Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other. Rainer Maria Rilke
"Shh." Starsky held Hutch's hand in his as his partner moaned. "You're gonna be okay."
He was pretty sure Hutch didn't hear him, still lost in a miasma of pain and struggle. He looked down at their joined hands, Hutch's skin pale and his arm and hand bruised around the IV sites and where blood had been drawn. He listened to Hutch breathe—still a wheeziness to it that made Starsky shudder, better than it had been hours and much better than the day before but still…
"You gotta get better," he whispered, his own voice gone hoarse from the hours he'd spent talking in this room since Hutch had been given the serum from Callendar. "You're gonna get better."
But Hutch hadn't opened his eyes once since the treatment began and the fear that had been clutching Starsky's heart since the whole nightmare began wasn't ready to release its grip.
He looked up at the sound of footsteps to see Drs. Kaufman and Meredith coming towards the bed. They looked different and it took a moment for Starsky to register why. No masks, no gloves, no gowns. More importantly, both wore smiles.
"Dave." Dr. Kaufman reached out and put her hand on Hutch's other lax one. "The serum is working. He's free of the virus."
"Working." Starsky looked from one to the other and back at Hutch. "Then why?" He made a gesture with his free hand.
"It's going to take time, Detective," Dr. Meredith said. "His body has been through a lot. He's exhausted."
Starsky nodded and closed his eyes, not wanting them to see the tears he felt gathering. He surprised himself with how steady his voice was when he spoke. "So I can take off these gloves and mask?"
"You can," Dr. Kaufman said. "And you can also go home and get some rest and come back tomorrow when…"
"Sorry. Ain't gonna happen." Starsky met her gaze with a steely one of his own. "He needs me here."
He wasn't about to admit he might need Hutch more at the moment than Hutch needed him-- he needed to feel Hutch's pulse beating beneath his fingers, watch the rise and fall of Hutch's chest, gaze at Hutch's body and tell himself that Hutch was alive and getting better.
The doctors sighed almost in unison and Starsky thought he might even be able to muster up a bit of a smile at their exasperation.
"You are going to get something to eat, young man," Dr. Meredith said. "And you are going to take a shower and change your clothes and then you are going to lie down and sleep."
Starksy looked at him in surprise and saw Dr. Kaufman grinning.
"He always like this?" he asked her.
"Only to the people he likes," she said. "In this case, I'm backing him up. Ken is going to sleep awhile longer and we want to do a few more tests."
Starsky stood and fought back the dizziness as he grabbed for the back of the chair. "Got up too soon."
"Yes." Doctor Meredith had one hand on his elbow and started guiding him towards the door. "Judith, I'm going to make sure he follows our plan."
Starsky stopped by putting a hand on the wall. "I've got to check on Callendar. There's…"
"No," Dr. Kaufman said from Hutch's bedside. "He didn't make it. I'm sorry."
Damn it. He resisted Dr. Meredith's tug on his elbow. "The others? Are there still…"
"It worked. It is working. Leave the medicine to us, Detective," Dr. Kaufman said. "Go with James."
Starsky pulled away and went back to Hutch. Still unsure, wary, he leaned over and whispered in Hutch's ear. "I'll be back soon, partner. Hold on."
"I'm coming," he muttered when Dr. Meredith took his arm again. If he felt a bit shaky and unsteady, he kept that to himself.
* * * *
Dr. James Meredith looked at Starsky as they rode the elevator down to the first level and the hospital cafeteria. The man stood with his head resting against the wall, eyes not quite closed as if he was not going to allow himself one bit of rest until he was absolutely certain Detective Hutchinson was safe.
Detective Sergeant David Starsky was a hero—and strangely enough, the man probably didn't even realize it. Or would brush off any accolades sent his way. No, the detective had had one goal in mind—save his partner no matter the cost.
The ding as they reached the first floor had Detective Starsky on full alert, that slumped posture suddenly straight. Meredith gestured for Starsky to exit and then led the way towards the cafeteria. Starsky's walking was the slighest bit off—as if he was not quite drunk. Meredith resisted the urge to stick out a hand and grab hold of the other man's elbow. He was pretty damn sure that gesture would only be accepted by Hutchinson.
The cafeteria was nearly empty at this time of night and the young woman behind the serving trays gave them a bright smile.
"What would you like?"
"I'll have the breaded fish dinner," Meredith said.
"Sir?" the young woman looked at Starsky who didn't even appear to be aware of his surroundings.
"Detective?" Doctor Meredith touched his arm lightly and felt the shudder run through him.
"Uh. Sorry. Just a burger. Thanks. And coffee. You have coffee, right?"
Doctor Meredith kept his mouth shut as they collected their trays.
"He's really gonna be okay?" Starsky asked him as he pushed the burger away and reached for the cup of coffee.
"He is. It'll take him awhile to build up his strength and he still needs breathing treatments, but he'll make it." Meredith stared at Starsky. "You did say you'd eat."
"I think you said I'd eat," Starsky said but he pulled the burger plate back and took a bite.
James was put in mind of his son Michael when he'd been a toddler and fighting sleep. But at least Detective Starsky was eating. They'd work on the rest when he got him back upstairs.
* * * *
Starsky was regretting every bite of the burger he'd taken. He could hear Hutch's voice in his head, chiding him for eating grease and fat on a far too empty stomach.
Not that he was going to tell anyone just how upset his stomach was. He wasn't going to mention the dizziness or the way his legs felt like they weren't going to support him either.
The thought of sleep was becoming more appealing by the moment even if he didn't want to admit it to anyone else. He just wished Hutch would open his eyes before he closed his.
Doctor Meredith pushed some old faded scrubs into his hands, led him down a hall to a room and turned on the shower.
"I'll wait outside," Meredith said to him before he left. "If you need help, here's a button."
Starksy had to blink a few times to notice the button, but yep, there it was. Bright red and big. "I'll be okay."
He didn't think Doctor Meredith believed him for one moment. Hell, he didn't believe it himself. He undressed slowly, sitting on the built in bench when he wobbled more than he liked. That would be just what he needed—fall over in the shower and give himself a concussion.
He held onto the grab bar while he soaped himself with one hand. He wondered how long Meredith would wait if he took a nap while he stood with the warm water cascading over him.
The spray hit knots in his shoulders, eased the pain in his neck, soothed the ache in his lower back gained from hours in that uncomfortable chair by Hutch's side.
He groaned as he thought of his partner lying there, still felt Hutch's hands between his, still heard Hutch gasping for breath, still heard that plea for Starsky to take away the pain.
In the safety of the shower stall, he didn't fight the tears. He let them mingle with the water, wash down the drain along with the fear and guilt and soap suds.
He changed into the scrubs, relished the feel of the soft material against his skin, breathed in the bleached smell, and felt clean for the first time in days.
He put a hand against the wall as he bent to pick up his discarded clothes. Sleep—sleep—it was all he could think of for the moment.
* * * *
Doctor Kaufman watched as freshly showered and changed Starsky entered the hospital room. James was hovering near the detective's right arm as if he was sure the man was going to keel over any second.
Both men had flirted with her—not that she cared. She wasn't interested in a relationship even if one had been possible. Detective Hutchinson was her patient for pete's sake and Detective Starsky—well anyone with eyes to see could see that he only had his thoughts on one person.
She exchanged a glance with James and gave him a small smile. Starsky's face-- dark-circled and reddened eyes, clenched jaw, stubble—changed when he caught a glimpse of his partner. Eyes that just a moment before had been dark with pain and fear lit with joy. His shoulders straightened although Judith knew how low his battery must be. If she and James had been working around the clock in their climate controlled lab and they were exhausted, she didn't know how Starsky was still on his feet after running between the hospital and through the streets of Bay City. And while Judith mourned every senseless death there had been, she hadn't had any sort of connection other than as a doctor to any of them.
She smiled as Starsky moved closer and wrapped his hands around the bedrail.
"He woke up once while we were making him more comfortable. He said your name," Judith told him. She didn't mention the tears that had been in Hutchinson's eyes or the way he'd reached out for a familiar hand to hold.
"We found this chair for you, Dave." She urged him towards the recliner that two of the nurses had brought from a staff lounge. "Sit down. Rest."
He nodded but she knew he hadn't really taken notice of her at all once he'd caught view of his freshly bathed partner. Still, he managed a quiet Thank you.
Judith paused once at the door, before she put her hand on James' arm. "Let's let them both get some rest." She didn't look back, not wanting to intrude.
* * * *
Starsky sank down on the recliner, reached out, took Hutch's hand back in his. The skin was still warmer than it should be, but nowhere near as hot as it had been the time Hutch had pleaded with him to take the pain away.
This time, the fingers curled around his as if Hutch was subconsciously aware of his presence. Starsky still wasn't ready to close his eyes no matter how much he wanted to. He studied Hutch's face, the chapped lips, the sunken cheeks, the utter exhaustion apparent even in sleep. He looked beautiful.
"I'm back, Hutch," Starsky said. "Gonna spend some more time with you."
He reached out his hand, touched the washed and dried hair, the fine strands sliding through his fingers like silk. Hutch turned his head into the caress.
Starsky swallowed hard and found himself looking into slightly dazed blue eyes.
"Starsk?" Hutch's mouth moved but no sound came out.
"Yeah. Yeah." Starsky nodded and blinked rapidly. He looked around, found a cup with a spoon and smiled when Hutch took the ice chips.
"You," Hutch said, his voice hoarse and barely there.
"Me. How 'bout that?" Starksy held another spoonful to Hutch's lips.
Hutch frowned even as he took the ice. "No. You. You."
Starsky felt a brief stab of alarm. Hutch wasn't making sense. Had there been some sort of damage to his brain from the high fever?
Hutch moved his hand over Starsky's. "No mask. No gloves. You sick?"
To Starsky's alarm, Hutch's eyes filled with tears. He grabbed the corner of the sheet to wipe them away.
"I'm fine. You're gonna be fine. We found him. Callender. The serum's working."
"Not gonna die?" The tears didn't stop.
"No." He felt burning in his own eyes. "You are not going to die."
"You either?" Hutch was staring at him and that little line that always appeared between Hutch's brows when he was thinking deepened.
"Me neither." Starsky smiled. He couldn't seem to stop smiling.
Hutch let out a groan as he tried to shift his body in the bed. Starsky put down the cup and got up to ease him onto his side.
"That better, babe?" Starsky leaned in, spoke softly.
"Don't leave," Hutch said, his eyes closed. "Starsk, don't…"
"I won't. I promise. I'll stay." Starsky rubbed Hutch's back, wondered how Hutch's shoulders seemed bonier than they had just a few short days ago when they'd been driving all around Bay City with Dr. Kaufman.
"Feels good," Hutch murmured. "Touch. Alive."
"Yeah," Starsky agreed and then the meaning hit him. No one had touched Hutch without gloves for days. No one had been there to hold his hand, soothe his pain except for the brief time Starsky had been with him. No wonder Hutch had looked at him as if he'd performed some sort of miracle.
He remembered a back room of an Italian restaurant, pain, fear, and Hutch had been there—touching him, reminding him he was not alone in his fight to stay alive. A step when he thought he'd die from the pain eating his insides, Hutch holding him on a rooftop, staying with him until the last possible moment, never giving up.
Damn it. He pushed the recliner closer, took Hutch's hand in his once again.
"Not going anywhere," Starsky said when Hutch opened his eyes.
Hutch smiled at him—at least his eyes did. It appeared that anything else would require too much effort. But Hutch rubbed his thumb over the back of Starsky's hand.
"I wanted…" Hutch said.
"Wanted what?" Starsky whispered, his energy nearly spent.
"I love you," Hutch said.
"I love you too," Starsky said. "You know that."
"I thought I wouldn't get the chance." Those damn tears were falling again and Starksy brushed them away with his other hand.
"Ah, Hutch, don't cry," Starsky murmured and then froze. Hutch didn't mean he loved him, he meant he love loved him. He took in a deep breath, didn't bother to stop his own tears of what? Exhaustion? Relief? Realization that what he'd hoped for and dreamed of was reality?
He looked into Hutch's eyes, saw question and promise and worry and hope.
"We've got the whole future now," he said. "Me too."
Hutch took a shuddering breath, not illness but release, and gave a small nod. Starsky touched his face, feather soft.
"Now, sleep," Starsky said. "We'll dream together."
He closed his eyes, still smiling.