The Other Side
"There is another shore, you know, upon the other side."
"The Lobster Quadrille"
"Starsky! Get down!"
Red explosion of pain
Sh'ma Yisrael, Adonai Elohaynu, Adonai Echad
It hurts, oh God, it hurts...
Barukh Shem k'vod malkhuto l'olam va-ed
Can't stand it, Hutch, make it stop, make it...
V-ahavta et Adonai...
Can't remember what comes next...
Hutch, make it stop...
"Code Blue, station one, code Blue, station one..."
"What you got?"
"Doctor, we have no vital signs. We've lost him."
A fierce wrenching and a long dark tunnel. Light at the end. Upward, faster, pain falls behind, light, clearer, distinct, something there, something wonderful there, something...
"Starsky!" Behind, a voice.
"Starsky!" Hesitate, slow.
Turn around, red light far below, and a gold cord leading down...
Back towards the pain, ignore it, faster now
Final burst of agony. Fade to black.
He stands barefoot in cool gentle surf, ankle deep in crystal water, on brilliant white sand. Above, a sky banded with the brilliant colors of dawn or sunset, vivid pinks, deep golds, and velvet purples. Before him, the white sandy beach joins with an emerald green lawn, running up a small slope to where it suddenly ends in an impenetrable grey veil, like a wall of mist. A soft breeze ruffles his curls. Aside from his shoes, he's wearing the same clothes he was before. There is a sense of quiet, of timelessness. This place is the most real, the most immediate experience he has ever known, an eternal "now", not "was", not "will be". Somehow he knows this shore goes on infinitely. The only boundary is the barrier of mist.
He only just notices all this when he realizes he's not alone. Beside him, a figure made of piercing white light stands, tall and imposing, a masculine shape, not clearly distinguishable in form, but powerful and awesome.
His first thought is to kneel, but no, that's not right. Instead, moved by an irresistible impulse, he finds himself standing rigidly to attention, snapping off a smarter salute than any since he was a private in basic training.
There is mild amusement from the figure, and a voice, resonant and powerful but gentle, says "At ease, soldier."
He relaxes his stance. The gentleness of the voice gives him the courage to say "I haven't been a soldier in a long time."
"On the contrary, David Michael Starsky, you have been a soldier under my command for quite awhile now. One of my best, along with your partner."
Starsky shakes his head in confusion. "Who are you? And where am I? And why am I standing in the water without my shoes!"
The figure of light laughs softly, a sound like crystals, like water, beautiful, calm and quiet. A soothing sound. "I've been known as many things. I'm Marduk, who killed Tiamat. I'm Hresvelgr, the eagle who sits on Yggdrasil, the tree of life, and defends it from the serpent Nidhogg, who gnaws its roots. I'm Thunderbird, who saved the Nootka from the monster in the sea. I'm Lord Indra, the killer of the serpent Vritra. I'm Papa Legba, I'm the River Nile, the Eldest Angel, the patron of policemen, the guider of souls, the conductor of the righteous, captain of the hosts of heaven. To your people I'm the Prince of Israel, the flame of the burning bush through which the Lord spoke to Moses, and the guardian of his tomb. My name is the war cry of Heaven, and it means 'Who is like God'".
"Michael." Starsky says softly.
A nod. "And you already know where you are. The shores of Heaven, or the Isles of the Blest, the Western Shore, Tir Nan Og, The Elysian Fields, the name doesn't matter. The other side of the sea. You're standing here in the water because if you set foot on this shore, it's beyond even my power to allow you to leave. And..." with a touch of humor, "Your shoes are off because even in Heaven wet shoes are very uncomfortable."
Starsky laughs, "Hey, I know what's going on. This is one of those, what do they call them, near death experiences... I read a book about them once. Hutch doesn't believe in 'em, wait 'til I tell him!"
Michael makes a negative gesture, a movement so graceful that Starsky is almost moved to tears. "No, David. This isn't a near death experience. Although the doctors are still working on your body, it is too badly damaged for them to succeed. In the normal course of events, right now I would be welcoming you as one of my heroes. At the moment you are dead, and if you step on this shore, you will stay that way."
Starsky draws in a hissing breath. "Then why aren't you welcoming me? If I'm dead, what does it matter if I touch the land or not? Something's fishy."
Michael nods approvingly. "Very good, David. You're right. Turn and look behind you."
Starsky turns and faces out to the sea that stretches behind him. There, from his back, extending as far as he can see towards the horizon, is the gold cord he saw before, slender but strong. Now that he knows that it's there, he can feel it, warm and living.
"That, David, is the tie that binds you to another soul on Earth."
"Hutch." Starsky says without hesitation.
"Yes. It's a tie that goes beyond friendship, or loyalty, or love, it's something so rare you don't have a name for it. And David, although it has been useful to me sometimes, it isn't something that was part of my design. It's not in my power to create, and I don't have the right to interfere with it without permission. If you had continued to the light, I would have assumed you wanted to pass over, and for your sake and the sake of your partner I would have severed it. It's dangerous to both when a living soul is tied to one on this side. But you didn't keep going; you turned around and tried to return. And that created a problem. As it stands now, your body can not live. If you returned, you would eventually be stuck in a rotting corpse. I can sever the tie now and let you pass over, or I can heal you and return you. But I can't do either without your understanding and permission."
Starsky stares for a moment. "It's my choice? Then what are you waiting for, hurry up and send me back before they decide I'm gone and cart me off to the morgue!"
Another quiet laugh. "Calm yourself, David. Time flows differently here. We don't have infinite time, but we have enough for you to make an informed decision."
"Well, then, fill me in."
Michael gestures to the shore before them. "Two choices. You can guess what you would have here. Peace, healing of your spirit, an end to pain. You would leave behind the dirt and horror you see every day. No more being, what were your words, a 'bug in a toilet bowl'. And of course, reunion with people who have already gone before you."
Then he turns back to the horizon behind Starsky. "Or you can go back to your life again. Your friends, your family. And of course, your partner. But also, pain and disability. That's the main part of what I have to tell you, David. I can send you back. I can fix your body enough so that you can live. But I can't heal you as if you had never been hurt."
Starsky swallows. "How much damage?" he whispers. "If I'm gonna' be some kind of vegetable or somethin'... I can't do that to Hutch. Or Ma..."
A negative gesture. "I can do better than that. Most of your body will work. But you will never again be fit enough to take up your job on the streets. That's the price for being returned. Can you live with that?"
A pause. Starsky swallows again. Then gives his head a sharp jerk. "Yeah. If that's what it takes. I can live with that, somehow." There is fear in his voice, but determination on his face.
Michael nods. "I suspected that would be your decision." He steps closer to Starsky, and his presence is overwhelming, almost unbearable. He reaches out, touches Starsky gently on the shoulders with both hands. "Go back with my blessing, David." He leans forward and down, and kisses Starsky on the forehead.
It's like being filled with cool white fire, living flame, a sharp, cold wind, all at once. Starsky gasps, not with pain, but with the shock of it. His eyes meet Michael's, endless vistas with stars in their depths, and he knows something inside him is different now; nothing will ever be the same.
"I've put my mark on you." Michael says. "Think of it as a decoration for valor. It won't stop anything physical, but it's there to see for those that can, and it may help you against things you can't see. And now its time for you to go back."
Starsky, still shaken, takes a deep breath. "How do I do it?"
"Turn around again."
He does, to face the golden cord.
"Just follow it back."
Easier said than done, Starsky thinks, but he takes a tentative step. To his surprise he finds himself above the water, then being pulled, falling down that corridor again, and once again everything fades to black.
When Starsky woke up, he found he was in another place, a different type of place. It lacked the sense of timelessness, of eternal present tense, and the air was only earthly clear. It looked, and felt, like many places he'd seen on the California coast. He stood at the edge of a cliff, looking out over what looked like the Pacific, with a strong surf rolling in. A scrubby forest spread around him and above him the sky was slightly overcast.
Again he realized he wasn't alone, and although it was standing behind him, he recognized the presence as Michael by some sense other than sight.
"Hey! Where am I? I thought you were sending me back!" He turned to Michael accusingly but found himself unable this time to face the burning light of Michael's form, and had to turn away again.
"Calm down David. Your heart is beating, your lungs are working, and at this very moment the doctor is telling your partner that you're still alive."
"Then where am I?"
"You're unconscious. Even if your injuries weren't serious enough to leave you in a coma, the amount of drugs they have you on would ensure you would be out cold. You won't be waking up for a few days yet. We still have some things to talk about, so this is a place your mind has created where we can interact."
Starsky looked around. "This is all in my head?" he asked dubiously. "Why would I come up with this?"
"It's metaphorical. You're seeing the living side of the sea this time, so you're facing the water rather than the land. You know that although you're close to death, you aren't actually in danger of entering it, so the cliff is a barrier. And the landscape around you is your mind telling you that you aren't out of the woods yet."
"Cute. My unconscious makes puns."
"And you've made it look like California because that's what you're used to. It's pretty," Michael added approvingly. "I like it."
"Huh." Starsky tried once more to face Michael, then looked away, blinking. "I can't look at you."
"This is the world of the living, even if it is only the inside of your head. Here, even this little part of me is overwhelming. Let me find a better shape."
The fiery angelic form shrank and solidified into a stocky man in a World War 2 uniform, with a round Irish face that was familiar somehow.
"Sonny McPhearson!" Starsky said, incredulous. But it wasn't the aged, half insane man that he had met at the VA hospital when he was looking for Hutch, when Humphries goon had pinned him under his car. It was a young, vibrant Colonel McPhearson, the way he must have looked in France in 1944 when he was a hero, before the to-near explosions of the bombs left him shell-shocked and brain damaged.
"It seemed an appropriate shape." Michael explained. "He also was one of my soldiers once. He still is." To Starsky's slightly skeptical expression he added "Did you think it was an accident that he was there that day he found Hutch?"
"Yeah, and then he almost killed him," Starsky objected.
"That's free will, David. Remember, he thought Hutch was a German spy. After what he'd seen happen to people he cared for, what he'd gone through, yes, he almost killed Hutch, the same way you almost killed Prudholm. You didn't, though, and neither did he. And" Michael added sternly, "If you'd been paying attention when he came to see you, you would have found Hutch that much sooner."
Starsky looked away, embarrassed. It was true. Hutch had almost died because of it. Starsky had barely arrived in time to save him from Humphries. "So what do you want with me now anyway? You said I was here because we still had some things to talk about."
"There are some people who want to see you. Even though you're alive, you're close enough to the border for them to reach through."
"Who wants to see me?" Starsky asked dubiously. He could think of some people who were dead he'd rather not see again.
Michael smiled. "See for yourself."
A short, slim figure walked into the clearing. "Hi, Best Friend."
"Terry!" Starsky gasped in a strangled voice. Then they were in each other's arms. "Oh God, I'm sorry, when he said 'people who have already gone before', I thought of you, but I had to go back to Hutch."
"Hush" she said, putting gentle fingers over his mouth. "If I had been allowed to talk to you before you decided, I would have told you to go back."
"Yes, but..." Then her words sunk in. "You would have?"
"Hutch needs you more with him than I need you where I am. I'm your best friend. He's more than that, we both know it. I always knew having you in my life meant having Hutch there too."
He buried his head on her shoulder. "I never did have to explain to you, did I?"
Terry smiled. "That's what best friends are for."
Starsky found himself blinking back tears. "I don't think there was ever another woman in either of our lives who's understood about me n' Hutch. Except Kira maybe, and she got it backwards... used it to try and break us apart." Suddenly Starsky realized that mentioning Kira was probably not the most tactful thing he could have done. "Oh God, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that..."
Terry held him with a look, the one Hutch had laughingly called her "school marm look." "I know all about Kira, Dave. Remember I told you, just before the end, that whenever you were alone, or afraid, or in pain, I'd be with you? I've been with you a lot this past year."
Starsky nodded. "Yeah. Seems like it's been a bad year for me 'n Hutch. Like for a long time we were pulling away from each other, and always fighting, and hurting each other, but at the same time we couldn't keep apart. I missed you so much then. Figured maybe you could tell me what was wrong and how to fix it."
"I tried, Dave, as much as I could. All I could do was to let you feel that I cared."
"I did feel it, but you seemed so far away. Then the whole thing with Kira happened, and... I still don't understand it. She couldn't hold a candle to you, Babe. How I could ever have thought I was in love with her..."
Terry cupped Starsky's face in her hands. "Don't blame yourself for Kira, and don't blame Hutch either. She wasn't quite what you thought she was."
"What do you mean?"
"Dave, think. If you and Hutch are in Michael's service, without knowing it, don't you think that other Powers have their own soldiers too, Powers that would be just as happy to see you and Hutch destroyed? Kira didn't know what her real job was, but she did it, leave it at that. Don't blame yourself or Hutch for not recognizing her for what she was."
Starsky was silent, dumbfounded at that version of events. He'd certainly never thought of Kira in that light, no matter how badly he'd come to think of her. But he couldn't deny the evidence of what he was living through now, and in light of his new experiences, what Terry said made sense. Finally he said "So since we got past Kira, we're gonna' be OK now, right?"
Terry smiled sadly. "Unless you fix what caused the problems in the first place, you'll just have them over again. You and Hutch need to talk, straighten things out."
Starsky sighed. "Things seem better, though."
"But you still need to talk. Will you give Hutch a message for me?"
Starsky laughed. "Sure, but he won't believe it. You know he's gonna' think this is just a hallucination. I'm not so sure I don't think so myself."
"Tell him I said to remember our last conversation. And then think about why I gave Ollie to him."
"Last conversation?" Starsky looked at Terry suspiciously. "I know you left him Ollie to remind him to take care of me. You aren't blaming him for me getting hurt, are you? 'Cause that's not fair..."
"No! Of course not! This is something totally different, nothing bad, I promise you. But between Hutch and me, unless he wants to tell you. Trust me?"
Starsky sighed. "Of course, Sweetheart. I'm sorry... Only chance I'll have to talk to you again and I'm blowing it by getting mad..."
Terry smiled. "It's OK, Dave. We'll see each other again some day. I love you, and I'll be waiting for you, and for Hutch. But I want you both to live long, happy, love-filled lives first."
"Love? I don't know. Seems like there's no lover for me who comes up to you, Terry. Rosy Malone loved her father more than she loved me, and Meredith..."
"Meredith would never have understood about Hutch. I know, Dave. But..." she laughed impishly. "If you and Hutch could just see yourselves the way I do... Don't worry, there's love out there for you. You'll figure it out." She looked for a moment as though she was listening to something. "I think I have to go now. Remember, I'll always love you, and I'll always be there for you. Give Hutch my message and my love."
She gave him one last long kiss, then before he could say or do anything, she turned and went back towards the woods. Just before she entered them she turned around and waved goodbye. Then she was gone.
Starsky stood watching the spot where she'd vanished. Slowly he realized that Michael was with him again, still wearing Sonny McPhearson's body.
"Was she right? What she said about Kira?"
Michael sighed, a human noise from his human body. "She shouldn't have said anything. But since she did, yes. You and your partner created an opening with the problems you were having. Certain Powers were more than happy to take advantage of that opening. The mark I put on you will help to discourage any similar attempts in the future, but the opening is still there, blocked but not healed."
"Well after seeing all this..." Starsky gestured around him, "I can't deny that there's more to the world than what I knew. Unless this is some kind of hallucination. But why should those Powers want to destroy me and Hutch? I mean, more than any other cops?"
"Because without knowing it, you and your partner have ruined their efforts several times."
Starsky looked skeptical. Michael smiled grimly. "Who do you think inspired Simon Marcus? Who gave Papa Theodore his powers? When Rodell's followers prayed to Satan, did you think no one heard?"
Starsky blinked. "I never thought about it, I guess."
"From now on, you should." Michael said sternly. "Now you have another visitor."
Starsky looked around.. This time the figure that came from the woods was tall, and male, and wearing a blue uniform.
"Pop?" Starsky asked in wonderment, hardly daring to believe.
"Davey." The man answered, and held open his arms. They hugged fiercely, then the elder Starsky held his son at arms length. "Let me look at you." He shook his head in affectionate exasperation. "Doesn't your mother ever tell you to get a haircut?"
"Ah Pop, this is the style now." Starsky laughed.
His father laughed too. "You look good, son, I was just joking." His tone got more serious. "I'm proud of you, you know. And what you've done with your life."
Starsky actually felt himself blush. He turned away in embarrassment. All his life since his father's murder, he had wanted to know he had his approval. "Thanks, Pop. I tried to do what you would want."
"All I ever wanted was for you to grow into a good man." His father said. "I wish I could have been there to help you."
"I missed you" Starsky admitted. "There was so much I wanted to tell you. So much I wanted to ask you." He turned away.
"What did you want to ask me, Davey?" His father asked, softly. Starsky was silent. "Come on, son. I know there's something that's bothered you."
Starsky was silent for awhile longer. Then he burst out " Yeah, you're right, there is. Just what was going on with you and Joe Durniak, Pop? Why did he pay for your funeral? Ya' gotta' know, there were whispers. I could never ask Mom, she just wouldn't talk about it."
"You aren't afraid I was on the take, are you, son?" The elder Starsky asked, quietly.
"No! But it just didn't make any sense."
"Joey offered to pay for my funeral because we were friends and because he felt guilty about my death. I know that much. Why your mother accepted his offer... I'm not sure, son. I wasn't in any position to ask her, you know." He smiled sardonically, then continued. "But I think it was because there were already whispers about Joey and me. And she didn't want to take money from the Police Benevolent Association when she thought they were thinking I was corrupt."
"But why did he make the offer? Why did he feel so guilty?" Starsky pressed.
"Joey and I were old friends, Davey. You know that. Best friends when we were boys. It's such an old story that it's a cliché. The one friend becomes a criminal, the other becomes a cop. But that's how it was. Sometimes he passed information to me, because we were friends, and because it helped him. But he knew better than to expect me to go easy on him because of it." The elder Starsky smiled reminiscently. "In fact, he didn't want me to go easy on him. Joey was an odd person, Davey. He knew that he was in a dirty business. But he wanted one thing at least in his life clean. Once I actually had to pull him off someone who called me his 'pet copper' in front of him. I just laughed it off, but Joey woulda' killed the guy with his bare hands if I hadn't stopped him. He was proud of the fact that he was friends with a clean cop. It was like a game between us, almost. Like hide and seek. I kept hoping I could get him on something big enough that I could get him to turn states evidence, but I never could. I came close once, but in the end, most of the charges were dropped and he only served a year. I visited him every month." He sighed. "I suppose in the end I walked a pretty fine line, but I swear, Davey, I never crossed it. And the information Joey gave me helped me put away some really bad guys. That's what killed me, finally. Joey's enemies knew they could hurt him bad through me. It was outside their own honor system... a clean cop was supposed to be safe. By killing me they implied that Joey had made me dirty. That's why he felt guilty. And that's the whole story."
Starsky looked down at his feet. For so many years he had wanted to know the truth, had alternated between fearing the worst, and defiant insistence in his father's innocence, that finally to hear it was almost more than he could take in. His father pulled him into another hug, and they just stood like that for several long moments. He knew somehow, that in this place lies were impossible, so this was the truth. His father was innocent of the label that had been slipped unofficially on to him after his death.
Finally his father pushed him gently away from him again. "Was that all you wanted to know, Davey?"
"Yes... no... I don't know. Pop, I have a whole lifetime of stuff I wanted to ask you, but now it all seems kinda' unimportant. That was the big thing. I don't need to ask any more if I should ask Mary Jo or Denise to the prom, or if I should wear black leather with blue sneakers. Or even the big things, what you think of my leaving uniform, or what you think of Hutch."
His father smiled. "You took the right girl to the prom, you should never wear blue shoes with black, but you wouldn't have listened to me on that anyway, and I was very, very proud when you moved into plainclothes. And as for Hutch... How could I help but think well of someone who's loved my son so much? You've done wonderful things with your life, Davey, and Hutch has been there for most of them."
"What am I going to do now, Pop?" Starsky burst out suddenly. "Michael says I won't be well enough to go back on the streets again. I won't be able to be Hutch's partner any more. Everything is gonna' change! How proud of me are you going to be when I'm a desk jockey, shuffling paper all day and answering phones?"
"As long as it's honest paper shuffling... " His father smiled. "You know that's important work too, Davey. Don't look down on it just because it's not as exciting. Could you have worked as well on the streets if you didn't have the right people back in the office backing you up?" Starsky reluctantly shook his head. "Besides" his father went on, "you don't have to do that. I'm sure other opportunities will come up in the department. You just have to look for them. There's always alternatives."
"You make it sound so easy." Starsky sighed.
"I guess I have a different perspective on things now. But that's not what you're most worried about anyway, is it?"
Starsky shook his head, vigorously. "How am I supposed to take care of Hutch when I'm trapped in the precinct? How am I even going to see him if I'm working regular nine to five paper pusher shifts, and he's still on the streets?" There was anguish in his tone. Only to his father could he have admitted this sense of loss. It was like when Laura Anderson and her family died in a car crash, and his father held him silently as he sobbed out his feelings of grief for the girl who had been like his sister, and her parents who had been like an aunt and uncle to him.
"You'll find a way. Joey and I managed to stay friends, you and Hutch will find your own ways. And whatever those ways are, you'll make them work." There was a pause for a moment as his father did what Terry had done, look as though he was listening to something off in the distance. Then he said "I have to go now, son. I think I stayed longer than I was really supposed to anyway. Remember I love you, and no matter what you do with your life, I'll be proud of you."
"Aren't you going to tell me to take care of Mom and Nicky?" Starsky asked, only half joking.
"I know you always take care of your mother, Davey. And you've done the best you could for Nicky, under the circumstances. Now it's time for you to stop worrying abut him. You did better than you know, you and Hutch, when Nicky came to see you this year. You'll be hearing some very good news from him soon." His father looked at him speculatively. "In fact, since I don't know how much of this you'll remember or believe when you wake up... when you hear Nicky's news, that will be your proof that this is real, and not a dream. And now I really have to go. Take care of yourself. And your partner." He ruffled his hand through Starsky's hair, just like he had done when Starsky was a child, and Starsky felt his throat close with tears.
His father walked away into the woods, and vanished, like Terry had. "Pop?" Starsky called after him, but there was no reply.
"I'm sorry, David." Michael said, present again. "Each one has only a short time to be here before they have to go, and there's someone else waiting."
"Dave?" The voice was oddly tentative, as though it was expecting to be rebuffed. Starsky swallowed, and turned towards the solid, bulky form of the man coming from the woods. "John?" he whispered.
"I wanted to come and apologize, Dave. To make things right." John Blaine stood, looking oddly humble, something he never had done in life.
Starsky swallowed the lump in his throat. "You lied to me, John. To all of us. And you made Maggie live that lie."
"Dave, I'm sorry you had to learn my secret the way you did." Blaine said softly. "I never wanted to hurt you, or Maggie. I hoped it would never come out."
Starsky looked at his one-time mentor, pain in his eyes. "I just don't understand, John. How could you do that to Maggie?"
Blaine sighed. "Dave, I always knew what I was, that I preferred men to women. I tried to fight it, resist it, all my life. I married Maggie because I thought that I could live that life, hide it in normalcy. And it worked, for years. I swear, I never touched another man from the time Maggie and I were married. I looked, but I never touched. Until..." he trailed off.
"Until what?" Starsky asked bitterly.
"Until I met Peter."
"Tell me about it. Make me understand" Starsky demanded.
Blaine sighed. "He had just been fired, under suspicion of being gay. He was so vulnerable and hurt..." He paused, but Starsky just watched him with narrowed eyes. "We met by accident. He used to go to the park, walk around, read, feed the ducks some times. Why not, he had nothing better to do while he was on unemployment, nowhere else to be. I used to take my lunch there sometimes. We started to talk, and... we recognized each other. And after so many years of hiding, I just couldn't keep it up any longer. I loved him Dave. After he left me, I guess I went a little crazy. I kept the room I'd gotten for us, started going to that bar by myself... I'd never done anything like that before, but I couldn't go back into that closet, not after loving Peter."
"What about Maggie?" Starsky demanded. "What about loving her?"
Blaine sighed again. "I did, Dave. I still do. She's my friend, my comrade... But no matter how hard I tried, I could never give her real passion."
It was Starsky's turn to sigh. "It just seems like there shoulda' been another way..."
Blaine shrugged sadly. "If I'd had more time to come to grips with everything... I never wanted people to find out that way."
"I gotta' ask you something, John." Starsky said, his voice still hard. "When you said you looked but you never touched. Did you look at me that way?"
"No! Dave, no!" There was shock in Blaine's voice, and a hint of hurt or remonstrance. "You were always like a son to me, I could never have thought of you that way, no more than your own mother could have."
Something melted in Starsky, a hard lump he hadn't even known was there. Blaine had been like a father to him, and he had never acknowledged even to himself how much the fear that his mentor had secretly been wanting him had nagged at him, and fueled his anger.
Blaine gave a rueful laugh. "But if we're being honest, I have to admit, that beautiful blond partner of yours was worth watching."
Starsky felt like a weight had dropped from him. It was, after all, only right and proper that Blaine had admired Hutch. "Everyone watches Hutch," he said proudly. "Nothin' wrong with that."
Blaine seemed to sense Starsky's lightened mood. He smiled tentatively. "You always were like that, Dave. Even as a little kid. When you had something that you thought was really good you just had to show it off. That flashy bike your uncle gave you right after you moved in with them, remember that?
Starsky grinned and nodded. "Hey, when ya' got it, flaunt it."
"And the fancy watches, the flashy car, the beautiful girlfriends... and the bright shiny partner..."
"Oh come on, John, I never showed off Hutch like that."
Blaine laughed. "Didn't you? Remember the first time you brought him to dinner at our house? When you were still in the academy?"
"Oh yeah. You were having me to dinner anyway, and Hutch's wife had gone off somewhere for the weekend, so I asked if I could bring him along."
"Asked? You babbled about him, Dave. Almost 15 minutes straight over the phone about how wonderful he was, how kind and brave and gentle, how compassionate, how smart, how cultured and sophisticated, and how you were going to be partners some day. Even how good looking he was. By the time you actually brought him over I didn't think there was any way he could possibly live up to your description."
"But he does" Starsky said proudly.
"Maggie and I were worried, you know. You were so obviously taken with this guy, we didn't see any way he could possibly live up to your expectations. She was afraid he was going to have feet of clay, and you'd be hurt. I was even afraid he was just using you to get close to me." At Starsky's glare he added "Well it would have been a good career move, use you to make friends with me. But we both stopped worrying as soon as we met him. It was pretty obvious from the way that he looked at you that we'd been worrying over nothing."
Starsky blinked. "How did he look at me?"
"Despite the presence in the room of the most highly decorated officer in the department, who could make or break his career, he still looked at you as though your opinion of him was the only one that mattered."
Starsky chuckled softly. "That's my Hutch," he murmured, almost too softly to be heard. The two men were silent for awhile, looking out over the pounding surf, but it was a companionable silence, without the tension of before.
Finally Blaine spoke again. "Dave? I also wanted to say I appreciate the way you and Hutch have helped Maggie, been there for her."
Starsky shrugged. "How could we not?"
Blaine laughed bitterly. "You'd be surprised how many of our old friends have stopped seeing her since the truth about me came out."
"That stinks" Starsky said fiercely. "How the hell could anyone hold it against Maggie how you died?"
Blaine shrugged. "People's prejudices don't make any sense, Dave. You know that."
"Yeah, I suppose. But it still stinks."
"But anyway, I was going to ask you for a favor."
"Anything I can do, John."
"Could you give Maggie a message from me? Tell her that I loved her as much as I could, and I wish I could have given her what she deserved."
"I can do that."
"And Dave? One other thing. I have no right to ask you to do this, and I'll understand if you say no, but... if you see Peter, can you give him a message from me too? Tell him that I love him?"
Starsky swallowed. That was more difficult. But this was John Blaine, his mentor, his father-figure.
"Yeah. If I see him." He pulled the words out somehow, then rushed on "You know he won his election? And he pushed through new police regulations. They call them the Whitelaw initiatives. They can't fire a cop for being gay now. IA hates it. One less thing for the bastards to investigate."
"I know. He did it for me. That's why I want him to know, even though I wouldn't come out for him, that I still loved him."
"Is that what he wanted?"
Blaine nodded. "That's why we broke up. He wanted me to leave Maggie, to come out of the closet, and live with him. Challenge the department, bring a lawsuit. The gay movement was already pushing the department to allow openly gay cops. Peter thought I could ride that. But I couldn't. Couldn't do it to Maggie, couldn't face anyone in the department knowing what I was." Blaine sighed and wiped his hand over his eyes. "And in the end, Maggie was hurt and the department found out anyway. It would have been better for everyone if I'd come clean and done what Peter wanted."
"You couldn't know what was going to happen, John. You did what you thought was best."
"I did what was easy and safe, Dave. Hurt the people I loved most, all of them, lost my chance for happiness, because I was ashamed and afraid. If I could change anything in my life, I'd choose to live it without shame and fear."
"That's easier said than done."
"But worth fighting for. I taught you to fight for what was right, Dave. Don't live your life ashamed and afraid, whatever you do. Fight for something better."
There was a long silence again, while both men looked out over the ocean for awhile. Finally, Blaine turned back to Starsky. "Dave, are we ok now? Can you forgive me for everything?"
Starsky swallowed. "Yeah. I guess. I understand. It's just... it was such a shock. But yeah. John, you were like a father to me. I don't want to stay mad at you."
He held out his hand to Blaine, who took it tentatively at first, then in a firm clasp.
"I have to go now, Dave. Remember what I taught you and take care of yourself." Like Terry, and his father, Blaine walked off into the woods and vanished. This time, however, Starsky was left alone.
The world around him faded then, and for a period of time he knew nothing except for darkness and scattered impressions. Sometimes it seemed like he slept, other times he thought he heard voices. He thought he recognized Hutch's voice, and that was good, except that his Blintz sounded sad and scared, and that wasn't right at all. Starsky wanted to tell him he was fine, and not to worry, but then things got dark and confused again.
When he became aware of his surroundings again, he found he was still in the world of his mind. or so he assumed, although his location had changed. This time he found himself in a clearing in the forest. The sky overhead was brighter.
"I guess I'm not out of the woods yet," he joked to himself. He noted, however, that he was no longer within sight of the ocean, so presumably he had moved further away from death. He was not particularly surprised when he realized that Michael was with him, still wearing the shape of Sonny McPhereson.
"I'm still in a coma, huh?" Starsky asked.
"Yes. It's been about a day now."
"I'll bet Hutch is pretty upset." Starsky said glumly. "I think I've heard him a few times."
"He has been seeking to bring the ones who attacked you and the ones who ordered it to justice."
"He's going off alone and half-cocked I bet," Starsky muttered. "He's going to' get himself hurt without me."
"He already has been hurt." Michael told him gently. "Not badly, though."
It felt like getting hit, the realization that Hutch was hurt and he couldn't do anything about it. And the one who could... "Well, shouldn't you be taking care of him, then, instead of spending all this time with me?" Starsky snapped in frustration. "I thought you said he was one of your soldiers too. What are you thinking, hanging around with me when he could be getting killed?"
Almost as soon as he had voiced the words, Starsky realized he had made a mistake. The stocky body of the angel's human shape seemed to draw inwards and upwards. "David!" There was steel in the voice. "Do not presume too much. Just because I have taken a human form to speak to you does not mean that I am a human." The air seemed preternaturally still and heavy around Starsky, and there was a sensation of crackling power. "I am 'Who is like God', and I share His attributes." As Starsky stared, transfixed, the image of Sonny McPhearson burned off, rising as a pillar of flame, and he covered his eyes, unable to face Michael's wrath. "Even as I am here with you, I am with your partner, and with anyone else who calls to me in need, even though they don't know the name to call me by." He reached the sky now, and Starsky felt, rather than saw, the wings that stretched from horizon to horizon, and he bowed his head in the face of that glory.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
For long moments the terrifying figure stood before him, but then finally it shrank back into the familiar form of Colonel McPhearson. "I'm sorry, too," Michael said. "I should not have allowed myself to be so annoyed when you were only motivated by love for your partner."
There were no words Starsky could find to say. Finally he just muttered "Yeah, sure." But then, his need to know made him add plaintively "But what's happened to Hutch?"
Michael's voice was as quiet and gentle as though nothing had happened. "Nothing serious yet. A cut on the arm. However, he is going into far greater danger. I'll do everything I can for him, David, but it isn't the job of a policeman to be safe."
Starsky sighed. "Wouldn't it be a kicker if he got himself killed and I recovered."
"That is possible. But if it happens, I will give you the option of following him."
Starsky nodded. "Thanks. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. Was that why you brought me here again?"
"Partly. But also because there is one other person who wished to see you."
"Hey Starsky!" The voice came from behind them. Starsky spun around. "Jackson!" he cried in delight.
"Hey man." They clapped each other on the back enthusiastically. Starsky had met Jackson Walters during his days as a cabbie, straight out of the Army, just back from Viet Nam. On the surface it had seemed an unlikely friendship, the tough angry Jewish veteran, and the older black family man, but somehow they had clicked. When Starsky had left for the police acadamy, Jackson had taken the civil service test to become a city bus driver. They had joked they were both going to be uniformed city workers.
"Jeez, it's good to see you, Jackson. Hutch and I really miss our basketball games, ya' know. Junior plays with Cal Dobey against us now, but it's not the same."
"I'm really glad you hooked Junior up with the Dobey's, man. That captain of yours'll keep him on the straight and narrow if anyone can. That's why I asked if I could see you, to say thanks for that, and for keeping an eye on momma and Sammie."
Starsky waved it off. "I owe you and your family. You helped me get my head together when I got outa' the army." He laughed. "And, I'd never admit it to Hutch, but you taught me mosta' what I know about driving, too."
Jackson shook his head. "You shoulda' taken my advice, taken the bus driver's test with me. Safer." Then he laughed. "But who knows. Look which one of us ended up here first anyway."
Starsky looked aside for a moment. "Yeah, about that," he finally said fiercly. "You know we finally got that bastard Andrews. By the time IA reviewed his case after the 90 day suspension was over, we'd had time to look into him ourselves. Little prick was a real bad piece of work. We got enough on him to get him off the force for good. Still not what he deserved. He shoulda' been up on murder one, you ask me. But at least we got his badge."
Jackson smiled gently. "Thanks, man. It's OK. It doesn't seem as important now. There's no point to hanging on to the anger, Starsky. It's just a poison. But I do appreciate it. Good thing that he didn't have the chance to hurt anyone else." Jackson paused for a moment, then looked very serious. "You remember that, Starsky. When you get back down there, don't let yourself be poisoned by what happened to you. It's not worth it. Just let it go, the same way you let go the bad stuff you saw in the war."
"I had you to help me do that, Jackson." Starsky said sadly.
"Well, you'll have Hutch to help you do this. And he can do a lot more for you than I could,Starsky, you know that."
"You were there for me when I needed you, though, Jackson. I won't forget that. You want me to tell anyone anything from you? Like John and Terry did?"
Jackson shook his head. "Naw, Junior wouldn't believe you, and momma's so close to the border now that she can hear me herself. You know she's only hanging on 'til Junior's done with school so she won't be leaving him alone."
Starsky sighed and nodded. "I figured as much. I'll miss her, but I guess she knows where she wants to be."
"Be well, Starsky, I got to go now. Take care of yourself, brother. I'll be seeing you again some day, but I hope not for a long time." He gave Starsky a quick hug, then walked into the woods and was gone.
The world started to fade again, but this time Starsky fought against it. "Wait! Michael!" he called.
The thinning scenary filled out again. Michael looked at him expectantly.
"Is there anyone else waiting to see me?"
"Was there someone else you wanted to see?"
Starsky drew a deep breath. "Yeah. I need... I need to see someone. To make it right, if I can... Lionel Rigger."
"I can ask him if he wants to see you, David, but I can't compell him."
"Just ask him, OK? And if he says no, at least tell him... tell him I'm sorry things went down the way they did."
Michael nodded gravely. "I'll do my best, David. But for now..." he trailed off and the world faded again.
This time when he came to himself again, he wasn't in the woods. He stood facing them in a field of tall, sun-yellowed grass. The sky above him was blue, all the clouds gone. There was the sound of insects in the air. Michael stood beside him.
"It's almost time for you to return, David." Michael told him. "But first..."
A short, slight man walked out of the woods. Lionel Rigger had always reminded Starsky of a mouse, and he still gave that impression, nervous and shy. He paused a bit in front of Starsky. "Hey."
Starsky swallowed. He licked suddenly dry lips. "Lionel. I'm sorry. It was my fault you were killed. I shouldn't have left you alone."
Lionel nodded, eyes closed, seemingly in pain or sorrow. "I know, man. I can't say it's OK, but, I understand. If it had been Mardean out there, hurt like that, I couldn't have stayed inside either."
"We tried to get the guys responsible, Lionel. I know it's not much, but it's what we could do. Huggy's been taking care of Mardean and Jamie, and we've tried to help."
"I appreciate that, man. I do. And... I guess you're paying part of your bill now, or will be when you get back. Not going to be easy, what you have waiting for you." There was no happiness on Lionel's face as he said it, just a sort of saddened compassion.
"Yeah, so I've been told. When it's bad, Lionel, I'll try and think of it like that, like paying my bill, and maybe it'll make it easier to bear. "
Lionel nodded again. "Whatever gets you through it, man. Be well, OK?" Then, without another look, he turned and was gone.
Starsky watched him go for long moments. Then he turned to Michael. "Maybe it's better I'm off the streets. Don't think I'm objective enough any more. Even though it was Hutch out there, I shouldn't have left Lionel alone. Lionel died because I let Hutch be more important to me than the job, or the case, or anything else."
Micael nodded in compasion. "All things have their right and proper place and time, David. Maybe you're right, it was time for you to get off the streets, and it's time for a new phase in your life. You can think about it, at least. When you get back. Turn around now."
Starsky turned his back to the woods. The field of dried grass ran down in a gentle slope to where a road curled off into the distance, a road that was made of...
"Yellow brick? Oh man, maybe Hutch is right, maybe I do watch too many old movies." Starsky laughed in spite of himself.
"It's time for you to go. Your partner needs you now. His courage has taken him as far as it can alone."
"Will I remember this?"
"Not like you do now. You will be coming out of a coma when you go back. Your mind will be subject to the weakness of your body. To borrow a phrase, here you see clearly, there you will see as through a glass darkly. But you will eventually remember all you need to."
Starsky nodded. "OK, I guess I'm ready to go. What do I do? No, wait, don't tell me. I just follow the yellow brick road, right?"
Michael smiled. "Your mind made it, David. Go back now, and take care of your partner. And remember I will always be with you."
Starsky walked down the slope and stepped on the road. One step, two... around him the world faded away, the yellow of the brick and the sun-bleached grass turned to the silver-gilt of blond hair, three steps, four, the blue of the sky overhead turned to the blue of anxiety-ridden eyes, five steps, six, and the sounds of the insects to the hum and whirr of machinery, seven, eight, and the gentle sound of a familiar voice...
"Starsky? Starsk? You're awake?"