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The steady beeping was reassuring in its way, although it still held the power to terrify with what it signified. Hutch pulled his chair slightly closer to the hospital bed and stared down once again at his hands, placing them palm to palm, almost as if in prayer.

Only Hutch didn't pray.

He sighed and shifted in the hard seat. The too-bright florescent lights were sucking what little energy he had left in his body, and he felt like a ghost. A ghost waiting for a ghost.

He knew the brightness must be bugging Starsky even in his drugged sleep. Starsky always kept his bedroom like a cave, putting up the heaviest possible curtains so that after they worked the night shift he could pull them closed and ignore the day.

Maybe that was over. Maybe it was all over.

Hutch stared at his hands.

Dear Universe,

I get it now. Maybe I'm a little on the dense side, but you didn't have to hit me over the head with it. He means everything to me. Everything. If I forgot for a while, it's only because I'm a stupid clown, just like all the other stupid clowns scrambling under the Big Top. But I get the message now. You don't have to keep hitting me with it.

You especially don't need to keep hammering Starsky just to make your goddamn point. Enough already. Just...enough. I won't forget ever again.

And I promise I'll tell him. Everything. Just as soon as you stop trying to kill him.

Just as soon as I have him home, and safe....

Ever since Starsky had opened his eyes the other day, a weight the size of a planet had been lifted from Hutch's chest. But that was only the beginning, he knew, and the uncertain future was still caught in the back of his throat and between his eyes, like a bar of lead.

A soft hiss of movement; a leg shifting under the covers. Hutch turned immediately and put his hand on the bed, leaning over.

"Thinking...'gain?" Starsky's voice was a bare bones whisper.

Hutch swallowed a painful laugh, but it still bubbled in his chest, filling his own voice with helium.

"Nah. Friend of mine told me once I should give it up as a lost cause."

Eyes still closed, Starsky nodded, a matted curl falling over his forehead. Hutch reached up to brush it back, but halted just before he reached his objective, his hand dropping back down onto the bed.

Starsky's eyes opened a crack to peer at him, and Hutch felt caught.

"What're you...thinkin' 'bout?"

Hutch shrugged.

Head rolling toward him on the pillow, Starsky's eyes opened another notch.

"You know. Stuff. About messages," Hutch said helplessly, trapped under the surprisingly astute gaze.

Starsky regarded him for a long moment before his eyelids fell shut again, releasing him.

"Messages..." Starsky said. There was a long pause, and Hutch almost thought his partner had drifted off again, but then Starsky's hand moved from his chest to open, palm up, expectant.

Hutch took a breath, then lifted his hand and dropped it into the waiting palm. Starsky closed his hand around Hutch's and raised it laboriously to his temple before letting go.

Hutch pushed back the errant curl, his heart suddenly dancing in his chest.

"Get mine?" Starsky asked, barest hint of a smile curling his lip.

Hutch nodded uselessly, his thumb brushing the thick eyebrow, palm sliding to rest against Starsky's cheek.

"'S aright?" Hutch asked, his voice strange to his own ears.

The smile was sleepy, but full-blown.

"'S aright."