THE TICKING OF TIME

PART IV

Summary: Starsky pov. Final chapter.

Thank you once again to Laura -- for her tireless efforts and gracious way of weaving me around independent clauses, plurals, commas, extra spaces, and more.

Thank you for sharing time with me!

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My nose twitched, triggered by the smell of coffee and antiseptic. Then there was sound. The crinkle of paper. Someone sipping from a cup. The ticking of time. I had the sensation of descending from a cool and tranquil place only to crash-land in a hot unknown one.

I knew my name… David Starsky.

But that was all I knew.

I tried to feel confident in that little bit of knowledge -- but confidence is that feeling you have just before you really understand the situation. Not knowing is the worst situation, and for a split second, I wasn't sure about anything else. Where I was? Why I couldn't open my eyes? Was I supposed to be at work or was it my day off and I could sleep in? Perhaps that was why I didn't move a muscle. Or quiet possibly, I'd tied one on the night before and left a piece of me back at the bar? Maybe I was on a colorful bikini filled beach sunning myself? Maybe that was why I was so hot?

It took a minute of concentration but I was able to lift a hand up just a little. The action caused a sharp stab to radiate across my back, and I quickly let my hand fall back down.

"Uuhhh," I moaned, as the pain stunned me.

The sound of paper being folded filled my senses.

"Hey," a voice tenderly called, so close that I could feel the breathy whisper brush over my eyelashes.

The touch of a cool soft cloth came to my head and I managed to open my eyes a little finding myself staring up into the color blue.

Sky?

Ocean?

Sky?

I couldn't be certain.

There was that voice again and it mentioned a name. I didn't catch it but I knew the voice. Cautiously, I glanced around the small room: Yellow roses in a vase near a window. A blank television screen. A picture on the wall of two children walking hand in hand over a wooden bridge.

"Starsky, do you know where you're at?"

My mind flashed to another time -- another place: Heavy rain. Thunder in the night. A restaurant. A jukebox. House wine. A -ray - of - sunshine. The john. A jug. A wall. A pocketwatch…

My mind struggled through the twilight of sleep and restlessness.

My gaze came back to the color blue -- a face. I knew that face. I'd seen it a million times in a thousand places.

The pain in my back suddenly made sense as it returned to me. Funny how it was all at once.

"Starsk?" Hutch said, smiling broadly down at me. "You with me? Know where you are?"

I nodded, still gazing up into those eyes. If it wasn't for those eyes or that face I wouldn't be here. Wouldn't know where I was. As tired as I felt and as bad as my back was hurting I could still remember how the gunshots sounded so loud -- the reverberation traveling through me. How I had lost every ounce of strength and no matter how hard I wanted to, I hadn't been able to crawl to the door to help. To see if Hutch was okay. To know if he was alive or dead.

I remembered feeling like I could die in peace when Hutch finally did appear in the office, crouched down by my side after it was all over. How my buddy looked at me so scared, yet relieved. How I could see the veins in his neck standing at attention, his blood pumping hot and fast. How I could feel his breath travel across my neck, quickening and slowing in an uneven rhythm. I remember marveling at how he had kept it all inside of himself -- trying not to lose it.

"It's all over buddy," Hutch had said.

Although he kept his voice steady I could see the quiver in his lower lip, and the anxious tic twitching at the corner of his right eye.

I remember telling him 'I'm hungry.' I don't know why I said that. Guess I was trying to ease his worry.

I remember the guys in white saying 'the sooner we move him the better he will be.' I remember my partner, a driven man, worried sick about me. I wanted to keep talking to him, keep him in my sights, but I couldn't as everything turned black -- dark.

"Where?" Hutch urged me to answer, drawing me from my thoughts. "Where are you, Starsk?"

"Ain't--" I blinked several times, licked my lips, and took a moment to gather my breath. "Ain't -- the restaurant -- my grandmother lived over."

"No, buddy, it's not."

"H-how long have I b-been here -- like this?"

"Day and a half."

A day and a half? How'd time slip away so easily, I wondered. "You're kidding?" Hutch just shrugged. He wasn't kidding. "You stayed?"

"Sure," Hutch said, using his thumb to push back a piece of hair that hung down near my eye. "You remember what happened?"

"Took a hit in the shoulder."

"The back."

"Must have been something to see," I said, feeling lightheaded.

"Yeah, pal, you should have been there," Hutch laughed nervously as he took the cloth from my forehead and reached over for a cup that was sitting on the nightstand. "Sip slow," he said, holding the straw against my lips.

I sucked at the straw. The cold water going down my throat felt damned good.

"Good?" Hutch asked, plucking the thought from my brain as he took the cup away. "You can have more later."

My throat burned, dryer than hot sand. "M--ore," I croaked.

"Sorry, pal." Hutch paused, as if debating. "Doc's orders, gotta take it slow right now." He gave me a sympathetic smile.

I opened my mouth to argue but I knew I was too tired to try and win an argument with him right then, so I just nodded.

For a while we just looked at each other and I shared in his strength. There was something timeless about the moment. How quickly the danger had all come to pass and now here we both were. Safe. Hutch is tough as shit, but right now he looked like a kid who'd almost lost his best friend. That'd be me. My grandmother once told me, I'd better know which harbor I was headed for if I wanted to catch the right wind to take me there. I'm glad Hutch was a sea scout. He was the wind that got us to that harbor.

"W-what's the damage?" I asked breaking the soapy mood, and trying to forget how thirsty I was.

"Bullet's out. You're feverish right now, but you're going to be okay, Starsk."

The strain of relief in Hutch's voice was more than grateful. He must have really been scared.

"Went down like in the movies, huh?" I asked, feeling sleep pull at my eyes.

"Sure. Just like -- like the movies," Hutch stuttered.

I laughed, "Hmmmmmmm." Maybe it was more of a whimper, as pain shot through my back and down into my left arm, I held my breath tight in my chest.

"Sh, easy," Hutch said, as his fingers stroked my brow.

I shifted slightly on the mattress causing my whole body to quiver. "Oh, Hutch," I said between whimpers.

"Don't move so much just yet, pal," Hutch spoke soothingly.

Shifting in his chair, Hutch scooted closer laying a flat hand to my chest. His fingers from his other hand stroked my inner arm, feather soft, slowly, going higher up my arm then back down again.

I sighed. Actually, it was more of a mewling sound. Hutch's touch had magical powers, as the pain came down a notch or two. I could feel his hand steady on my chest, and my breathing deepened.

"Can barely keep my eyes open," I mumbled.

"Think you can take a little nap now, Starsk?"

"Think so." I closed my eyes. "You going somewhere?" I asked feeling a million miles away.

"Not going anywhere, Starsky, until you get some breakfast."

I frowned. Was I hungry? No, my stomach flipped and flopped just from the little water I had drank.

I wanted to tell Hutch to go home -- scrambled eggs were a long way off on my to do list, but I wasn't up for arguing right now, and I really was glad he was here.

There would be plenty of time for arguing later.

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TAG::: MISSING SCENE

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"You ever get the feeling you're all alone in this world? Nobody loves you?"

I was really disappointed everyone had left and I didn't get one laugh for the jokes I had studied so hard.

I shuffled from the middle of the room and shut the front door, the action stalling my breath and making me wince. There still was a lot of residual pain in my back and I got tired fast. Hutch and I had several arguments about me resting more and taking my pain pills. Had one just before our company arrived tonight.

"Did you take your pills?" he had nonchalantly asked.

"No."

"Why not?"

"Already told you why not."

"Starsky, did you sleep at all last night?"

"Not too much."

"You're slowing down the healing process, you know that, don't you?"

Now some partners could dutifully type up a report in no time at all. Others could smell a bank robbery days before it went down or the breath of a drunk before he ever got behind the wheel.

My partner's particular expertise?

He could mother hen a guy to death.

"Hutch, you're not my boss! Back off, will ya? Everyone will be here soon and I want to be clear-headed so we can do our comic routine."

"No, buddy, I'm not your boss," he said quietly just as the knock came at the door.

I had told Hutch to back off and he did -- right out the front door. How stupid could a guy get?

I shook my head at my own grouchy stubbornness. I hated the pills, didn't like the spaced out feeling they gave me. Hutch -- my best friend in all the world -- hell -- he was only doing his job. Keeping tabs on me. Watching my back. Like he had at Giovanni's. I had no business giving him such a hard time.

Careful to move slowly, I shuffled to the kitchen, got a glass of water, shook out two pills, popped them into my mouth, and swallowed. Then, just as slowly, I moved to the living room, flipped on a quiet jazz station on the radio, and stretched out on the couch to take a nap. I couldn't blame Hutch for deserting me. I'd really put him through the wringer. He'd been changing my bandages, helping me in and out of my shirts, cooking, cleaning, and listening to my comic routine all week. He needed a break. He was a mass of fluttering nerves ever since he dropped the tough and rough act he had had to put on at the restaurant.

I closed my eyes, feeling a little high and not feeling much pain, as the pills I just took were already spacing me out.

While I slept, I dreamed about Hutch and I. We stood square, side by side, on a deserted sandy beach, watching the ocean waves roll in and out. The wind blew through our hair, and streaming rays of violet and pink sunlight glowed on the horizon. I thought about my grandmother and her words about direction and the water -- it sparkled like silver glitter. Hutch settled an arm around my neck and hugged me to his side with a smile pulling on his lips. I could feel love welling up inside of me and I was reminded of the first day we met. I began to ponder a time before Hutch -- and I couldn't remember a time. It's as if -- as if somehow -- he was always with me, that time didn't exist. Ours was a friendship that couldn't be measured in years, days, months, due north or due south -- yet somehow we always ended up facing the right direction.

The sun had set and I opened my eyes, now back at my place. Immediately, I saw Hutch sleeping -- sitting up at the end of the couch by my feet. I know everything about my partner. His age, his weight, his height, likes, and dislikes, even know if he planned on shooting for the side-pocket or if he was going to go for the bank shot. Right now my partner's face looked tired, and there were dark shadows under his eyes. I looked at the clock and yawned. It was three a.m. Had I slept that long?

Tempus fugit.

It's Latin for 'time flies.' Hutch taught me that. He's taught me a lot of things like how --

"You awake?"

"Shit!" I startled, as Hutch nudged my foot with his hand. "Yes, I'm awake. Thought you were sleeping?" I rubbed at my eyes to clear the haze. "How long have you been here?"

"I never left, dummy." Hutch struggled not to laugh.

"Huh?"

"I hid in the closet -- waited until you took your pills -- knew you would, then I fell asleep."

"You what?"

"Starsky, have I ever cut and run on you before?"

I stared at him in disbelief. Hutch could be a real devil when he wanted to be.

I leaned back against the pillows and smiled. Humor. It's such a neutralizing tactic that we use often. Hutch and his magic bag of tricks had won. I had taken the damn pills. He sure knew how to score an A+ in deception, even if it was for my own good.

"How'd I get so lucky having a great partner like you?" I drawled out, it was my way of telling him he could be boss anytime he wanted to.

"I wish I knew, buddy -- I'm jealous." Hutch nudged my foot again, his laughter genuine.

"Funny." I closed my eyes.

Time ticked on…

After a while I called out to Hutch.

"Gonna crash now, Starsky."

"Hey, you know what?"

"What?" Hutch replied in a sleepy tone.

"Thanks, partner."

"Anytime. Can you go to sleep, Starsk?"

"Is this a trick question?"

No answer.

"Hutch?"

No answer.

"Hey?"

"ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ."

I gotta hand it to my partner -- when he say's he's crashing -- he crashes.

The end.

Authors note: Starsky's grandmother was quoting 'Seneca' in her own way, when she was talking about catching the right wind. Seneca was a Roman Philosopher.

--

If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind.

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