It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.
—The White Queen, Through the Looking Glass
AN AUTOMATIC WEAPON FIRED AT CLOSE RANGE.
THREE BULLETS TO THE BACK.
Starsky opened his eyes.
Gray. All gray and blurry. He blinked again and tried to focus. Didn't help.
Where am I?
He thought about it for what felt like a very long time, but it didn't seem all that important, so he stopped thinking.
There was a noise. He dragged his eyes toward the sound. Two people, but he couldn't... he didn't understand. They were smudged and muffled and tilted and moving very fast and it was all weird and he was tired and he didn't want to think, so he stopped thinking and closed his eyes.
TRAUMA AND HYPOVOLEMIC SHOCK.
VEINS DEPRIVED OF ENOUGH BLOOD TO KEEP THE HEART PUMPING PROPERLY.
Starsky opened his eyes.
Hutch's voice. Starsky turned his head toward it.
Hutch was sitting next to him, next to his...
Bed. Hospital bed? What happened? He tried to ask, but he couldn't get his mouth to form the words. Something was in the way....
"Shh, 's okay," Hutch said. He rubbed a thumb between Starsky's brows. "You're gonna be okay."
Hutch sounded calm, almost relieved. The touch of fingers, slightly callused, lightly stroking his forehead, combing through his hair, over and over. Nice. Soothing. No one else touched him like that, gentle yet firm, fondly and knowingly. Hutch was there, taking care of things.
The hand drifted down to his cheek, petted it slowly. Starsky smiled. At least, he thought he did, though Hutch's expression didn't change, so he wasn't sure. Hutch was staring at him intently, and he looked....
Starsky blinked. Once, twice. His eyelids didn't want to stay open.
That look meant something, Starsky was sure. He knew his partner, better than anybody. Better than Hutch knew himself, sometimes. He could figure this out, if only he could keep his eyes open....
"Just rest, Starsk." The tender stroking didn't falter and it was nice and Hutch was taking care of him and it was gonna be okay. He'd work it all out later.
Starsky closed his eyes.
CARDIAC ARREST PREVENTS DELIVERY OF OXYGEN TO THE BODY.
LACK OF OXYGEN TO THE BRAIN CAUSES LOSS OF CONSCIOUSNESS, AND MAY RESULT IN A COMA.
Starsky opened his eyes.
Hutch's voice. Starsky turned his head toward it.
Hutch, his long limbs all in awkward angles, was slumped uncomfortably in a chair next to....
Bed. Hospital bed? What happened?
"Wh- what happened?" The words grated in Starsky's throat and ears, ugly and rasping.
"You were shot." Hutch didn't sound so good either. His voice was hoarse and ragged.
Shot? Starsky thought hard. "Don't remember." He looked down, but the covers hid his body. "Bad?"
Hutch swallowed. Starsky heard the painful sound of it, and the small sharp intake of breath before he answered, "Bad enough. But you made it, buddy."
Huh. I almost must not have, then.
Starsky wanted to sit up but his body flatly refused to cooperate, as though the signals from his brain fizzled out long before they reached his muscles. He felt heavy and leaden. He wasn't hurting—and he should have been; he knew only too well, unfortunately, what being shot felt like. Instead, vague, unresolved sensations pulsed and flickered... everywhere and nowhere, like an itch he didn't know where to scratch.
Drugs. Very, very good drugs.
He lifted his left hand, or tried to. When that didn't move either, he looked down and realized that Hutch was clutching it. At Starsky's glance, Hutch dropped his hands and sat back. Starsky felt bad. He hadn't meant for Hutch to let go.
A bandage was wrapped around one of Hutch's wrists. "You're hurt," Starsky said, frowning.
Hutch ducked his head as though he was examining his hands, lying motionless where they had landed on his lap. "It's nothing. Just a little cut, I'm fine," he said. He glanced up at Starsky. Man, he was wiped.
"You look like shit," Starsky wanted to say, but yawned instead. Hutch gave him a fond, weary smile, and Starsky smiled back, suddenly sleepy. He closed his eyes.
PATIENTS EMERGING FROM A COMA, AS WELL AS THOSE TREATED WITH BENZODIAZEPINES, MAY EXPERIENCE
POST-TRAUMATIC ANTEROGRADE AMNESIA:
THE INABILITY TO CREATE NEW MEMORIES.
Starsky opened his eyes.
Wha— Bed. Hospital bed.
If I'm in the hospital, then.... Starsky looked around. "Hutch," he croaked.
Hutch brought a spoon up to his mouth, and Starsky felt something cold and wet slip between his lips and melt on his tongue. He swallowed the trickle of water gratefully.
"You were shot, but you're going to be okay," Hutch said.
Shot? "What happened? Tell me," Starsky insisted when Hutch hesitated.
"Right outside of Metro," Hutch said, finally. "Deliberate. They were gunning for us."
Starsky thought hard, yet there was no echo of gunshots, no flash of recall. There wasn't even an elusive, just-out-of-reach awareness to tantalize him. All he had was a big white fuzzy nothing-something in his mind.
Shit, this is not good.
He traced his fingers over the bandages under the thin cotton of his hospital gown, the wide, tight swath binding his torso, but when he tried to reach further around his side, sharp jarring agony ripped through him from different directions all at once. He gasped, and the sharp intake of breath brought its own layer of pain to the mix. His chest seized up, squeezed in a vice-like grip, and his lungs burned. For a moment, he was all pulsing, red-hot pain.
Hutch had him even before Starsky realized it, held him carefully as he hissed and swore between clenched teeth, kept him from moving too much and compounding the hurt. After a long while, the red haze began to ebb and he could hear Hutch's soft, concerned "Easy, babe. I got you. 'S okay, I got you," murmured over and over.
"I don't remember," Starsky said. "Geez, Hutch, how can I not remember getting shot, for Christ's sake? Why don't I remember?"
"It's okay," Hutch said gently, soothingly. Only then did Starsky notice how panicked he sounded, his words coming in jerky, shallow pants. He tried to rein it in, slow down his breathing, as Hutch continued, "Doc says it happens, it's normal. The coma and the meds, they're messing with your memory."
"Coma?" So much for not panicking.
Hutch winced and said quickly, "Yeah, but it didn't last long. Now that you're awake and breathing... better, they've taken you off the Lorazepam."
"Does that mean I'll remember what happened?" Starsky asked, trying to sound more hopeful than desperate. The line between Hutch's brows deepened, and Starsky had his answer.
"You made it, Starsk, you're getting better, and you'll keep getting better. That's the main thing," Huch said, wiping the sweat off Starsky's face with a tissue. He went on more softly, almost under his breath, "Losing a few memories, it's a small price to pay."
Starsky cautiously relaxed his muscles, and sighed with relief when the crippling pain did not return. Hutch eased Starsky back down on the bed, then brushed a hand across Starsky's forehead. Starsky felt the damp, sticky strands pull away from his skin as Hutch carded gentle fingers through his hair. It felt nice. Then Starsky saw a bandage on Hutch's wrist, half hidden under the cuff of his jacket. "Shit, what happened to you?" he said anxiously.
"Just a little cut, I told you, I'm fine," Hutch said absently.
Huh. Starsky thought back, but couldn't recall Hutch saying that part. He did remember when he'd said deliberate and gunning for us, though. "Who did this to us?"
Hutch's jaw tightened. "I'm working on that." Which wasn't really an answer. Starsky nodded, deciding not to push.
This close, Starsky could make out every line etched on his partner’s face, every twitch of tense muscles, every nuance of shadow under his eyes. Hutch, physically and emotionally exhausted, was as stripped of barriers as Starsky had ever seen. He could read the gratitude, the fear, the still-simmering anger, and....
Starsky hadn't intended to say it aloud but God, it was so obvious. Hutch loved him. Really loved him, in every sense of the word, in all the ways that mattered. The revelation was staggering, and yet the knowledge slid effortlessly into place like the final piece of a puzzle, seamless and perfect. "You love me."
Hutch paused and tensed, the fingertips that had been brushing Starsky's sweat-dampened hair away from his face freezing in place against the skin of his temple. Starsky could feel a pulse beating there, and wondered fleetingly if it was his heartbeat or Hutch's. Or both.
Hutch abruptly got to his feet and took a couple of steps away. With his face averted he said, "Of course I love you, mushbrain."
"I know you do, and that’s not what I mean."
Hutch stood perfectly still. Starsky couldn't even see him breathing. He waited. Breathe, Hutch.
"Yeah," he said finally. "I love you, Starsky." He turned around to face Starsky again. "I've loved you for a long time, buddy." Hutch's voice was quiet and resigned, and Starsky's chest ached in a way that had nothing to do with his injuries.
"I love you too, Hutch." Starsky matched the solemn tone, but put into the declaration every ounce of intensity and feeling he could muster.
For the briefest of moments, Hutch looked unbearably sad. Then he smiled and said, "Thank you."
Starsky blinked in surprise for a few seconds, then floundered for a few more trying to come up with something in response. "Well, there’s romance for you," he finally said.
"You want romance, pal?" Hutch was suddenly kneeling next to his bed, with Starsky’s hand held tightly in both of his. He bent his head, and the fall of blond hair hid his face from view. "You, David Starsky, are the light of my life and my reason for living. Without you, the world is cold and black and empty. Everything I am, everything I ever will be, is bound up with you." The words were a tangible caress along the back of his hand and Starsky shivered at the sensation.
Stunned, Starsky tried to pull Hutch up, but he was weak, so weak, and Hutch’s grip was implacable.
"Thank you. Thank you for coming back, for fighting to stay, to live. I don't know what I would have done if...." The words ground to a halt, and Starsky felt Hutch's hands, his whole body, vibrate with tension as he fought for control. His voice was a rough whisper when he continued. "I need you. I'm selfish, I know, but I need you with me. I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Starsky repeated incredulously, his voice cracking. "What the hell are you sorry for? I need you, too. We need each other, dummy. Always have. 'Me and thee,' remember?"
"Not like this," Hutch said. He began to draw away. This time it was Starsky who clung to him, and Hutch didn't try to break the hold.
"Yes, like this. Exactly like this," Starsky insisted. "Just because I didn't realize you felt this way until now doesn't make it any less true. And now that I have realized it, we can—" Hutch flinched and Starsky paused. "Babe?"
Hutch shook his head mutely and wouldn't meet Starsky's eyes. There was something going on that Starsky was missing, that Hutch wasn't telling him. It was beginning to both worry him and piss him off. "Hutch," he said warningly, "What the hell is going on?"
"M-maybe, when you're off the drugs and feeling better, you won't rem— you won't want this," Hutch stammered. "It's okay if you don't," he added hastily, but Starsky wasn't listening anymore.
When did I realize it? I don't know. I can't remember.
"Hutch, did we... have we had this conversation before?" He waited a beat, then pressed, "We have, haven't we?" It wasn't really a question, yet it still rocked him when Hutch's shoulders slumped in acknowledgment. "How many times?"
"I-I don’t know. A few."
"Liar. You know how many." Of course you do. You know exactly how many times I raised your hopes, only to dash them to pieces. How many times I've broken your heart because I kept forgetting you've put it in my keeping. "Hutch, I swear to you, I will always want this; I want us, together."
Hutch nodded. "Yeah. Okay, Starsk." It was hollow and forced, however, and he still would not look Starsky in the eye.
"Damn it," Starsky said, almost frantic, "I'll remember this time, I promise, Hutch. I've never broken a promise to you, have I? And if I don't, if my stupid brain forgets, please just remind me, okay?"
But Starsky knew he wouldn't. Hutch would go on as he had been, for God only knows how long, denying what he felt for Starsky for the sake of their partnership, burying the want again and burying it deep. Even if it fucked him up, fucked them up. "Damn it," he said again, despair and frustration making his voice shake.
All of a sudden, Starsky was bone-weary and completely spent. His body was betraying him, going heavy, consciousness slipping away. No no no, he thought, trying to resist the pull. With an effort, he slurred, "Hutch, please...." just as his eyes fell shut.
* * * * * * *
Starsky opened his eyes.
Hutch was waving a lot of paper around and talking very loud and very fast. "Wait 'til you hear this," he said, flushed and excited. "Gunther Industries, fourth largest holding company in the United States...."
Starsky tried to assimilate the words, but he was still too groggy to make any kind of sense out of the jumble. Before he could say anything, Hutch stopped in mid-sentence and looked at him, then came over and leaned down.
"We've got him, Starsk, we've got him." Hutch's voice was all fierce determination and hard edges, but the hand that brushed over Starsky's cheek was gentle. "I gotta go now, babe. I'll be back as soon as I can." He bent lower and pressed a soft kiss on Starsky's forehead.
And then he was gone.
Wondering, Starsky closed his eyes.
ONCE RECOVERED AND BARRING OTHER COMPLICATIONS, THE PATIENT SHOULD ONCE MORE BE ABLE TO RETAIN NEW MEMORIES.
HOWEVER, EVENTS THAT OCCURRED DURING THE AMNESIA ARE LOST FOREVER.
Starsky opened his eyes.
It was late afternoon, judging by the slant of the light through the window. He blinked at the patch of bright sunshine reflected on the wall absently for a few moments, wondering where Hutch was.
Something—a sound, a movement; hell, maybe it was just that sixth-sense awareness of each other that they'd both developed over the years—made Starsky turn his head.
Hutch was sitting right next to the bed. Well, half-sitting, half-slouching, in one of those awful visitors' chairs every hospital seemed to have as standard issue. Hutch had one elbow on the armrest with his head propped up on his hand and, despite the uncomfortable-looking position, his eyes were closed.
Starsky drank in the sight of his slumbering partner. Hutch's face was stubbled and his hair was a mess. There were circles below his eyes that stood out as dark as bruises against the pallor of his skin. Even as soundly asleep as he was, his expression was grave, the weight of his world showing clearly in the frown lines between his brows and on his forehead. Frayed and faded as a worn pair of jeans.
Hutch's back was going to give him hell later if he didn't get up soon. Starsky stretched out a hand, but Hutch was just out of reach. Sighing, he called out softly, "Hey, Hutch."
Hutch started. "Starsky! You... you're awake!"
"Yep," Starsky replied, smiling.
"Sorry, I fell asleep," Hutch mumbled, rubbing at his red-rimmed and bleary eyes, making a visible effort to focus.
"Thought I was gonna have to kiss you to wake you up, Sleeping Beauty," Starsky said, his smile widening.
Hutch smiled back at him a little tentatively. "How are you feeling?" he asked, sitting up and leaning forward. He was watching Starsky very carefully.
"Not great," Starsky admitted. "But today is better than yesterday."
Hutch leaned forward to place a hand on Starsky's forearm and squeezed reassuringly. "And tomorrow will be better than today, Starsk. It'll keep getting better, I promise. You're going to make it back."
At his words, Starsky's breath caught in surprise. "Hutch...."
Starsky hadn't yet voiced his fears to anyone: his fears that he might never recover, might never be a cop again, might lose Hutch to another partner. But Hutch knew anyway. His quiet, confident tone and gentle touch was like a balm seeping into Starsky's soul.
"All the way, Starsky. I promise."
Looking into Hutch's unwavering gaze, Starsky wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Because Hutch's promises were golden, and Starsky was sure as hell going to collect on this one.
"C'mere, you," Starsky said, as he tried to sit up. Hutch made a sound of protest and got up to stand over him.
"Hey, slow down," he said, putting one hand carefully under Starsky's shoulders and adjusting the pillow beneath his head with the other. Starsky breathed him in. Hutch was so close, so warm, everything that was right in this fucked up world. The only thing.
Starsky grabbed hold of Hutch's jacket front and tugged. Hutch obligingly followed the pull downwards, carefully distributing his weight, one hand on either side of Starsky's ribs and a hip against the edge of the bed, so as not to put any pressure on Starsky's injuries. But he froze when Starsky cupped his face.
"All the way, Hutch," Starsky said, and kissed him.
"Starsky—" Hutch began, his voice thick. The words he was searching for didn't come. He stared, his face pale, his eyes wide and wild-blue. Damn, but he was gorgeous.
Starsky drew Hutch closer, kissed him again, then laced his fingers over the back of Hutch's neck. "I love you, you big dummy."
"Oh," Hutch said, then "Oh."
For several interminable, aching moments, he was silent, not even breathing. Starsky waited, counting heartbeats and wondering whether they were his or Hutch's. Not that it mattered. Starsky could have watched him like that for hours.
Finally Hutch pressed his temple to Starsky's and said, "I love you, too."
Starsky blinked back tears, grinned, and held on, relishing the feel and smell of Hutch in the circle of his arms, of Hutch surrounding him in turn.
"Tomorrow might be better, but today is pretty damned good too," Starsky said finally, and Hutch nodded in agreement.
When the strain on his side and his shoulders got to be too much, Starsky reluctantly let go and Hutch sat back. The open, soft look on his face made Starsky's heart skip a beat. He held out his hand, and Hutch took it.
"Jeez, Hutch. I haven't even had a chance to ask you about Gunther," Starsky said, sobering. "James Gunther. I can't believe you. And everyone thinks I'm the one in this partnership who's all balls, no brains." That got him a chuckle.
"Yeah, well. Doesn't mean everyone's wrong," Hutch said, lacing Starsky's fingers into his own. "I happen to have balls and brains."
Starsky let out a short huff of laughter, trying not to wince as he did so. "You sure do, hot shot. Big ones." His partner flashed him a smile at that: a mixture of smirk and teasing fondness that was pure Hutch and all his.
"Still. A guy like Gunther," Starsky continued. "Shit."
"Yeah," Hutch said. "He's gone off the deep end, I think. When I got there, he introduced me to his dead assistant."
"Are you kidding me?"
"Nope. Poisoned, the M.E. said."
Starsky felt something twist inside him. He knew Hutch hadn't been alone in San Francisco, that the local PD had been there backing him up. However, that didn't make him feel any better or lessen the weight of the guilt he carried because he hadn't been there, however illogical those feelings might be. It had been gnawing at him the whole time Hutch had been gone. "Creepy bastard."
Hutch nodded in agreement. "He even pulled a gun on me, you believe that?"
"What?" Starsky reflexively tightened his grip on Hutch's hand. "What the hell, Hutch!"
"Nothing happened, it's okay. Nothing happened," Hutch said soothingly, raising their joined hands and pressing a kiss to the back of Starsky's. "I'm sorry," he added contritely. "I shouldn't have told you that, it was stupid."
Starsky swallowed and made an effort to relax. No, he was being stupid to be so freaked out after the fact. Hutch could take care of himself. Obviously he had; he was here and he was fine....
"Hey, you're hurt!" Starsky said suddenly, touching the bandage on Hutch's wrist. "I thought you said nothing happened."
"No, it's just a cut, I told you bef—" Hutch halted abruptly, his face going pale and blank.
Startled, Starsky asked, "Babe, what's wrong?"
"Starsky," Hutch said slowly, "how did you know about Gunther?"
"Uh, Dobey told me," Starsky replied, just as slowly. Hutch was staring at him funny.
"Dobey told you," he repeated.
"Yeah," Starsky said. "Yesterday? Or the day before? I'm not real sure. It was after you'd already made the arrest, anyway. He said it would take you a couple of days up there to wrap things up, and I'm a little messed up, time-wise. What day is it, anyway?"
Ignoring the question, Hutch demanded, "Do you remember anything before that?"
Starsky frowned. "No. The doc told me about the coma and the amnesia, so I guess it can't be helped. Damn it. I've been trying. The closest thing I can pin down for sure is heading home after shift, uh, the day before, I think. We were talking about what to do while the painters were working in the squad room... ping pong?"
"Ping pong," Hutch said faintly.
"Thought so." Starsky smiled, pleased that he'd gotten it right. "So, who won?"
Instead of answering, Hutch asked, his voice low and confused, "Starsky... why did you kiss me?"
"Why? I told you, Blondie. I love you." Duh.
Apparently this explanation, which was crystal clear to Starsky, made Hutch even more confused. Starsky sighed a little in amused exasperation. Leave it to his Blintz.
"I love you, I always have," he said patiently. "Huggy said once that me without you is lopsided, like a pig without the pork, I ever tell you?" Hutch snorted, and Starsky snickered before continuing, "He did, I swear. And he was right. I'm not complete without you. It just took me awhile to see it. Then when I did, I couldn't unsee it. But you and me, together like that, it seemed so complicated, you know?"
"In more ways than one," Hutch said quietly, and Starsky nodded.
"Yeah, exactly. Plus I hadn't been sure how you'd react, if I did make a move on you." Hutch's mouth fell open, and Starsky went on hurriedly, "I mean, I knew you loved me, babe. Never doubted that, not for one second. And I did think you maybe could want me that way... I hoped, anyway. Still, I wasn't sure and I couldn't take the risk. I couldn't chance it, couldn't stand the thought that it might change what we already had, maybe even break us up for good.
"But, well." Starsky squeezed the hand in his, and was ridiculously happy when Hutch squeezed back. Jeez, he had it bad. "Almost dying has a way of un-complicating things, I guess. And when you looked at me just now—" Starsky raised his free hand to Hutch's face, traced along a brow and down with his thumb. "When I saw you and you looked at me, I knew, and I was sure. I am sure."
Hutch closed his eyes. Starsky brushed the back of his hand down Hutch's cheek, feeling the drag of wet stubble against his knuckles.
No, not wet, not really. You couldn't get wet with only one tear.
Starsky kept up the caress, waited for Hutch to come back to him. Hutch had waited for him, after all. It was only fair.
Finally Hutch opened his eyes, cocked his head and yes, this is the look, exactly like this, don't ever stop looking at me like this. God.
Don't ever stop kissing me like this, either.
* * * * * * *
Sometimes Starsky wonders about the days he lost. He doesn't lose sleep over it or anything like that, but yeah, now and then he wonders. Huggy and Dobey have filled in a few of the gaps, but it ain't much. Starsky tries to imagine what it must've been like, what it would have been like if it had been Hutch who'd been lying comatose and all he can come up with is fuck fuck FUCK NO.
Hutch, unsurprisingly, won't talk about it. But he seems to have made his peace with it, for which Starsky can only be profoundly grateful.
He asked Hutch, just once. "So, what did I miss?"
"Not a thing, Starsk. You didn't miss a damn thing."
Turns out, you are more than the sum total of your memories. Turns out, who you are is housed, not just in your brain or your mind or your consciousness, but also in your muscles, your bones; in your gut, your blood, your heart.
Especially your heart.
The heart hath its own memory, like the mind,
And in it are enshrined
The precious keepsakes, into which is wrought
The giver's loving thought.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow