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A missing scene for Sweet Revenge
Life was good.
Hutch drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, humming under his breath as he jockeyed the car up and down aisles, searching for a parking space. He spied an empty slot and rounded the corner to claim it, but a prune-faced woman in an enormous white Cadillac, approaching from the opposite direction, had other ideas. She hit the gas and squeaked in ahead of the LTD, sending Hutch a smug glare that melted to bewilderment when he merely smiled and waved.
A stolen parking spot? Yeah, maybe last week he'd've gotten angry. Gone into a tirade about society's ongoing decline, the way everyone seemed to be out for themselves, a continuous rat race...
That was last week.
Before screeching tires and a shower of bullets had turned his world upside down.
Before he'd raced around the Torino to find his partner crumpled like a broken doll, bright red blood pumping onto the pavement with every beat of his weakening heart.
Before he'd stood outside the ICU on rubbery legs, barely able to distinguish Starsky's frail, motionless form among the tangle of tubes, wires and machinery. Too shocked and numb to do more than stare as the doctor clumsily tried to prepare him for his partner's inevitable death.
The body can only withstand...
Before he'd realized that even the bad times with Starsky, the days they sniped and growled at each other like two overgrown cranky toddlers, were precious beyond price.
That sometime during the last nine years it had become as natural as breathing to think in terms of "we" and not "me."
That life without Starsky in it had become incomprehensible.
And then, incredibly, the world had righted itself. Against all odds, against every expert medical opinion and judgement, Starsky had survived, had literally come back from the dead like some kind of modern day Lazarus. The doctors viewed him with speechless amazement. The nurses guarded him as if he were their own private miracle. And Hutch...
Well, Starsky wasn't the only one reborn, irrevocably changed by his near collision with death. Somehow all the things that had broken Hutch down--the petty injustices, the daily reminders of man's inhumanity to man, the frustrations of bucking a system that seemed better able to protect the guilty than the innocent--paled in comparison to the gifts he'd been given.
A battered blue Chevy vacated a slot just two spaces from the elevator. Hutch pulled in and cut the engine, grinning at Prune Face, who had just completed the trek from her purloined spot much further down the row.
James Gunther was occupying a prison cell while he awaited trial, enough evidence hanging over his head for several life sentences. Starsky's doctor had pronounced him, barring any unforeseen complications, officially out of danger. And he had a great parking spot just a few feet from the elevator that would take him up to visit his partner.
Life was very, very good.
Hutch bounded out of the car, twirling his key ring around his finger and whistling. To add to his good fortune, Prune Face had already disappeared into an earlier elevator, so he was able to ride up to the fourth floor in peaceful solitude. He glanced at his watch--6:33. Nearly an hour and a half to spend with Starsky before visiting hours ended--maybe longer if Clarissa was on duty.
The doors slid open and he stepped out, eyes panning the nurses' station. Standing at the counter, bent over a chart, was a petite woman whose white cap perched on a smooth bob of burnished copper hair. Hutch's lips curved as he cat-footed up behind her, leaning close to speak in her ear.
"Hello there, pretty lady."
Clarissa jumped, the chart skittering across the smooth counter and nearly plunging to the floor. She spun around, hands on hips, desperately trying to appear angry despite the suspicious twitching of her lips.
"Ken! Don't you know it's dangerous to sneak up on someone like that? Shame on you!"
Hutch deliberately let his eyes run up and down her 4'11" frame and cocked an eyebrow. "I see what you mean. I should've known I was taking my life in my hands."
She feigned a scowl and shook her index finger at him. "Appearances can be deceiving, you know. You'd be wise to remember that."
Hutch touched his fingers to his brow in a mock salute. "Yes, ma'am." He glanced over his shoulder at a room two doors down the hallway. "How's he doing tonight?" When the teasing grin slid off her face his stomach began doing flip-flops. "Clar? What is it?"
Clarissa took his arm and led him over to the collection of uncomfortable molded plastic chairs that masqueraded as a lounge. She gestured for Hutch to sit, but he shook his head, stepping so close he loomed over her.
"Level with me, Clarissa. Did something happen? Is he worse?" He didn't even realize he'd slipped into interrogation mode until she flinched and involuntarily stumbled backward. Taking a deep breath, he forced his hands into his pockets and gentled his voice. "I'm sorry."
Clarissa reached out to squeeze his arm, her green eyes warm with compassion. "It's all right. I know what you've been through the last week. David is still doing well, Ken. I'm sorry if I scared you."
Hutch scrutinized her face; saw there was more. "But...?"
"The doctor may already have explained this..." Clarissa's tone was apologetic.
Hutch's lips twisted in a cross between a smile and a grimace. "Yeah, well, I wasn't always paying real close attention."
She nodded, pausing to gather her thoughts. "For the first few days after a massive trauma such as David suffered, the body is in a state of shock. The cardiac arrest, the coma--those were symptoms of that shock. The fact that he's come out of the coma, that he's beginning to heal, is a very good thing. Unfortunately, it also means that he's lost a kind of...buffer, as far as the pain is concerned. We're giving him the maximum amount of morphine possible, but there's a window of time between shots when it just isn't enough. He tries to tough it out, to hide how much he's hurting, but..."
Hutch pressed thumb and fingers to his temples, then ran his hand down his face. "Yeah. Starsky's funny that way, you know? He'll moan and groan over a hangnail but when it comes to the really big stuff he plays the strong, silent type."
Clarissa consulted the wall clock. "He's got another forty-five minutes before I can give him a shot. I stopped in to check on him right before you got here. He said he was fine, but I could tell he was hurting pretty badly." Her eyes softened and the corners of her mouth quirked. "I can always tell when he's trying to hide something. He cracks the most awful jokes."
Hutch snorted. "Wish he saved it for when he's hiding something." The amusement leaked out of his eyes. "I'd better get in there."
Clarissa stayed him with an outstretched hand. "He told me you were on your way. Miserable as he was, his eyes lit up like a little kid getting ice cream." She shook her head. "We're doing everything we can, Ken, giving him the best care possible. But right now I think you're the best medicine for him."
The smile spread slowly, until it had taken over Hutch's entire face. He bent over and pressed a quick kiss to Clarissa's cheek. "Thanks, Clar. You're one in a million."
She watched him lope down the hallway, face flushed. "Sure, sure. That's what they all say!"
Starsky's door hung slightly ajar, so Hutch hovered in the opening for a moment, eyes searching out his partner. Shadows cloaked the corners of the room, its only illumination the flickering blue-white light from the television that spilled across the bed and its occupant. The white bandages swathing his partner's chest shone starkly in the half light. Starsky lay on his back, amply surrounded by pillows, propped up just enough that he could see the TV.
The soft rumble of canned laughter filled the room, but Starsky seemed oblivious. His eyes locked almost desperately onto the screen, his lower lip clamped between his teeth. Even from a distance, Hutch could see the sheen of perspiration on his partner's brow and the way Starsky's fingers knotted in the sheets.
As he had countless times over the last week, Hutch cursed James Marshall Gunther. Then he sucked in a calming breath of air, pasted on a cookie cutter smile, and wrapped his knuckles on the door.
The smile that spread across Starsky's face, though strained, was genuine. "You're in luck, partner. Was gonna go dancin', but I couldn't get a date."
Hutch chuckled and crossed the room to drop into the bedside chair. Starsky attempted to shift position but froze, his face contorting in pain and his breath accelerating to short, sharp pants. Hutch silently laid a hand on his friend's shoulder until the tightly coiled muscles loosened a bit and Starsky's respiration slowed.
"Pretty bad today, huh?" Soft. Matter-of-fact.
Starsky began to lift one shoulder, quickly abandoning the movement with another grimace. "Been better." His eyes scanned Hutch's face. "What took ya so long? Expected you ten minutes ago." Though he tried to keep his tone light, a slight quaver betrayed him.
Hutch ignored the steel bands that tightened across his chest and forced a conspiratorial smile. "Stopped for a minute to visit with a pretty lady."
A fleeting frown before Starsky's brow smoothed. "Clarissa?"
"That's the one."
Starsky rolled his eyes. "Ain'tcha got no respect? You hittin' on my nurse?"
Hutch responded with a look of wide-eyed innocence. "Hey, I'm doin' it for you, buddy!"
"How do ya figure?"
"By keeping myself informed of your condition. Well informed." Hutch waggled his eyebrows.
Starsky stared at him incredulously for a moment before the first snicker erupted. "Gee thanks, pal."
"Don't mention it."
For a few brief moments as they chuckled together, the sterile, antiseptic-smelling hospital room faded and they could have been anywhere--at The Pits, sharing a beer with Huggy; sprawled on Starsky's couch, munching pizza and watching a late night movie...
Then Starsky's quiet riffs of laughter turned to a harsh gasp and his already pale face turned white. Hutch bolted upright, hands moving restlessly over his partner's form as Starsky's eyes slammed shut and an involuntary whimper escaped his lips.
"Oh God, Starsk! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to... What can I do? Should I call Clarissa? Do you need...?"
"Jus'...jus' gimme a minute...Hutch...g...gimme minute."
Hutch eased back down on the edge of the chair, hands clasped tightly together between his knees. He was so focused on Starsky's pinched face it was several moments before he noticed his partner's grasping hand.
"Easy, Starsk," he murmured, as the fingers latched onto his own. "Easy."
Starsky cracked one eye open, still panting. "Timizzit?"
Hutch glanced at his watch, did the math. "Almost seven, buddy. Gotta hang in there for another half hour."
The eye slipped shut, but a single tear trickled out from the corner and trickled down to disappear into the pillow. "Hurts."
Hutch tried to swallow the boulder in his throat. "Yeah."
Eventually Starsky opened his eyes, still maintaining a death grip so tight Hutch was certain he'd wind up with finger-shaped bruises. As his partner stared up at the ceiling, blinking furiously, Hutch fumbled for something, anything to say.
"Didja know they call me...the miracle patient?" Starsky's voice was gossamer thin.
Hutch forced his mouth into a weak smile. "Doesn't surprise me, buddy. You beat some pretty heavy odds."
Starsky let his head loll to the right until his dark, pain-filled gaze rested on Hutch's face. "Took four slugs to the chest, Hutch. My insides're fulla more wire...than a grand piano...Every time I take a deep breath...feels like a knife in my ribs..." He chuffed a little laugh that was more like a sob. "Hell...can't even feed myself...without help." His voice quavered and he paused to draw in a gulp of air before continuing in a barely audible whisper. "Gonna be a...a long road back. Doc doesn't even know...'f I can still be a cop."
Hutch fought the urge to drop his eyes. "I know, Starsk."
His partner tipped his head back toward the ceiling, but Hutch could still see the film of tears shining in the muted light. "I'm alive. And I'm grateful, but..." His voice caught and he swallowed hard. "Sometimes it don't feel like a miracle, Hutch."
Hutch flipped his hand so that it was now cradling Starsky's, tightening his own grip. "Look, I...I realize I can't understand what you're going through. But however long that road is, Starsk, I'm gonna be right there beside you. And if we wind up someplace different from where we started, if we can't be cops..." He shrugged. "We still got me and thee, buddy. That's my miracle."
Seeing that Starsky's eyes had crept back to his face, he smiled. "Maybe there are no shining, perfect miracles, Starsk. Maybe they're all a little tarnished. I'm not gonna complain."
Starsky rolled his eyes, but they were suspiciously bright. "Ya know, Blondie, you're a real sap." He winced. "What time is it now?"
"Ten minutes since the last time you asked." Hutch leaned closer, propping his arms on the mattress. "Where would you like to be right now, Starsk?"
Starsky's brow furrowed. "Huh?"
"Bear with me, I got an idea. Where would you go, right this minute, if you could go anywhere?" Hutch persisted.
A spasm of pain, and Starsky gritted his teeth. "Tahiti. On a beach fulla beautiful ladies wearin' nothin' but skimpy bikinis and big smiles. What's the point?"
"Close your eyes."
"Damn it, Hutch, it hurts! I don't..."
"Starsky." He used the coaxing tone he knew his partner found hard to resist.
A gusty sigh, followed by a few muttered curses, but Starsky did as instructed. "Fine. They're closed."
"Sometimes when I was a kid I'd have nightmares. Mom used to do something that always helped me relax enough to get back to sleep. She'd have me pick a place, any place I'd like to visit, and we'd imagine ourselves there. You ready?"
"Do I got a choice?" But Starsky sounded intrigued.
"Okay." Hutch pitched his voice low, soothing. "We're standing on a beach. The sky is deep azure, and there's not a cloud in sight."
One eye cracked open. "Azure? What the hell is azure?"
Hutch gave him a longsuffering glare. "Blue, Starsky. Deep blue. Now shut up and close your eyes."
When his partner's lids were shut, Hutch continued. "The sun beats down on our heads and sparkles off the waves so they shimmer like diamonds. The white sand feels warm and gritty between our bare toes, and it seems to go on for miles in either direction, like a long white ribbon. It's hot, but there's a cool breeze coming off the water."
He sneaked a peek at Starsky, now motionless and listening intently, his respiration slowing a bit, evening.
"The waves make a whooshing crash when they break on the beach, and when you lick your lips you can taste salt. The air smells like suntan lotion, coconut and papaya, and down the beach someone has a radio..."
Twenty minutes later Clarissa bustled into the room carrying a hypodermic needle. The sight of Hutch, one finger pressed to his lips, and the slumbering man on the bed brought her to an abrupt halt. Shaking off her obvious astonishment, she walked quietly over to the IV stand, crepe soles whispering on the linoleum. After injecting the contents of the syringe and checking the various equipment readouts, she moved around the bed to stand beside Hutch.
"How on earth did you pull this off?" she asked sotto voce, staring at Starsky's peaceful face.
Hutch followed her gaze, his lips curving. "It was easy," he murmured, tipping his head back to grin up at her. "I just took him to Tahiti."
He chuckled quietly at her mystified expression. Even a slightly tarnished miracle was still a miracle, after all.