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Distant Shores

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CHAPTER II

 

Hutch felt weighted down by despair. He moved woodenly through his days, doing what he was told, yet participating only a minimal amount in the required forms of therapy. It was too hard to care, yet too difficult to resist the orders of those who kept telling him he was getting better, that he should get better.

He could find no reason to agree. There were sessions with the shrink, with the social worker, speech therapist, with Starsky. He endured them as though of no more importance to him than dreams. Worst were the hours in the physical therapy room. What use would the full function of his limbs be in this world he no longer recognized, with which he no longer had anything in common?

The mental deficits seemed enormous to him. Before, he hadn't realized there was actually something wrong. Yet now -- he knew, he understood. What he had been, was no more. He felt stupid, unable to reason through even the simplest of tasks. He could not read or write, could not do mathematics -- only comprehended the most basic of numbers.

I understand what two years means... that it's possible to be 37 when I only remember being 35... Why did I have to wake up and realize how much time was stolen from me, how I've been left as only a useless shell of a man? He had a past, but it had receded into the insignificant distance. The present was something he had no idea how to deal with. And the future? Inconceivable. Hutch possessed no way to even imagine it -- no desire to, either.

His powers of speech and comprehension of language were coming back to him -- and he damned his mind for bringing his losses into such improved focus. There were times when he sat in a therapist's office and pretended he couldn't figure out what words to use, feigned not understanding what was being said to him. It was easier than coping with the subjects it was deemed he should talk about.

But despite his pretenses to the contrary, his mind continued working, confronting the issues brought up, tormenting him with memories and half-remembered visions of the person he used to be. And against his will, he kept searching for some point of light in the dark world he now inhabited.

Today, his thoughts had come back to the subject of visitors. Edith and Rosey, and the young man named Cal -- Hutch remembered him as a gangly pre-teen -- had been by again. Huggy Bear had once brought food. That had been a treat, nearly enough to lift some of his melancholy for a short time, and he'd seen Starsky beaming with delight when the tasty concoction had disappeared. Yet there seemed to be a gaping hole, a significant absence, and his mind worriedly scanned the same idea over and over again.

Dad and I were never close. He and Mom were never the type to drop everything and fly out to California just because I was in the hospital, so I guess it's no surprise they haven't been to see me this time. But when I was sick before... can 't remember the name of the disease, just being unable to breathe and a sense of impending death... I talked to them by phone. Mom had sounded worried, and Dad was relieved when I said I was getting better. So why haven 't they called this time?

Maybe Starsky told them what kinda shape I'm in. Maybe they heard from Huggy and Dobey's family how awful I look, how I can't talk and think and act like I used to... and they don't want to have to deal with it... Why does Starsky hang around, anyway? I'm no partner to him now... Wish my parents would call, just once, though... even with Starsky, I feel so alone.

The door to his room opened, and he looked up hopefully. It was his friend, and Hutch felt an odd mixture of despair and pleasure at seeing him again. Starsky was here, by his side, the only thing left from the life of before. But things would never be the same. The realization made Hutch feel like he should be in mourning.

"Hi." Starsky moved to his side and touched his hair. "How's it goin' today?"

Hutch sighed. The touch kindled an ache deep in his heart, and for a moment he sat simply looking at the man who stood over him. Then, embarrassed, he glanced away.

Starsky pulled the other chair in the room up next to where Hutch sat in the wheelchair. "What're you doing sitting in that thing?" he asked chidingly. "I thought you were getting ready to give it up for good."

Hutch shrugged. "I'm tired. I walked... all over the place today." He nodded in the direction of the steel walker by the bed. The object made him feel like some elderly, senile man; he hated it. What good was walking anyway, when the only place he had to go was up and down the grey-drab halls of this place?

"Okay." Starsky seemed to sense the despondency in Hutch's voice. "Just take it easy for now. Wanta talk? Have things been going any better with you and Dr. Williamson?"

"Sure. He keeps wanting me to tell him everything I remember. Trouble is, there's no point to it. He said today I'm..." He groped for the proper word. "Hostile." The idea was amusing and he gave a short, bitter laugh. Whatever happened to the Hutchinson boy's sunny disposition?

Starsky chuckled, too. "Aw, he just doesn't know you as well as I do. What sounds like hostility is really just your natural, down-home charm."

Hutch didn't know how to answer that statement. He closed his eyes, thinking about the cheery, eager-to-please child he had once been. Mom used to act so proud of me when company came and I'd be so friendly... Mom? Where are you?

He turned to Starsky. "Can I ask you something?"

"'Course you can. What's on your mind?"

The question seemed to take root in his throat. A sudden premonition, suspicion of fear, made it hard to get out. Do I really want the answer? What if...? "I was... wondering. Have my parents heard I'm awake?"

"Uh... not exactly."

Hutch continued looking at him, unable to ask for further explanation. Then Starsky slid his chair closer, taking Hutch's hand in his and meeting his gaze with suddenly solemn eyes.

"Hutch. I'm so sorry. They're both dead."

For a moment, he could only stare at Starsky. He felt nothing. It wasn't real to him. "Both... dead?"

Starsky nodded. "It happened about six months after you disappeared. They were in a car accident."

He closed his eyes, tried to visualize their faces, but instead all that was conjured in his mind was the twisted hulk of a vehicle, the tan Cadillac he remembered his father driving the last time he'd visited them. Inside it, there was nothing, no living bodies, no trace of the parents who had raised him, who'd often hurt him with their pretentious attitudes and grandiose plans for him, no essence of the people who, despite everything, had been the first in the world to love him and care for him.

"They didn't suffer," Starsky was saying quietly. "It... was all over before an ambulance could get there..."

Hutch gasped, knowing he couldn't handle any more details, pain flashing in his brain. "D-damn. I didn't... know... I wasn't... there..."

His hand was held more firmly. "I took care of everything for you, buddy. Just like you would have wanted. I went to their funerals, tried to help out your cousins back in Minnesota..."

Hutch turned his face away as tears slipped from his eyes. So much wasted time, so many lost opportunities... I'll never have the chance to make up for all the arguments we had... they'll never know I really cared...

"Hutch, Hutch, don't..."

He ignored Starsky's soft pleas, lost to his grief. It bore down on him like a great, unavoidable wave. He felt helpless as the tears took him, shook him, punished him. He cried harder, unable to stop or think. He cried for his lost years, for his parents, for himself and for Starsky.

I left you alone, too... The realization struck suddenly, stabbing deep, heightening his pain. He looked up, rubbing his knuckles against his streaming eyes, seeing Starsky for real for the first time. The blue eyes held evidence of suffering, their innocent-wise look marred by worry lines. I hurt you... letting this happen to me...

Hutch turned away, deeply ashamed, feeling more useless than ever before. Should have been there for my parents... for Starsky... Now, it's too late.

Starsky's hands were on him, trying to hold him, help him. Hutch wanted to pull away, engulfed by disgrace and guilt, but consumed by need as well. Starsky's never-ending capacity to care washed over him; words of unhesitating solace drew him back. Hutch's arms reached out for Starsky and Starsky was there.

His shaking body was enfolded in security, in supportive warmth that fought to keep his pain at bay. He was pulled up out of the wheelchair and helped to the bed, so Starsky could sit close beside him. He held Hutch tightly, his strength shoring up against the sick man's vulnerability, his stamina enduring the pain that Hutch could not. Then Starsky's tears began to fall against Hutch's skin, wetting his cheek, his hair, mingling their healing touch with his own tears of desperation.

Hutch was staggered to realize Starsky was weeping, too, frightened about how much his friend had suffered. He tried to get control of himself, worried that his own weakness would upset Starsky more than was necessary. He pulled back slightly, trying to look at Starsky's face. What he saw there shook him to his core. The man was beautiful to Hutch, now more than ever, his face anguished with sympathy, his eyes bluer than anything real should be, lashes damp with clinging tears, his mouth somehow managing to curve up into a smile that said everything would be all right. Before that rare quality of beauty and caring, Hutch felt dazed, shaken by a power he was unable to define. His eyes sank closed as fresh emotion swept him away on new currents of despair.

His focused then on Starsky's touches. One hand stroked his hair, soothing, reassuring. The other arm was wound around his back, lifting him up into a close embrace. Held warmly against that firm support, Hutch found his own arms were wrapped around his partner's neck, his fingers clenched in the material of his shirt, face buried against his throat.

Distinct memories of other tears, other embraces like this one rose up clear and pure, their perfection offering their own kind of comfort. You've held me before, like this... and I've held you...

Hutch drew a shuddering breath, needing to express what he was feeling. "I... I'm... sorry..." It was harder to speak than usual; the surrender to emotion seemed to have sapped all his strength.

"Shhh. What's a few tears between friends?"

Hutch shook his head. "I mean... thanks... for sticking it out... for... finding me... for waiting..."

The arms surrounding him tightened convulsively. It seemed for a moment that Starsky was trying to speak, too, but despite an attempt at clearing his throat, there were no words from him. He pulled back, eyes reaching deep into Hutch's soul, as if they were searching for something. Hutch did not know what it was, he only hoped it was in him to give it. The moment held, and his doubts reappeared -- there didn't seem to be much left of him for giving.

The smile Starsky showed him then was tinged with shades of regret. Hutch cringed from that image. Don't wanta fail you... ever again...

It was becoming hard to concentrate. Exhaustion was stealing over his battered spirit, and he sagged in Starsky's arms, confused by emotional upheaval and the physical duress. The bed felt very far away beneath him, only Starsky's strong arms keeping him safe from falling.

His friend seemed to sense his growing fatigue. The beautiful mouth turned gentle again, full of tenderness and acceptance. "How you doin'?"

"I think I'm gettin' dizzy up here."

Starsky eased him back onto the mattress, helping him get his legs up on the bed. He tossed the light blanket folded at the foot over him, then sat beside him once more. "You look like you need a nap."

Hutch's eyelids were incredibly heavy. His tired hand crawled up Starsky's arm toward his face, his fingertips just managing to caress the strong jawline. "Thanks... Starsk. I'm... sorry..."

"Shhh." Starsky whispered it again, his eyes looking even more deeply blue, like sapphires and smoke. Hutch wanted to watch them forever, but his own lids kept closing.

"Don't... let me sleep through... dinner..." He was drifting, at peace.

"Don't worry." Starsky's fingers were gentle on his face as they wiped away wetness. "I'll be here to wake you, love."

Love. The word was a whisper, a dream, the reality that was Starsky. Hutch slept.

********

Starsky sat watching him for a moment, then moved carefully to get up from the side of the bed. Incredibly drained, he sank into the chair and rubbed a hand over his still-wet face. He tried breathing deeply, attempting to slow the furious beating of his heart. There was a knot of pain in his stomach, and a matching ache was throbbing at the base of his skull.

He looked over at Hutch, watching the now-peaceful face. The man looked so lost. The tears had seemed to batter him, and Starsky had hated seeing them. He felt guilty for having to tell Hutch about his parents, angry that they had died, furious at fate for never ceasing to hurt his friend. Seems like I've had to watch you cry a lot lately, he thought with regret, blinking away the residue of his reaction to the other man's tears. Hutch's emotions, always close to the surface since he'd awakened, had become even more volatile since he'd begun to understand how much time he had lost. So much to hurt you, and it seems like I'm the one that's always doing the hurting.

I want to make you happy, give you a reason to smile... shower you with love... Starsky sighed; everything seemed upside down. Nothing was the way it should be, even back here at home. He wanted to tell Hutch how much he loved him, but instead all he did was keep telling him bad things. He wanted to hold him in joy, but could only clasp him near when the pain got so bad that both of them reached out.

The embrace they had shared just now had reminded Starsky how hungry he was for some kind of closeness. Despite the awful pain they had both been experiencing, he'd actually rejoiced at having Hutch's arms around him so tightly. I need you, Hutch. Need you back with me... In the last few days, Starsky had begun to feel even more lonely than before. Hutch's depression seemed to shut him out. There was no one for Starsky to talk to, no one with whom he could share his own pain. He somehow got through each day on the job, mainly by working constantly, demanding total involvement from the detectives in his command. He never let up on them or himself, never paused for a moment's rest. He couldn't afford the time to stop and think about the rest of his life. So confused, so utterly alone, he felt like he was slowly going insane.

There had been a moment, following the worst of the emotional storm just past, when Hutch had looked up at him. There had been a kind of wonder on the man's face, his feelings for Starsky had seemed so clear, so open. Starsky had nearly spoken of his love, but he'd stopped himself, fear keeping him quiet. It was not rejection he feared, however. He had simply not known how to say the words locked in his heart. Maybe I really believe it would be too much for Hutch to understand right now, he thought, rubbing his forehead tiredly, or maybe I've just forgotten how to tell someone I care. It's been so long... He'd looked deep into Hutch's tear-bright eyes, hoping to gain some clue, some spark that would help him know how to handle his feelings, but Hutch's expression had become clouded with doubt and confusion and the moment had been lost.

But the way he looked up at me, just as he began to fall asleep... Starsky closed his eyes, letting the feelings of tenderness wash back over him. I couldn't help what I said... Did he hear me? Did he understand? Will there ever come a day we understand each other without words again? He cast his eyes back in the sick man's direction again, smiling fondly at the shape of the long body curled under the cover. Before Hutch's disappearance, it had taken a long time for both of them to learn how to talk about loving each other. Someday, we'll figure it out again, Hutch...

********

Starsky made a stop at the candy machine in the hall on his way back from court; it was after three o'clock and he realized upon seeing it that he hadn't eaten lunch. He wasn't actually hungry, but he knew a pile of paperwork was waiting for him so there wouldn't be time to stop for a burger on his way to the Rehab Center. That was what he usually did when he went to visit Hutch at the end of the day.

"Lieutenant, is that your lunch?"

A female voice broke into his thoughts. Starsky looked up into the eyes of Sally Hagan. He smiled despite himself and bent to retrieve the Mounds bar that had fallen into the slot at the bottom of the dispenser.

"You got me pegged," he acknowledged. Then he realized that Sally, who had worked with him and Hutch on her first few assignments out of the file room, had just been transferred back to Metro. "Congratulations on your promotion, Detective."

Sally grinned and gave him a rather saucy salute. "Thank you. Boss," she added pointedly.

"Oh. That's right. You're going to be on my team, aren't you?" He hated to admit it, but until seeing her he had actually forgotten her reassignment.

"I'll pretend my feelings aren't hurt that you didn't remember," the brunette smiled. "I know you've got a lot on your mind. How is Hutch doing?"

It had been a while since anyone in the department had asked the question, and Starsky knew why. He had become determinedly close-mouthed on the subject that occupied most of his waking hours. It was so tiresome to repeat the same platitudes over and over again. But there was something in Sally's eyes that made him reply more gently than he had to the questions of others.

"He's... as well as can be expected. It's all been pretty hard on him. Just as he was starting to do better physically, he began to realize how long it's been. And yesterday..." He broke off, not wanting to bore her with the details. Besides, it hurts to say it out loud, let someone see all the pain he and I are going through...

"What?" She put a hand on his forearm and Starsky felt its warmth transmit through his shirtsleeve. He looked down, fascinated that the feeling could penetrate the insulation he'd built up around himself. "I've got a few minutes, if you'd like to talk to an old friend for a while."

"I had to tell him his parents had died," Starsky heard himself say. Once the words were out, surprisingly, some of the weight of having had to tell Hutch lifted.

Sally's eyes went wide. "I didn't know. That's terrible. He must be awfully upset." She looked away a moment, then back at him. "I'm sure it was hard telling him, too."

"In a word, yes, it was." He looked at the floor, at the candy bar in his hand, anywhere rather than back up into her sympathetic eyes.

Sally remained quiet for a few moments. "Starsky... I might be sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong, but if there's anything I can do, I wish you'd let me know. Not just for Hutch. For you, too. Both of you guys were always pretty special to me, you know?"

An easy rejection of the offer came to his lips. "Oh, we're doin' okay. Hutch has the best of care..."

"What about you?" Sally, it seemed, wasn't easily put off.

"Me?"

"You have plans for dinner?"

"I gotta finish up some paperwork and then head out to the Rehab Center to see Hutch." He made a move to head back toward his office. "Sally, I'm fine. Really. I've gotta get back to work..."

"I don't want to intrude," she insisted, touching him on the arm again. "But you look to me like you've skipped a lot of meals. Look, my cat's been fed, all my plants are watered and there's nothing I have to rush home for. Why don't I just pick you up something decent from that new carry-out place down the street and bring it to your office? Would you mind a little company?" She dropped her gaze, somewhat sheepishly. "There're so many new faces around the department, I'm feeling a little out of my element."

Starsky relented, even while a part of him believed she might be saying she was lonely merely to get him to agree. After all, I do have to eat. And a little friendly conversation would be nice. "Okay, why not?"

"Great." Sally sounded relieved. "Anything special you want me to get for you?"

"No, whatever sounds good to you will be fine. Here," he pulled out a couple of bills. "I'll spring for dessert in honor of your promotion."

"Okay. I'll see you around five."

********

Starsky wiped the cheesecake residue off his mouth and sat back in his chair, feeling stuffed. "That was great, Sally. Thanks for suggesting this. I hadn't even had time to try the new place until now."

"That doesn't sound like the Starsky I remember." Sally's comment was quiet.

"Guess so." It had been relatively easy to engage in small talk while enjoying the meal, but now Starsky was growing uncomfortable again.

"Do you ever get out, to socialize, I mean? I guess most of your time is divided up between here and the hospital."

"That's right. I'm afraid I'm not very good company anymore."

"Maybe you're just out of practice." Her green eyes sparkled as she looked at him.

He looked at her blankly, not knowing how to respond. It had been a long time since anyone had flirted with him.

"Look, I know we all used to kid around a lot, but that's not what I'm going for now. I don't want to try to 'date' my commanding officer. I just thought -- maybe -- you could use a friend."

"I really appreciate your being so nice to me, but I don't... it's just kinda hard to talk." Unintentionally, he glanced at his watch. "I should be goin' soon. Hutch'll be waiting."

"Dave," she said more firmly. "Maybe you should try to talk about things. If not with me, with somebody else. You do have friends -- I hope you remember that."

Starsky had to look away. I'm gettin' as emotional as Hutch... He couldn't figure out what hurt more, her offer of friendship or his own need. He knew he was walking around with an open wound in his soul, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out how anyone could help. He had to blink a couple of times and swallow hard before he could turn back to her.

"I remember, Sally. Don't know why I'm bein' so unsociable..." The words trailed off.

"S'okay." She smiled again, and began to gather the trash left from their supper. "Just remember what I said -- if you ever feel like talking, I'm a real good listener."

"Thanks," he said finally, deciding to let the subject rest at that. Why should it be so hard to let go? he wondered. He and Hutch had built an insulated world for themselves, really never needing anyone else to complete their private circle. But there used to be friends. And God knows, the circle isn't quite the same as it used to be. He's inside, and I'm somewhere on the outside, trying to figure out where I fit in.

The last of the impromptu meal had been cleared from his desk. Sally reached for her jacket and shoulder bag. "I guess I'll be seeing you tomorrow."

"Absolutely. We've got a briefing at eight o'clock sharp." It wasn't as hard as he thought to grin back at her.

Sally winked, saluted again, and left his office chuckling.

********

Hutch sat in the late afternoon sunshine on the wide patio that flanked the left wing of the hospital, his wheelchair turned to face the slanting rays. The warmth felt good to him, but his spirits were not soothed very much by being outside. His thoughts were in turmoil.

He tried to block the unwanted images from flashing inside his head, but they were insistent. Some of them, he was certain, were only the vestiges of dreams, fantasies conjured by his comatose mind. Others held the horror of being all too real. They passed before his eyes, swirling in his brain, confusing and tormenting him even while he merely sat quietly in the sun.

***

Fire... a brief, white burst from a heavy gun... he flinched from the sound and the smell of cordite, even as he realized that the gun was held in his own hand. "Starsky!" He screamed the name again, and again he heard no answer... there was only the squealing of tires, the crunch of metal as two cars collided, and the answering shots from a semi-automatic weapon...

Pain exploded in his head... he tried to fight back but was outnumbered three to one... he managed to open his eyes, but his vision wouldn't clear... someone was snapping the cuffs around his wrists... he was secured to the armrest of the seat... he pulled hard, and the metal dug into his flesh... under him, he felt an engine start up...

Exhaustion pulsed under his skin, but he wouldn't give in and do as the others asked, go home and get some rest... Better to sit here, try to think and sort it all out at his partner's side... as if Starsky really could hear him and respond to what he was saying... 'What am I talkin' about...?' He got up from the seat, stretching tired muscles, and walked a few steps from the bed. Then he turned. Blue eyes, open and seeing, were fixed on him. 'Starsk... you're awake!'

Free! He was free and running, at last... His feet pounded on the dry, caked earth... and he tried to get his bearings, but he knew he would be lost forever... nowhere to run... but even being lost seemed better than dying at their hands... and they were coming after him, running, too, and gaining on him...

'That's it, take it slow...' He kept his arm around his partner's waist, supporting him as he took the first, tentative steps... 'You're doin' fine...' Starsky looked up at him, and pride danced in the blue eyes... Hutch tightened his grasp on the slender waist...

Fists pummeling him... pain crashed in his skull, his ribs, his kidneys... he tried to fight them, but days of being cuffed to the seat in the plane and being allowed to consume only water exacted a price... he was growing weak, groggy... easily they pinned him to the ground, flipped him over on his back... rough hands pulled at his sleeve, yanking it up above his elbow... all he could see was the needle, filled with death, coming toward him... Starsky...!

His arms wrapped tightly around the precious body he held... his heart pounded, full enough to burst... what was this new pain? life, death, beauty passion? he didn't know, didn't care... shuddering, he let the sensations take him, surround him the way the legs tightening around his hips clenched hard...

He was falling, falling forever through the black smoke of a never-ending tunnel... lost... no hope, no life, no death... only emptiness...

Hands reached out from the darkness... the touch felt like honey poured over his parched body... so smooth, so comforting... so warm, so real...

He bent over the sink, reaching to splash water over his face... the wetness released the tears trying to break out... he sobbed... can't lose him... I love him...

***

Where is Starsky? There was no one to whom he could voice the question aloud, so he sat silently, clenching his fingers around the armrests of the chair. He turned his head, peering into the dim interior of the visitor's room behind him. There was a clock on the wall facing him, but he could not decipher the time. His loss of the ability to do even that once-simple task angered him. Frustrated, he turned the wheelchair so he wasn't able to see into the room at all.

He squinted into the sinking sun, then put his hands up to his face.

"Hutch? You all right?"

The voice startled him with its nearness. Hutch slowly removed the hands he'd put up to cover his face. He shivered, realizing he was having trouble sorting out the past from the present, reality from fantasy.

A warm hand took hold of his shoulder, and blue eyes moved close to examine his expression. Hutch tried to smile but knew he managed it only weakly. "I'm... okay."

"You sure about that?" Starsky grinned and pulled up a chair. "You look really spooked about something."

Hutch nodded, agreeing. The familiar depression settled over him. He looked at the man beside him, wanting to participate in his life again, yet knowing it was impossible." Tell me..." he began tentatively, "tell me about... your day."

"My day?" Starsky grinned as if delighted. "Business as usual, pal. Regular cop stuff. Oh, you remember Sally Hagan? She's just been promoted to detective. I grabbed a sandwich for dinner with her."

"Oh?" Is that why you're so late?

"It was kinda nice seeing her again. And I think she's going to make a good detective." Starsky paused, settling himself more comfortably. "You wanta hear about the cases we're working on?"

"Sure."

"Okay." Sounding happy that he'd been asked, Starsky launched into a description of his current outstanding cases.

Hutch leaned back in his chair, listening to the sound of Starsky's voice. He couldn't really follow everything he said, yet it warmed him inside to have him there talking to him. This is the way it should be with us...

"So what did you do today?"

The question startled Hutch. He shook his head, confused for a moment about what he'd been asked.

"I said, what have you been doing today?' Starsky was leaning close, looking at him guardedly.

Hutch sighed. "Not much. It's... hard. I get so tired." He looked away.

"Hey, what are you tellin' me?" Starsky got hold of the wheelchair and turned it so Hutch had to face him.

"I don't... know what all this is for..." He shrugged, unable to explain how useless he felt. "I mean... why should I keep on with all this... therapy... when I'm not ever going to get better anyhow?"

"What makes you think you're not going to get better?" Starsky looked startled himself now, and annoyed.

"It's always the same... I can't... do..." His voice trailed off. It was too hard to put his fears and sorrows into words.

"Look, Hutch. I don't know what's making you feel this way, but you're wrong. You've gotta try. You've improved so much already..."

"But it won't... bring back... those two years!" Hutch snapped.

"No. It won't. But do you wanta spend another two years getting back on your feet? I can't turn back the clock, Hutch. And you can't either. All we've got is now. You've gotta try. The world is waiting out here for you and you can't just let everything slip through your fingers by giving up!" Angrily, Starsky got up and strode across the patio. He stood still for a long moment, fists clenched impotently at his sides.

Hutch sensed the torrent of feelings the man was trying to suppress. Without turning, Starsky spoke again, and the words seemed more for himself than for Hutch. "Two years... two years of continual worry and fear... and all those weeks when you wouldn't respond to me... it's all gonna go for nothing, unless..."

Hutch could not bear to see him hurting so badly. My fault. I'm letting him down. Slowly, with difficulty, he pushed himself up out of the wheelchair. He'd left the walker back in his room, so he steadied himself against the rail that surrounded the patio as he took the first few, cautious steps. His body, as always, felt betrayingly weak. But he persevered. Starsky was standing with his head down and eyes squeezed shut, fists still balled at his sides. Hutch approached him with halting steps, finally getting close enough to reach out. His fingers barely brushed one of the tightly clenched hands.

Starsky started in surprise. He turned, face awash with tenderness for an instant, then he quickly schooled his features in an obvious effort to conceal his feelings. Still, his voice cracked when he spoke. "Look at you... walkin' all this way all by yourself..."

 

"I..." Hutch hardly knew how to begin. He tightened his grip on the railing to steady his body and his nerves. "I... will try... if you want me to..." He looked up. "Do you really think I can do it...?"

"I do." Starsky reached out, getting a grip on Hutch's shoulders. "I know you can do it."

Hutch tried to smile. He still wasn't sure of himself, but Starsky had confidence in him, and that was what mattered. He didn't want to hurt the man anymore.

They stood there together for a long moment, looking into each other's eyes. Hutch felt an indefinable emotion flare between them for an instant, but when he tried to grasp and understand the feeling, it slipped away. Starsky's eyes were asking questions for which he had no answers. There was an interval of confusion, then the feeling transmuted into one more easily described. Starsky, looking sheepish, removed his hands from Hutch's shoulders and brusquely cleared his throat. I'm embarrassed, too, Hutch wanted to tell him. But he didn't know why, and so kept his peace.