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BOOK FOUR - TRANSITION

 

CHAPTER I

 

The next morning, Starsky pushed resolutely through the doors of the Rehab Center. He was ready for what he assumed would be a confrontation. He wants stubborn, he'll get stubborn... he had told himself over and over all night long. Hutch had not wanted him around last night, and Starsky had gone along with him then. Today was going to be different.

It took a few minutes to locate Hutch's new room. Last night, Starsky realized he hadn't been paying all that much attention. When he finally found the right corridor, he strode purposely toward Hutch's door, knocked once and then pushed inside.

Hutch looked up from his breakfast tray, clearly startled. He was sitting up in bed, and when he recognized Starsky, the blue eyes went cold. After a few seconds, he went back to spooning up his oatmeal.

"What's the matter?" Starsky asked him. "You forget how to say good morning?"

"Go away."

Starsky squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself not to feel resentment at Hutch's attempted rejection. He tried to believe that it was only Hutch's disappointment and hurt that was causing him to lash out that way -- the only defense he has... "So, you're still mad at me, are you?" he asked instead.

Hutch carefully placed the spoon back on the tray, then looked up. The wide eyes were still full of accusation, but Starsky could see hurt in them, too. He took a step closer to the bed, sensing more than seeing Hutch draw away from his approach.

"You can be mad at me all you want, but I'm not going to stay away," he said mildly. "Unless you'd really rather be all alone here with all these strangers. Yeah -- you don't want that, do you? You need me and you know it." Starsky tried a smile, but it was a grim one. "Just like old times, partner -- no matter how pissed you are at me, we still gotta work together."

Apparently that struck a chord. Hutch looked at him, a hint of desperation in the blue eyes now. He seemed to want to say something, and was warring with his uncooperative mind to get the words out. Finally, lips pale and thinned in frustration, he managed, "Why, Starsky? Why?"

Starsky reached out, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Because, Hutch, you're just not ready to be out of the hospital yet."

"Yes, I am..." But he did not sound very convinced or convincing.

"Okay." Starsky sat beside him on the narrow bed. "Can you walk across this room without help? Do you know what you're going to wear today? Can you go out and buy groceries and fix yourself dinner? Can you pick up the TV Guide and decide what shows you're gonna watch tonight? Hmm? Can you do any of those things by yourself?"

Two trembling hands came up to grasp Starsky's arm. The blond head shook, as if Hutch were just beginning to realize the truth, as if the magnitude was about to swamp him. "Starsk," he managed, voice cracking, "why... can't I do those things. Tell me... Please?"

"It's okay. It's gonna be okay." Starsky moved closer, trying to soothe. "Listen. Remember Ben Forest?" He looked intently into Hutch's eyes for some sign of recognition. "He and his goons kidnapped you -- long time ago. They... gave you heroin..."

Hutch shuddered, one hand rubbing reflexively at his inner arm.

"Yeah. I know how you hated it. But you kicked it, didn't you?" Hutch nodded, hanging on to Starsky's every word. "That's right. But remember how sick you were, and how weak you felt? And you wanted to go right back to work, but I wouldn't let you?" He raked back the tangled straw-colored hair that had fallen over the furrowed brow. "You had to get your strength back. It's like that now, Hutch. Maybe it's gonna take a little more time, a little more work, but you'll get your strength back again. And you'll have therapy so you can walk just like before, and you'll remember all the words you want to say..."

Hutch was nodding, eyes fixed on Starsky's. "It was the... coma..." He said it softly, using the word himself for the first time.

"That's right." Starsky met the gaze unswervingly.

Hutch had more to say; his forehead creased with the effort. "Those... men... at the hospital? Did they say... I was... dead...?"

"What?" It took Starsky a moment to remember: "What's it like to come back from the dead?"

"You understood what they were saying more than we thought..." he mused, feeling the pain those thoughtless questions had caused. "They only meant that you'd been hurt so bad, babe," he contended, trying to soften the implication. "You know -- 'back from the dead' -- it's just an expression. And a coma -- it's like a real deep sleep. We... we couldn't get you to wake up. That's all they meant." He swallowed hard, afraid to say too much, or worse, of not saying what he said well enough. "You're not... you're not scared you're gonna die, are you? There's nothin' like that to be afraid of -- honest, Hutch. You need lots of rest and therapy... but you're okay. Everything is going along fine. I promise."

They sat there, staring into one another's eyes for a long, attenuated moment of shared anguish. Starsky fought for control, terrified of what might come next. He's gonna ask me how long. It's right there, on the tip of his tongue, but he can't get it out... He knows he wants to ask it, but he either can't find the right words or he can't figure out what the question really is. But that's what he's gonna want to know. And -- I can't tell him that. I'm not equipped to help him deal with knowing he's lost two years of his life... He's not ready. God, he's not nearly ready. Please, don't let him ask me yet.

"Starsk?" The quiet voice penetrated Starsky's distress. A gentle hand lifted awkwardly to pat his arm, "I'm.... not mad at you..." The words trailed off, Hutch looked anxious, serious with hope.

Starsky was relieved that the inevitable could be put off a little while longer, and touched that his friend still possessed the ability to reach out and comfort him. "I know. I'm not mad at you, either." He wanted very much to draw Hutch close and wrap his arms tight around him. I need a hug, babe. Don't you? God, I need one so bad... Hutch's eyes looked so vulnerable, so needful of the closeness. Starsky reached for him.

At that instant, the door to Hutch's room creaked open. "Good morning," a brusque voice said. "I'm Dr. Edwards."

Starsky turned. The man hadn't even looked up yet from the clipboard he was studying. "I'm Dave Starsky."

Edward peered over the reading glasses he was wearing, looking first at Starsky and then towards Hutch. "Mr. Hutchinson? " he asked. A glance at his clipboard. "Kenneth?"

"Uh... he prefers Hutch."

The doctor looked up, nodding, and smiled slightly. "Very well. Hutch?" He turned toward the patient. "I'm glad to meet you." He put out his hand.

Hutch regarded him solemnly for a moment, then lifted his left hand to grasp the doctor's.

"Excellent. Can you give me your right hand, now?" It took a moment, but Hutch extended his right hand toward the doctor.

Edwards nodded, making a note on the clipboard. "I'm the neurologist," he told Starsky. "I've looked over Hutch's charts and it seems most of his problems are in the left brain area. His aphasia -- his problems with language -- plus the weakness on his right side, can all be traced to the left brain. The areas governing language, which we call Broca's area and Wernicke's area, both show some effect, but I believe he will regain most of what he had. The slight scarring in the left temporal lobe worries me -- though we haven't seen a great deal of damage as a result of it, you never know."

"What do you mean?" Starsky asked. He threw a worried glance in Hutch's direction, but could tell that his friend was not really following the conversation.

"Scarring could precipitate a disruption in the electrical currents in that area of the brain. There could be nothing... and then again, at some future time we could see some new symptoms. Tell me -- has he complained of any bad tastes or smells? Has he seemed to lose contact with what is going on around him for a moment or two?"

"No. He hasn't said anything. What would something like that mean?" Starsky frowned; were there still new things that could go wrong for Hutch?

"Those are symptoms of seizures -- but I don't think you should be worrying about them. He's been conscious for... how long?"

"About four weeks."

"If nothing like that has occurred by now, we're probably in the clear." The doctor made another note on the chart. "What I'd like to get started with today is a complete neurological work-up. Then we'll have the speech therapist and the physical therapist have a look at him, and... I don't suppose he's been seen by the psychiatrist yet?"

Starsky shook his head.

"Dr. Williamson will be around to see him in the early part of the afternoon, then. He'll make an evaluation, then depending on how much therapy he'll need, he'll either continue to see him, or the psychologist or one of the social workers we have on staff. We'd also like you to have a word or two with the social worker -- she'll be doing his case management."

"Case management?" Starsky's head was spinning.

"Yes. Keeping all of our efforts coordinated, helping with any problems, out-patient care when it's appropriate, answering any questions about the center you or he may have -- helping in general." The doctor took off his reading glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "She's available for you to speak to, as well. I'm sure you've a lot of questions, and a lot of feelings about all that's happened to your friend..."

"Counseling?" Starsky blurted, suddenly understanding. "For me?"

The doctor shrugged. "It's available. Mrs. Kelley is quite nice to talk to, very friendly and understanding."

"Yeah." Starsky didn't feel like listening to anything more. Hutch was the patient, after all, not him.

"Fine," Dr. Edward concluded. "So, if you'll excuse me, I'll get started on my examination."

Starsky looked at him, a little taken aback. He didn't feel exactly right, leaving Hutch in the stranger's care; things seemed to be moving so swiftly. He glanced at Hutch, who had not yet quite finished his breakfast. The wide blue eyes were curious.

"The doctor needs to take a look at you now, buddy," Starsky told him. "I'll just go and wait outside, all right?"

Quietly, Hutch nodded.

*********

The next several days seemed endless to Hutch. He was assaulted by a host of strangers who examined him, asked him hundreds of questions, required him to solve dozens of puzzles and complete tasks that were sometimes complex and strange, other times babyish in their simplicity. He didn't mind anything as much as he minded the questioning. Why were they constantly putting him on the witness stand? Some of the questions were easy, or at least they seemed that way -- yet his questioners occasionally looked skeptical and wrote down his answers. He planned to ask Starsky what -- if anything -- had been wrong with what he said.

Today's session was more troublesome. He was groping for answers, and having trouble finding them. Dr. Williamson -- what was he? A shrink? -- prodded him gently, but Hutch was becoming frustrated.

"Now, Hutch," the grey-haired doctor began again, "you said you were from Duluth. What year did you move to Los Angeles?"

"Uh... I'm not... I don't really remember." Hutch drew in a breath. "Does it matter?"

"And what year was it you became a plain clothes detective?"

"Uh..." That was easier. "Nineteen seventy-two."

"Very good. What year was your mother born?"

"My... mother?" Hutch closed his eyes. The answer eluded him.

"It's all right. Do you know what year it is now?"

He thought a moment. That should be easy. "Nineteen... seventy-nine."

The doctor made a note. "Do you know the President's name?"

"President..." It should be there. He should know. "C-Carter?"

The questioner looked up, his smile seemed forced. "Nineteen seventy-nine. President Jimmy Carter. That's fine, Hutch." He wrote something else down on the pad, then laid it aside and leaned toward his patient.

"Do you have anything you'd like to talk to me about today?"

Hutch shook his head. "No, just -- when do you think I can go home?"

"I don't know about that, Hutch. You've still got a long way to go. You need more physical therapy, don't you?"

He sighed, looking away, eyes staring at the scene of green grass and trees outside his window. "When's Starsky coming?"

"He'll be here after work. Do you remember what time he told you?"

Hutch shook his head, putting a hand up to rub his throbbing temple. "I... I don't want to talk anymore..."

"Okay. I'll let you get some rest." Dr. Williamson got up from the bedside chair and patted Hutch's shoulder.

********

Hutch wasn't allowed to remain alone for long. Soon the speech therapist came to his room. She opened the door partway, her smiling face looking around at him.

"Hi, Hutch! Remember me? It's Ginny."

Hutch closed his eyes. Her cheerfulness was so nerve-wracking. And her question was downright silly. "Sure. Hi, Ginny."

"Look what I brought you today," the perky voice continued as she entered the room. She placed a box on his bedside table. "All these things are used when we sit down to have a meal. Let's see how many of them you can name. All right?"

Hutch shrugged, feeling no enthusiasm. "Okay."

The first object she brought out and placed before him he knew right away.

"That's a plate."

"Very good. What about this one?"

It was a piece of cloth, and she folded it and put it to the left of the plate.

"Table... cloth?"

"Not quite. Watch." Ginny picked up the cloth and wiped her mouth with it, looking at him pointedly.

"Oh." He felt a little foolish. "A napkin."

"Good. Now -- how about this?"

It was silverware, three expected pieces. Hutch pointed to each in turn. "Fork. Knife. Spoon."

"Terrific." Ginny was beaming. "Now, are you ready for this one?"

She brought one more item out and sat it in front of the plate. Hutch looked at it for a long moment, waiting for its name to come into his head. It wasn't there, and he grew embarrassed. He tried scratching his leg, pretending to be preoccupied, but Ginny was onto him. "Come on, Hutch. What is it?"

"Uh... ketchup?"

"Close. Try again."

"Pickles?"

"No. Maybe this will help." She reached into the box for yet another article. This one was similar to the first. Ginny put it down beside the other one. "Look. Notice they're almost alike. One has something black inside and the other has something white. Tell me what they are, Hutch."

He reached out, picking up one of the glass pieces. He closed his eyes, hoping the search would end. Finally, the word popped in for him. "S-salt?"

"Great!" Ginny praised. "And this one's the..."

"Pepper?" He felt like a fool.

"Very good, Hutch. You're really coming along." He felt her hand, like Dr. Williamson's, coming to rest on his shoulder.

Hutch shrugged it away. "This is stupid." There were more feelings inside him; but like the other words, they remained tied up in his recalcitrant brain.

"I know. I know it seems that way, but you've got to practice. And you're really making progress..."

"Please, lady," Hutch blurted, angry at himself, "just leave me alone." He felt contrite, annoyed at himself for being rude to her, but he didn't know how to fix it. "Where's Starsky?" he asked instead.

Ginny checked her watch. "Oh, he's probably still at work, isn't he? Did he say he was coming this evening? C'mon -- you want to tell him how well you've done today, don't you? Let's try a few more things, okay?"

********

He was escorted to occupational therapy after Ginny left. At least he was out of the boring hospital room, Hutch thought as he was wheeled through the corridors. The large sunny room where other patients were occupied with various tasks was nice, but being around them was disconcerting, too. Hutch sat for a while, looking, studying the other patients.

One man in a wheelchair had only one leg. Hutch felt sorry for him, but the fellow looked up and grinned in his direction and he nodded back. There was another wheelchair nearby, this one occupied by a woman in a faded robe. She tilted to one side in the chair, her left side seemingly immobile. When Hutch smiled and said hi to her, she looked frightened. He noticed the left side of her face looked funny.

Someone placed drawing materials in front of him, a large shiny piece of paper and some colored felt-tipped pens. "Draw anything you want," the therapist, a young man with a short haircut, told him. He moved away, leaning over to look at someone else's project, then going to adjust the black and white television across the room. Hutch followed his movements, his gaze caught by the flickering TV images. What was on at the moment seemed like a promo for the evening news. There was Ronald Reagan. Didn't think the governor looked that old... Hutch mused. He turned to the paper and pens in front of him, and decided it might be fun after all to do a little drawing. It had been ages since he'd picked up a paintbrush.

It was difficult; his weak right hand didn't have the control he needed. He finally settled on making some abstract designs that were pleasing even though they weren't the way he'd visualized them in his head. When he'd finished with his page, he wanted to put his name on it. That was more formidable a task than the drawing had been, however. Frustrated, he took up the black pen and made rough slashing motions with it, spoiling the design but getting fierce satisfaction at venting his annoyance.

The therapist came over, asking what was wrong. "Hutch, it looks like you're a little upset."

Hutch glanced up, glaring into the solicitous face. He threw the pen across the room, shoving the paper and the other marking pens onto the floor. What was even more galling, the therapist didn't seem a bit troubled by his actions. He simply shook his head and bent to help retrieve the clutter from the floor.

"Take..." Hutch was so frustrated he could hardly speak coherently. "Take me... back now. P-please."

********

Hutch was tired following the long busy afternoon. He was also dispirited. He couldn't tell what time it was, but he wished it was time for Starsky to come. The days seemed so long without him at the hospital. Before they'd come home -- the thought made him sigh -- Starsky had been there every day, most all the time. Now, he said he had to go to work.

He's at work... he's out there... on the street? Alone? Hutch began to worry, thinking of the danger his partner could be in. I'm in here... who's working as his backup?

Before he could spend much more time on the troublesome subject, his door opened and another voice spoke brightly to him.

"Hutch? How are you doing?" He turned to look. "I'm Edith Dobey -- remember?"

Flustered, Hutch managed a shaky greeting. "Hello... Edith."

The woman smiled and entered the room. "I thought I'd stop by and see how you're doing. And look who I brought with me!" She turned, motioning to someone outside the door.

Hutch craned his head to look. A young girl, smiling also, came shyly into his hospital room.

"I picked Rosey up after school and she wanted to come along with me and see you!"

Rosey? He tried to place the name, but his mind was being vague and uncooperative. Then, he thought he remembered Starsky mentioning a Rosey. Dobey and... Edith's daughter? But... she's so tiny... I remember a little girl I used to pick up and hold in my arms. This little girl is too old to be her...

"Hi, Hutch." The girl put out her hand and Hutch, feeling shaky, took it in his own.

"You've grown..." He was struggling to find the proper words.

"I'm eleven now," the child said proudly. "I'm in the sixth grade."

He nodded, but did not grow less perplexed. Something... doesn't fit... I can't quite grab hold of it... but I feel it...

"Are you feeling better than you were the night you came in on the plane, dear?" Edith was asking him. "You seemed so tired that evening."

The art of conversation was not something Hutch had practiced recently. He wasn't sure what to say, yet he felt he should be a gentleman, and he should be gracious to these guests, his first. "Would you... like to sit down?"

"Oh, I don't know if we can stay for long, dear." Edith moved closer and straightened his covers in a motherly way. "We just wanted to see how you're doing."

"I'm fine." Hutch was beginning to feel a little more comfortable. He peered at Rosey again. "I can't believe how big you are..."

The child cocked her head, as if what he'd said was incomprehensible. Then Hutch saw her mother look sharply at her. That expression was followed on Edith's face with a look Hutch found unreadable. She brought her hand up to her mouth and looked somewhat distressed.

"You can just about watch these kids grow, don't you know, Hutch?" the woman asked, chuckling a little.

Hutch wasn't quite sure what to say to that.

They stayed a few more minutes, but Hutch was having trouble keeping track of what was being said. He couldn't stop wondering why Rosey looking so big was bothering him.

"Well, we don't want to tire you too much," Edith finally said, her voice soft and comforting. She stroked the hair back from Hutch's forehead and he looked up at her, too confused to speak, but glad that someone had come to visit him. "We'll come back again soon."

"Good," he offered. "I'd like that."

The two left him then, and Hutch was alone with his mixed-up feelings. Rosey... so tall... feels like I haven't seen her in a very long time... and I've been so alone here... just Starsky coming day after day, but nobody else. I'm sick, in the hospital... doesn't anybody else know? Does anyone care?

The thought brought him up short. For such a long time, he had been content with Starsky's presence at his side. All I really need is him... but aren't there... a few other friends? What about... maybe my family? He sat in the bed, bewildered.

********

Starsky entered the Rehab Center, glancing at his watch. It was past five-thirty, and he had promised Hutch he'd be there by five o'clock. Police business seldom kept to a schedule, and he knew Hutch would understand, but he hated to make him wait. Hutch was lonely during the day without him. And Starsky missed him, too.

He was on his way directly to Hutch's room, when Dr. Williamson accosted him in the hallway.

"Lt. Starsky? May I speak with you a moment, please?"

"Sure." Starsky nodded a greeting to the psychiatrist, then at the woman with her.

"You've met Mrs. Kelly, the case manager?" Williamson asked.

"Right. Nice to see you, Mrs. Kelly. What can I do for you? Is Hutch doin' okay?"

"He's improving verbally and physically every day. We're very pleased with his progress in those areas." The dark-haired social worker said.

"But?" Starsky was direct.

"He's having trouble opening up to us," she explained. "Both Dr. Williamson and I have had conversations with him -- trying to assess his memory of the past and his understanding of the current situation, but frankly, Lieutenant..." she broke off.

"He's a little resistant," Dr. Williamson concluded. "He seems to relate so much more comfortably with you. Every time we've talked, when he becomes upset or confused, he starts asking where you are and when you'll be getting back here. We think it would be much better for him if you could help us in the assessment of his faculties. You have a close knowledge of his background anyway, and perhaps in more relaxed conversations you can determine just how clear his memories are."

"You mean," Starsky tried to put it in more concrete terms, "about what happened to him when he was kidnapped? Or about everything?"

"Basically, everything. We need to know which memories have survived, how he has retained ideas and feelings. His reasoning ability, things like that, have been somewhat effected, but that has been hard to determine because of his aphasia," Williamson elucidated.

"But he's improving verbally," Mrs. Kelly took up the explanation. "And since he relates so easily to you, you wouldn't have the vocabulary problems to the same extent we've had anyway."

"Yeah," Starsky nodded, "I see what you're saying. I talked to him a little on the trip back here. He seems to remember stuff. And I... I've wanted to have the time to sit down and go over things with him. What should I do -- just kinda... reminisce?"

"That would be fine," Williamson agreed. "Just let us know what areas he seems to have the most clear recollections about and what causes more difficulty. Our preliminary conversations with him seem to indicate that his police work is the easiest for him to recall. It's other aspects of his life that seem more vague to him."

"Yeah, I've noticed that, too." Starsky spent a few more minutes in conference with the doctor and social worker, then made his way to Hutch's room.

Opening the door, he felt nervous, as though he should still tread on eggshells with the man, be careful about what he said and how he said it. Yet he wanted so very much to get back to the kind of feeling there used to be between them, and the best way he could think of to engender it was to talk, to bring back the emotions they had felt during their years together as partners.

Hutch looked up, and his eyes were eager when he recognized Starsky. One hand lifted from the mattress, reaching for him, and Starsky was reminded of Hutch's awakening, how that same hand had tried to reach for him even then. He moved to the bed and sat beside his partner.

"Hey, buddy. How you doin' today?" His voice was soft as he squeezed the fingers wrapped around his own.

"Okay." Hutch's eyes belied the answer, however. Starsky could see they were troubled.

"They been giving you a hard time around here?" he asked. "Those doctors keep asking lots of questions, don't they?"

Hutch nodded, gaze intent on Starsky's face.

"It's important to try to remember all you can about your life," he went on, trying to make the explanation gentle. "You know what? They think it'd be easier for you if it was you and me that talked about all that stuff. I think so, too." He rubbed the knuckles of the hand he held. "How would you feel about that?"

Slowly, Hutch nodded.

"Good. Where should we start then?" Starsky looked at him, recalling the first time he had seen such naked need in Hutch's eyes. "I asked you a few days ago if you remembered Ben Forest," he began, mindful of the fact that the doctors believed Hutch retained what was linked with his police work and had tended to forget other aspects of his life. "Do you remember Jeannie?"

"Jeannie?" Hutch said the name as if he'd never heard it before.

"She was your girlfriend. Tall, blonde? Before you met her, though, she'd been with Forest. She'd asked you to protect her from him." Still looking vague, Hutch shook his head. "You first got her a job at Huggy's place. Then, one night, she saw Forest there. He was back in town and she got scared, so you took her out to a place at the beach to hide her."

Still no recollection from Hutch.

"Then Forest's men kidnapped you." That got a nod immediately. "Can you tell me what you remember about that?"

Hutch began slowly. "They were... hitting me. I was in a chair. Tied up. They wanted me to... tell them... something..."

"Where you'd hidden Jeannie," Starsky reminded.

"Oh." That seemed to be news. Hutch shrugged, accepting the information. "When I wouldn't talk, they... gave me..." His fingers pulled out of Starsky's grasp, again rubbing at the soft flesh of his inner arm. Shuddering, he wrapped both arms around his middle. "I ran away... I remember that." The blue eyes looked up. "You found me." His voice lowered, the events apparently playing out in his mind. "You helped me... kick it? I... got mad sometimes... asked for..." Wincing again, Hutch suddenly looked away.

Starsky put a hand on his shoulder. "You're doing fine. That's right. You did ask for help, for me to get you some of the drug to take the pain away. That's nothin' to be ashamed of, though. Anybody'd do the same thing in those circumstances." Hutch nodded, but he looked miserable. Starsky decided to change the subject. "Hey, do you remember any other cases we worked on? Think a minute, then tell me."

Easily distracted from his troubles, Hutch's brow creased with the effort. After a long deliberation, he said, "In the hospital."

"What?"

"You were... the sick one then. I... worked there." Hutch looked at him sharply, as if this explanation should suffice. "Under..." Words failed him.

"Undercover," Starsky supplied automatically, still thinking. Then the obvious popped into his head. "Oh. Cabrillo State? The mental home? Where I was the patient and you were the orderly?" Hutch nodded, pleased with himself. "Okay. What was the crime we were investigating?"

There was only a brief hesitation. "Murder. Some of the... patients. It was... the doctor..." Hutch's voice faded.

Starsky leaned close. "Hey, you're not thinking about that kinda thing happening here, are you? I checked the guys out real well before I brought you here, okay? They're on the up and up."

Hutch looked at him, then grinned, as if he knew Starsky were teasing. "You tryin'... to get back at me?"

Starsky laughed, delighted that Hutch could share the joke with him. They continued discussing cases from the past, and each time, Hutch could recall the circumstances and what their work had involved. Starsky decided to stray a little from their professional memories.

"Sometimes we had to be cops even when we were off duty," he started slowly. "Remember any times like that?" Hutch seemed uncertain. "How about when we went on vacation up to Captain Dobey's place in the mountains? We talked about that some on the plane."

"Yeah... we didn't have... our guns." Hutch rubbed at his forehead. "A girl was kidnapped, wasn't that it?"

"That's right. You remember the crazies that got her? And almost got us?"

"No, I..." The forehead rubbing continued. "I... can't... they had robes..."

"You've got it. They were Satan worshippers. Believed in the devil. Remember the sign they painted on our door in blood?"

"I guess."

"Think, Hutch, can you remember any other times when we were off duty and something came up?"

Hutch looked up and stared at him for a long moment, eyes totally serious. Finally he spoke. "Hit men. In... that restaurant." Starsky held his breath, his emotions from that long ago night very strong for him at the moment. "They... shot you," Hutch said then, and his voice sounded concerned. "I remember... they were gonna kill everybody..."

"You remember you came on like a one-man army?" Starsky interjected softly.

"You... were bleeding..." was Hutch's only answer. His hand came up to feel Starsky's head. "Got a little... crease..." The hand touching him grew stronger, more inquisitive. "And your arm... you couldn't... feel anything from the... bullet..." Sensitive fingers ran the length of Starsky's arm, then slid along his side and belly.

Shaken, he reached out to grip the questing hand. "I'm okay," he breathed. "That was years ago. I'm fine now."

Hutch's slow nod still held traces of worry. He sat still, watching Starsky closely and for a moment, neither man spoke. Starsky was nearly overcome, seeing the brave partner he'd missed so badly returned for that moment. He remembered so well the strong arms that had enfolded him as he lay dazed on the floor of the back room. There'd been more gunshots. I thought you were dead...

"Years ago..." Hutch looked at him still, eyes studious. "Long time? But... I remember..." He turned away then, concentrating. "I remember... you were shot... again?"

Starsky swallowed what felt like a huge lump in his throat. "I was shot a couple other times."

Hutch looked as though he were in a trance. "It was... it was morning. Right by the car. They looked like cops." His voice grew less hesitant; the memories must be more intense. "I shouted for you to get down."

"I remember." Starsky drew closer to him, heart thudding in sudden fear. I'm no shrink. I can't talk about this stuff dispassionately. It scares me to think about it, and everything that happened after. What's it gonna do to him? The situation was out of his control, Hutch's words coming more swiftly.

"It was... it was bad. So much... blood." His eyes widened, he took in Starsky's appearance. "It wasn't... years ago. This was... Starsk? You okay?"

He couldn't meet the eyes filled with concern and confusion. "M'fine. I was in the hospital for a good while, but... I made it. Remember?"

Hutch was shaking his head, breathing hard. "I -- I can't. I can see you... lying there... but that's all. When did all this... Starsky? Explain -- "

"Take it easy." He had to think of a way to erase the fear in Hutch's eyes. "It all happened before you were hurt. Maybe that's why it's hazy to you. You've said you don't actually remember how you got kidnapped. The doctors think maybe all the memories around that time got blurred."

Hutch nodded, though he looked unconvinced. "I remember you were hurt so bad." The blond head shook. "Can't quite put it all together. You... got out of the hospital... No. I can't see that. It's... gone, I guess."

Starsky's throat felt raw. "I guess."

He sat there, holding Hutch's gaze, knowing they were on the brink of something. The question he'd feared Hutch would be asking soon was very near to the surface now, he was certain. I never realized it was all tied up with me getting shot that time. It's got to be odd to him. All he remembers is me in intensive care, and here I sit. Even confused as he has been, he knows it takes a while to recover from injuries as bad as those.

********

Everything was a jumble in Hutch's mind, yet the confusion he'd been feeling all day seemed to find a focus. He wanted to ask Starsky... so many things. Why the doctor wrote it down when I gave him the year and the President's name... why Rosey looked so tall and I couldn't remember her being that grown... and now... how did Starsky recover... so fast...?

Oh, no. Oh, no. I gotta be wrong... Can I... can I have lost that much time? Where've I been? How long was I out? How much time did I miss?

"Starsk..." He could hear his voice shaking, but he forced himself to go on. "Please... I know there's something more. Isn't there?" He looked up in fear and desperation. "Tell me. Tell me everything."

********

Starsky tried hedging just one more time. "Tell you what, babe? I told you about being abducted -- as much as I know about that part of it, anyway. They took you away and drugged you. I found you and you were in the coma -- "

"Found me -- when? How... did it take a long time?"

Starsky grabbed desperately, pulling Hutch to him tighter than he'd held him in all these weeks. "Oh, babe. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." His hands closed around the broad shoulders, fingers gripping spasmodically. "It... it took a long time, sure. You were in the coma... all that time. And even after I found you, it seemed like... like forever 'til you woke up." He drew in a tremulous breath, despairing, not knowing what might scare Hutch more -- the fact that he'd been lost for a long time, or that he'd been unable to wake up for even longer.

The heart pressed against his chest seemed to be beating out of control. Hutch was hyperventilating, shuddering as he whispered, "No, no," over and over again.

Starsky pulled away a little, took the sweating face between his hands. "It's okay, Hutch. It doesn't mean a thing. You're fine. You're gettin' better every day..."

"Stop it!" The vehemence in the reply was stunning. "You tell me I'm okay... but I know different! It's... it's all changed. Isn't it? The world's... all different... and I'm..."

"No! Hutch, don't do this to yourself. Come on, you've gotta be calm. I don't know how to help you understand. Just listen a minute..."

Hutch moaned, eyes squeezing shut while tears escaped, and the next words forced out of him sounded as forlorn as Starsky'd ever heard. "I'm scared..."

The point where Starsky could handle this alone had been passed. He kept hold of Hutch, but groped along the bedside for the call button, pressing it viciously and not letting up until a harried nurse appeared at the door.

"What's wrong?" Her voice sounded surprised, but professional.

"Is... is Dr. Williamson, the psychiatrist, still here? I think we need him." Starsky turned to give the young woman a look. "Now. Hurry!"

The nurse grabbed up the phone. "Have Dr. Williamson paged. Room 145, STAT." She tried to help, to soothe the gasping patient, but her attempts were as ineffective as Starsky's own. In seconds the doctor arrived, sizing up the situation and barking an order for a sedative. While the nurse went to get it, Starsky held on tightly to Hutch, and tried to explain.

"He's beginning to realize... how long it's been. Doc, I... I guess I let him get too upset... before callin' you..."

"Don't worry," Williamson soothed. "This isn't unexpected. I'm sure his emotional reaction is more a result of his other impairments than anything else. He needs to know -- or he wouldn't have let you get into the subject, I'm sure. I've noticed how he's come close to asking me questions, then backed off. It's really no surprise this is happening now."

Starsky nodded. What the doctor said made sense. Yet he was consumed with fear, hating to see Hutch so shattered by the realization. And he doesn't even know the real truth yet.

In a moment the nurse returned, and the doctor administered the shot. Hutch flinched, his hands clenching on Starsky's shirt. Gradually, however, he relaxed, and at the urging of the doctor and his friend, lay back down in the bed.

When the patient seemed calmer, Dr. Williamson leaned close to him and asked the question straight out. "Do you want to know how long it's been, Hutch?"

The blond head nodded, eyes turning apprehensively to Starsky.

Together, they began to tell him, gently, honestly, but Starsky could not help thinking the words sounded cruel.

"Remember I asked you who was the President today?" Williamson was saying.

"Yeah..." Hutch breathed, intent on the man's words.

"You remembered President Carter. But now our President is Ronald Reagan."

"Reagan?"

"Yeah. You believe that, buddy?" Starsky tried for levity.

The doctor went on in a serious vein. "And I asked you the year."

"I said, seventy-nine."

"Uh-huh. But it's not seventy-nine any more."

"Eighty?"

"No. It's 1981. October."

Hutch's eyes went wide.

"Do you understand how long a year is?"

The expression became uncertain.

"How old did you tell me you were the other day?"

"Thirty-five?" Hutch was looking at Starsky now, in dismay.

"You've had your thirty-seventh birthday."

"Remember? At the other hospital?" Starsky asked cautiously.

Hutch's eyes blinked. 'When I... couldn't read the card..."

"You were abducted two years ago," Starsky told him then, and Williamson added his own soft words.

"You were in a coma for two years, Hutch."

The wide mouth trembled, the brow knit as understanding was sought, rejected, dawned. "Two years?" The voice was very faint. One shaking hand reached for Starsky. And Hutch began to cry.