This is an epilogue to "Bonded" ( s/8528271/1/Bonded )
He awoke with a start for the ninth time. He found that both he and the white top sheet, which had twisted around him in some sort of elaborate restraint system during his relentless tossing and turning, were soaked in sweat. "Crap," he muttered as he slowly began the task of freeing himself.
That done, he checked the time-a few minutes past 3 a.m. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, rested his elbows on his thighs, and buried his head in his hands. Moments later, he began to shiver from the air conditioning's effect on his damp, nearly naked skin, then from something within that had taken hours to breach the surface.
The nightmare came back, but this time he was awake. The gun aimed point blank at his partner's chest issuing his death warrant. The dark pool that languidly spread out from him in irregular borders. That same gun targeting him now, but without the mercy of death for him.
The shivers turned into quakes of soundless, tearless sobs. For an eternity of several minutes it continued until he had no more energy left.
Suddenly, he couldn't abide being in his apartment, alone and almost lonely. Forcing himself to stand, he trudged to the bathroom. He turned on the cold water faucet and filled his hands. He splashed his face, chest, and armpits with the liquid that smelled faintly of chlorine. The water ran down his body to soak into his boxer shorts still soggy from sweat. Slowly, he toweled off and gazed at the face in the mirror.
He instantly recognized it as his own, though he earnestly wished it wasn't. His lips were pinched tight and his jaw drooped. The eyes were blue in color and mood, and brimming with fear and the anguish of near loss and recrimination at his self-centeredness. You were more worried about losing your humanness. Losing me wasn't even half of it.
He took a deep breath and placed a hand flat on the mirror. He finally knew why he had dreamed the same horrific nightmare over and over tonight. "It was losing him."
A burst of energy from his reserves got him dressed, into his car, and to the hospital in minutes.
He flashed his badge at the security guard in the emergency room, winning easy passage into the main part of the hospital. He had some trouble getting past the charge nurse of the ward where his partner was a patient, but she finally seemed to understand his need and let him pass.
Noiselessly, he slipped into the room. Even though the corridors were dimly lit, he still needed a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the darker room. As he waited, he enjoyed listening to his partner's breaths. The slightly labored and coarse sounds were a symphony to his ears.
Maintaining silence, he lifted a chair and placed it next to his partner's bed, unaware that he had put the chair directly between the sleeping man and the door. Carefully, he eased himself into it. When the cushion hissed from his weight, he cringed and waited for his friend to awaken. He sighed with relief inwardly when all the sleeping man did was grunt and change position.
He, a mute sentinel, watched the man in bed fidget and get tangled in his own bed linen. He watched what he was sure were nightmares jerk the closed eyes in erratic movements and elicit unintelligible utterances from his mouth. He suppressed his urge to touch him, to soothe him, because he knew-intuitively, not as a matter of fact-his partner would lash out if he didn't wake of his own accord and in his own time. That didn't stop his ache at seeing him tortured like this by his own mind.
He leaned forward until he felt the heat radiating from his friend. Resigning himself to be satisfied with that, he waited and watched patiently.
He startled awake, perspiring heavily but escaping again from the nightmare. He sat up and gave out a voiceless cry of pain that the sudden movement and the deep breathing caused. "Dammit!" he mumbled. He reached for the nurse call button but stopped abruptly. He turned his head to see his partner's blond one hovering at the edge of the bed. "Hey," he said with some surprise in his husky voice.
"Hey back atcha."
He fell back onto the bed. "Been here long?"
"Not too. About half an hour."
He began to struggle out of his sheets. "Damn, Hutch, I think the bed is tryin' to hold me hostage or eat me."
Hutchinson rose and helped Starsky unsnarl himself from the carnivorous sheets. "Don't worry, Starsk-you were bound to have given the bed a terrible case of indigestion."
He grimaced, unable to put his partner in his place with a witty comeback.
Without hesitation, Hutchinson depressed the call button and informed the feminine voice answering it that his friend needed something for pain.
It was twenty minutes after the shot of morphine when Hutch detected a change from andante to adagio in Starsky's breathing. "Starsk, you still awake?" he asked tentatively.
"Yeah." He opened his eyes and effortlessly found Hutch's in the dark.
How do I say my turning into a beast was nothing? That all that really mattered was that I almost lost him? That that is what bothers me still. "Starsk, I. . ."
Starsky heard the breaking in his voice and the pause that said everything. "When I was in th' army, lotta times we'd shoot the breeze in the barracks after lights out. You know, bullshit, mostly. But this one night, somebody actually said somethin' that wudn't."
Relieved and angered that Starsky had not let him speak his peace, Hutch prompted, "Yeah? What was that?"
"That it was easy to die, but hard to live."
Hutch thought he'd been gut-shot by the veracity in those words. He sat forward, clutching his abdomen tightly, as if to keep himself intact, together.
"Do you think he's right, Hutch?"
"Yyes." The stammer was barely perceptible.
"Me, too." Starsky sighed, remembering that conversation and the buddy who had said it. I couldn't save him, Hutch, but I swear I'll make it hard for you to die. "Know somethin' else?"
Hutch cleared his throat. "What?"
"Didja know that in some cultures, a person who's saved by another has ta stay with him until he either saves that person's life or gives him his own life?"
"Yeah," he said as a half-question. He eased the grip he had on his belly.
"I'm yours now. It's my moral obligation. Can't get rid of me, either. We're tied together, buddy. 'Sides, you're the only one who can come close to keepin' up with me." And you make my livin' a damn sight easier.
"Well, if you weren't such a damn jackrabbit. . . Okay, then. What happens when you pull my butt out of the fire, hunh? That'd make us even."
"Not in my book, 'cuz I go along with the second kinda payback. You're stuck with me." I got you covered, partner-back and front.
Hutchinson grinned widely in the dark. Gladly. "Oh, that's just terrific," he said with mock sarcasm. "What did I ever do to deserve such rotten luck?"
"Rotten luck? The only thing rotten around here"-Starsky sniffed loudly several times-"is you. Hutch, you stink. Didn't you take a shower when you got home?"
"No. I just stripped and fell into bed. And you don't exactly smell like a rose, buddy."
"I have an excuse. Better yet, I get a sponge bath from one of those pretty nurses on day shift."
"Sorry to inform you, Starsk, but I overheard the night nurses saying that some big, hairy guy named Bruno who likes to give enemas is scheduled to bathe you."
"Bruno? Oh, yeah. He saw you, thought you were cute. Gave him your phone number and tol' 'im you like to slow dance." A moment later, Starsky was snoring softly.
Hutch watched his partner's face relax quickly into unguarded sleep. He stretched out his left arm until his hand rested on Starsky's forearm. He laid his head on his own arm and fell asleep instantly.
Neither man moved nor dreamed until a nurse woke them for morning rounds.