing him in her quiet voice. "I know that hurt a little bit, but we need to check your blood to see that everything is all right. You're okay now, Hutch."
"He hates needles," Starsky explained, his throat feeling raw. "A long time ago, a drug pusher kidnapped Hutch and injected him with heroin until he had him hooked. I helped him kick it cold turkey." The doctor's eyes widened in shock. "Probably the last thing he remembers before going into the coma was when the men who brought him to Australia shot him up with that drug they gave him. He musta... musta been terrified..." He broke off, seeing the bright moisture trembling in Hutch's eyes.
"Of course..." Melissa's voice was a whisper. She stroked her patient's head. "Hutch. Hutch, you can rest now. Nothing is going to hurt you here. We're taking care of you." She applied a band-aid to the wound on Hutch's arm, and he whimpered a little. His eyes stayed on Starsky. "Talk to him, David. Distract him. I'll come back in a little while to finish my examination."
Starsky pulled up his chair, thinking rapidly, trying to come up with a topic that would help to banish the fear and pain for his friend. "Hey, Hutch. You oughta see Dobey these days. He's put on more weight than ever."
The name seemed to be something Hutch recognized. His brows went up slightly, as if asking Starsky to go on.
"Yeah, but he's the same gruff old bear we always knew. He'll be so happy when I call him to let him know you're awake." He smoothed the hair back from Hutch's forehead. "And Rosey's getting so grown up. She's as pretty as ever. She always enjoyed having you come over and tell her stories. You remember?"
Hutch was looking at him with that expression of confusion again. The sound of Starsky's voice seemed to be soothing him, at least, so he kept on speaking. He talked about Huggy, cops they knew at Metro, realizing that little if anything made sense to Hutch. He kept his voice light, smiling as often as he could, and gradually Hutch's breathing eased again and the tears dried.
Melissa came back with a nurse in tow, and the rest of the examination went without incident. Starsky sat nearby, clasping Hutch's hand, and the patient remained calm as long as he could hear Starsky's voice and see him.
"You and I have our work cut out for us," the doctor said finally.
"How's he doing, Melissa?" Starsky broke eye contact with Hutch to look up at her.
"Basically, better than I expected. He's understanding very little of what is being said, though he does comprehend simple commands. He responds most to the sound of your voice -- with your encouragement, he'll keep trying to focus on what's going on out in the world. He recognized the syringe and was afraid -- that shows he is becoming oriented as to place and thing."
"So you think his intelligence is still there?"
"He's retained something. I'd expected him to be rather blank, accepting the way he is for now without seeming confused or afraid, not really wondering what's going on until he's been awake a good while longer. But since fear, or worry at least, may have been the last thing he was feeling, that seems to be foremost in his mind. The EEG looks very good, and so do his blood levels. I'm going to order another CAT scan. Now that he's regaining consciousness, we'll be better able to interpret it. Physically, he's very weak. One thing we want to do is get him to take some calories by mouth as soon as possible. He'll probably be alert enough to gag on the feeding tube soon, so I'd like to eliminate it within the next few days, if he can tolerate a liquid diet. Also, when someone has been off their feet a long time, the calcium in the bloodstream doesn't circulate correctly and the leg bones become weak. We'll get him up on a tilt table several times a day, just raising it about 10 degrees at first and increasing it gradually -- too much too soon and we'll have him passing out or vomiting. As soon as possible, I want him out of that bed and down in physical therapy. Meanwhile, I want you to work with him on language. See if he looks at something when you name it."
"Should I tell him how long it's been?"
"If you do, he won't understand. Keep it all simple. He's in the hospital, but he's going to get well. There will come a day when it's appropriate to tell him how much time has passed."
"When he asks for the information. He won't be ready for it until then, so there is no need to be specific until he begins asking questions. It will take a while, but they will be inevitable. Right now, he doesn't even realize that there is something wrong with him."
"Do you think he'll ever be able to tell me what happened?"
Melissa turned her gaze to the patient. "I hope so. He certainly remembered what that needle meant. But more specific memories may take longer to sort themselves out for him. I do think he'll begin to speak, although that will probably be gradual. His brain is not so much damaged as it is... out of practice. He'll have to learn how to use his verbal and motor skills all over again."
"What about the kinds of things I've been doing for him?"
"The exercises? Keep doing those, but I want to see if he can put some resistance against the pull you exert on his muscles. You can help him with his daily care, too. As soon as he's strong enough, we've got to involve him with washing his hands and face, things like that. He's started forward, I want him to keep making progress. You've been very capable at stimulating him up to now, but you've got to step up those efforts. He has to have lots of things to look at, to listen to. Ask him to think. Anything can help, even toys. He'll learn a lot by matching shapes, picking out colors... And you can try to see if he remembers things from the past -- not really what happened to him when he was kidnapped, but from your earlier times together."
Melissa went on, outlining a new schedule for Hutch, and Starsky included ideas of his own. As they spoke, the man they were discussing dozed off again. Starsky felt the hand he held relax. He looked closely at the sleeping face and lost the thread of what Melissa was saying.
"You're not worrying, are you?" she asked lightly.
"No," he answered without looking up at her. "I'm not gonna let this guy slip away from me again."
Hutch lay in bed, exhausted. It seemed he had been pushed and prodded, turned and tilted, lifted and touched until he couldn't keep track of anything. Of the vague world around him, he comprehended little, feeling only dizziness, loss of equilibrium, a crazy, nauseating sense of falling when he was moved abruptly. And assaulted, when the strange, loud voices spoke to him. To lie here now -- still, quiet -- seemed so good. His eyes closed.
Time had little meaning. He might have been this way for a day, a week, or only an hour. Yet he did not question that anymore than he did anything else, accepting his state of being, incapable of wondering why speaking was too much effort, why he could not understand what was being said to him.
Only two feelings asserted themselves in his mind. The first was fear. It was his constant companion, accepted like everything else, a nagging worry left over from another life. He did not fear anything specific, yet the emotion colored all his reactions. The second feeling helped balance the first. There was no word for it, just a name. Starsky. A presence, a smile. A comforting hand. 'Everything's all right, Hutch. Take it easy now.' If that voice told him to rest, to sleep, to squeeze his hand, Hutch obeyed. If he was afraid, the voice soothed. In a world of images and sensations that made no sense, Starsky was an anchor, a light to follow. If he opened his eyes and did not see that face, Hutch looked for him. If something happened, if he was touched or disturbed, and he couldn't hear that voice, the fear and confusion grew out of proportion, receding only when the presence he needed so badly returned.
Hutch had no words, no vocabulary to explain it. Friend, partner... those terms did not exist in his mind and memory. There was simply Starsky. Without him, emptiness. With him, peace.
Hutch looked for him now with eyes that burned from fatigue. He couldn't see very well; the room seemed dark, blurred. The objects around him didn't make much sense. He couldn't make out details of shape and color, didn't bother trying to perceive their functions or meanings. He knew only one thing. There was no Starsky here.
A wave of loneliness and loss assailed him. Where...? The question clawed at his mind, without definition or expression. An ache, born in the depths of his being, swamped everything else he knew. Starsky?
Hutch closed his eyes tight, drew in a breath that seemed to catch in his heart. He felt so insignificant, a tiny speck in a huge empty room. Heart tripping anxiously, all he could do was search his mind for a remnant of the voice and face and hand he needed by him now.
Words filtered back to him, out of indistinct memory. 'Shhh. Easy now. You've had a pretty rough day. Go to sleep. I'll see you in the morning.' The words seemed close, alive almost. Had they been so recently whispered to him? Starsky says sleep. Go to sleep. Hutch sighed, letting the echo of their presence calm his fears. His body slowly untensed, his heavy eyelids drifted closed. His hand, empty now, could recall the warmth of a firm clasp. He held on to that image, and settled into sleep.
"Easy, Hutch. Take it easy. I'm not gonna let you fall." Starsky said the words anxiously, the note of fear in his friend's voice cutting into him. Hutch expressed himself only in guttural growls, moans and sighs. Right now, the sound coming from his throat told of panic, and Starsky did what he could to alleviate it. Hutch was on the tilt board, strapped so he couldn't fall from the forty-five degree angle, but obviously he didn't feel any too safe up there. Starsky kept trying to soothe and reassure him.
The blue eyes were huge in the thin face, darting fearfully around the room. The long throat worked, the laboring chest heaved. Starsky shook his head, imagining the cuss words his partner would be using if he had the vocabulary right now. Hutch hated to be messed with when he didn't feel good; he liked being scared even less. The idea of him cussing out the nurses and Starsky, too, brought a grin to his face, and an idea.
"Cut it out, willya?" Starsky demanded abruptly. "You heard me. I've had enough of the Hutchinson attitude. You're not gonna fall, so shut up and get used to this."
The physical therapist, Amelia, uttered a small gasp and looked at Starsky like he'd lost his mind. Starsky ignored her, his gaze intent on his partner.
Hutch stopped moaning. His eyes still held anxiety, but it was obvious he was trying to control it. Eyes fixed on Starsky, his mouth tried to manage a smile. Starsky felt like he'd been awarded the lottery's grand prize.
"See? You can handle it if you try, buddy." He grinned, ruffling Hutch's hair. "Now just rest there for twenty minutes or so and you can go back to your room." He turned his smile on the therapist. "You just gotta know how to talk to this fella."
Fingers brushed at his wrist and he looked down. Hutch's hand was reaching for him. Starsky squeezed it briefly, then let it go. "I'll be back in a couple of minutes. Gotta make a trip to the comfort station."
Worry crept back into Hutch's expression.
"Just relax, partner," Starsky told him, turning to go.
Five minutes later, he pushed open the door to the therapy room, surprised to hear Hutch's voice again. He wasn't carrying on the way he had been, but he was definitely distressed. The shallow moans spoke of pain and confusion. Starsky felt his gut tightening into a knot.
"I'm back." He moved up close to the table, trying to keep his voice neutral. Letting on he was upset by Hutch's fear would only feed into the emotion, he reasoned. Hutch's eyes turned to him immediately, and in a few moments he was calm again. Starsky patted his shoulder, not really knowing what to say. His own tension did not ebb as easily.
We've got a long way to go, haven't we? Feels like thousands of miles, as big a trip as it took me to get all the way over here. What's that proverb say about the journey beginning with a single step? You're takin' baby steps, Hutch. I'm glad to see them, but I'm just beginning to realize how hard the road back is going to be.
The session in therapy continued, following the time on the tilt table, with some simple exercises and movements. Amelia worked with Hutch while he sat up in a wheelchair, asking him to grasp objects she handed him. Though there was little strength in his hands, he was able to hold a tennis ball, a plastic ring, a child's block. There seemed to be slightly less ability in his right hand than his left.
He was becoming tired already. Amelia tried to get him to push back when she took his hand and pushed; he didn't seem to understand.
"Let me try," Starsky suggested after a moment. He took the chair the therapist vacated and reached for his friend's hands. "Okay now, I'm gonna push. You push back." Starsky said the words simply, directly, looking into the wide, vulnerable eyes. He placed his palms flat against Hutch's. When the long fingers interlaced with this own, Starsky felt a wave of warmth reach the bottom of his heart. "That's it," he said, voice hushed. "Now push." He exerted only a little pressure against Hutch's light grip. He could feel the meager resistance as Hutch's arms responded.
"Come on, give it some more." He let his arms be pushed back by Hutch's hands, letting his elbows bend slightly. He returned pressure, and felt Hutch respond more quickly that time. Again, there was more strength coming from Hutch's left hand.
"Good. Give me a little more. All right!" He squeezed the hands he held and Hutch's eyes lit up.
Amelia checked her watch. "That's enough for today. You can take him back upstairs now."
Starsky looked up at her. "He's doin' okay, isn't he?" He needed the reassurance for himself, too.
She nodded, catching a strand of her hair that had come out of the band that held it. "Very well. We'll have to work hard on his right side. That's the area that seems to have been affected by the slight stroke he had. But I don't anticipate any longer term disability."
"He'll begin to get stronger every day." Amelia looked at Hutch's chart. "How has he been doing on his eating?"
"Okay. We're going easy with that. He's been a little queasy, even on the clear liquids, but Melissa says he's doing well."
Amelia smiled and nodded. "Okay, Hutch. I'll see you tomorrow." She spoke emphatically, leaning down to come into his line of sight. The blue gaze went right past her, though, still fixed on Starsky's face.
You don't have to shout, lady. "Come on, partner," Starsky urged, moving to the back of the wheelchair. He turned it carefully, heading out the door at a slow speed that wouldn't unsettle Hutch's fragile sense of equilibrium.
By the time they returned to his room, Hutch looked exhausted. Mary Brownwell helped Starsky get him into bed. His hands trembled, his breathing was shallow. When they'd taken him out of bed to go down to therapy, he'd tried to help, but now he couldn't manage. It hurt to see him practically on the verge of collapse from the brief activity.
"Get some rest," Starsky told him, adjusting the covers. He then turned to leave the room, intending to go find some lunch in the hospital cafeteria.
An anxious sigh drew him back to the bed. "What, don't you want to be alone?" He smoothed the hair across Hutch's forehead. "Okay. I'll sit with you until you fall asleep." He took Hutch's hand in his own. The bony fingers squeezed his for an instant, then Hutch's eyes closed and his breathing evened out.
Starsky held his hand for a long time. When he finally, carefully, drew away from Hutch's grasp and went down to the cafeteria, he found he wasn't able to eat very much. There was a knot of tension wound tight in his stomach; it had formed in the therapy room and showed no sign of letting up.