From his position on the ground, Hutch was fighting to stay conscious, confused by both the pain assaulting him and the strange voices that were fading out and then roaring back in his brain. At first, all he was aware of was a buzzing in his ears. Then, with a start, he realized Starsky's hand was no longer on his shoulder. A soundless name formed on his lips, and, with an effort, he blinked eyes that felt so heavy, forcing them to stay open.
Light's back. There's some light. Where's it coming from? Where's Starsky?
Hutch struggled up partially on his free elbow, wincing at the pain, but trying to ignore it as something worse filled his mind. Not a nameless fear--it had an all too familiar name. Starsky. Where's Starsky?
Then he heard it. The sickening sound of flesh being pummeled, and before he could force his eyes to the sound, drops of blood splattered his face. He knew instantly it wasn't his blood.
Hutch thought he screamed his partner's name aloud, but the screams remained lodged in his throat as the panic climbed. Now, he could make out the words being said by people he didn't know. People who were hurting Starsky. He knew it, even though he couldn't see the blows. He could hear the groans, though. They were coming from his partner, and rage was added to the kaleidoscope of emotions assaulting the injured man.
Gotta stop them. Gotta get up. Starsky! Desperately, Hutch tried to clear his head, to make his brain send the needed signals to his limbs. The next blow delivered to Starsky was so loud that Hutch's head began to spin and vertigo claimed him. The sound of weak coughing and wretched gagging came next. No! Oh, Starsk, no. Stinging tears burned unshed, as Hutch was forced to bear the knowledge that Starsky was suffering not two feet from him and he could do nothing to help. He couldn't even stand.
Something…think. Think…do something. Lie still. Don't let them focus on me. Surprise them. Somehow…surprise them. Has to be fast. Has to be now! Hutch's body shifted involuntarily, as his twitching and cramped muscles protested their abuse. All at once, he became aware of the forgotten weight under his left arm. My gun…I still have my gun, he thought in deep gratitude.
As calmly as he could, Hutch began to devise a strategy, at the same time he started to slowly work his right hand under the jacket's fold. The cold steel under his colder fingertips brought a small sense of control to the panicked detective.
Focus on the shapes, he told himself determinedly. See where Starsky is and how close the one not beating him is to him. Can't go for that goon. Not yet. I may only get one shot, and it has to take out the one hurting Starsky. Sweat pooled in the corners of his eyes, but he tried to ignore it. He tried with every ounce of strength he could call on to think clearly.
Focus! One shot. One clear shot. If I screw it up, there might not be time to get another one off.
Hutch stared past the flashlight's beam, trying to clear his vision as much as possible. He knew he had to have his targets separated, or in this dark hellhole he could shoot his partner by mistake. The horrific thought almost made him gasp audibly. A harsh voice broke into his planning.
"Let's finish the cop first, Mikey."
"What the hell do you think I'm doing?" came a raspy response. "Working out my fist? I'm finishing him off right now!"
"This is too slow. That kid could get curious and walk on back here," Charlie said hurriedly. "Just get your hands around his throat. I'll start on Billy." He withdrew a small switchblade from his pocket.
Hutch couldn't see the weapon, but he heard the singularly unique sound of it being expelled, and knew what it was. He also heard Leonard whimpering the very word hammering in his head. No. No. No. Then the whimpers turned to a roar, and Hutch knew a new kind of agony when the cuff being pulled on by the terrified prisoner manhandled his broken arm. The screams lodged in his throat were almost ripped free, but Hutch used every bit of self-control he had to prevent them, by clamping his teeth down sharply on his raw lips.
STARSKY! Oh, please…hurts so bad…can't mess up. Can't let them see me go for my gun. God, help me.
Hutch was breathing through clenched teeth, as he watched a hulking shadow approach closer to where he and Leonard were lying. The flashlight's glare changed wildly, flaring first high then low, trailing over a pair of jean-covered knees slouched low. Then the illumination found Starsky's face, and Hutch felt ice-cold fury mix with the fear he felt for his partner, when he saw the mangled mouth, dripping blood, and eyes only half open. Then the light veered again.
Hutch heard a swishing noise, loud and fast, then a low groan followed by a sickening gurgle. Involuntarily, he squeezed his eyes shut, knowing by the sounds alone that Charlie had succeeded in killing Leonard.
It was all surreal, and Hutch felt himself begin to drift again, but with a huge effort he shook it off.
Now. Now while this goon is distracted. Now. Move!
Moving as quickly as his stiff limb would allow, he first fingered the holstered weapon, then unsnapped it. Withdrawing the Magnum, he was only vaguely aware that his arm was shaking as he straightened it, while lifting his head fractionally.
A loud and steady whine distracted him briefly, then filled him with shock as the car filled with a weak light, illuminating the tableau with players now frozen in surprise.
Two beefy hands were around Starsky's throat, but the man choking him was blinking at the light, his face slightly turned away from Starsky's scarlet-colored one. The other man was hovering over Leonard's dead body.
Hutch squeezed the trigger.
The power behind the blast reverberated up his arm, then forced him flat back. He struggled to regroup, trying to stiffen an elbow to support himself, needing to see….
Two bodies fell heavily. Both covered in blood. One fell backwards; the other fell across Hutch's legs.
Hutch's elbow wouldn't cooperate--wouldn't take his weight--and his vision was swirling wildly Starsky?
The hand holding the gun trembled harder, as Hutch tried to tighten his grip, tried to find Starsky, barely aware of the form standing over him menacingly. All he could think of was the shot. Had he missed? Had he hit…?
Oh, no, Starsky….
The misery the thought brought was far more painful than anything Hutch was feeling in his body. Desperation strengthened his arm, allowing him to put some weight on his elbow, and this time he was able to raise himself a little. He still couldn't see much, but he heard a gun cock at the same time a moan came from the man across his legs. The moan was unrecognizable, but not the sound of the gun. There was no time to analyze. No time to think. And again, barely the vision needed to aim, but aim he did, directly at the sound. Hutch's hand was slippery with sweat, and never before had the three pounds of steel felt like thirty. He was barely conscious when two shots went off almost simultaneously. One from his gun, and one from the weapon he never saw Charlie draw.
For the second time that night, Starsky began a slow and painful return to consciousness. Unlike the previous time, it wasn't the smell that roused him, but a gentle shaking on his shoulders and a young frightened voice.
"Mister? Oh, boy, you're beat up bad. Mister? It's me, Bobby."
The pats on his face turned into mini-slaps, as Starsky groggily tried to regain consciousness and his equilibrium. At the moment, both were just out of his grasp, but the sharp slaps, combined with the humming in his ears, were beginning to make an impact.
"Oh-oh, God. Oh, man." Starsky began to curse, as he slowly raised his hands to lock on the throbbing ache that was his head. He squeezed the sides in a fruitless attempt to stop the pounding, then gave up and forced his eyes open. He recognized the boy but couldn't answer, as he took in the horror show surrounding him.
Death. At its ugliest extreme. The body lying at Starsky's feet, was Mikey, the man who had been trying to beat him to death. There was a gaping hole in the man's chest, and Starsky remembered hearing the Magnum's roar just before he'd finally passed out.
Hutch. Hutch must'a got to his gun somehow…. Hutch?
"HUTCH!" he yelled, with as much breath as he could expel from aching lungs and a pummeled diaphragm. He struggled to sit up, cringing as he recognized the stab of at least one broken rib, and, at the same time, he saw another dead body within touching distance. Only the need to get to Hutch prevented him from curling away from the horrific images. Starsky had seen more death than he ever wanted to remember in his years on the force, but this sight, in this claustrophobic smashed train car combined with the searing pain in his body to make this truly a waking nightmare. "Hutch!" he cried again, feeling a steady hand on his elbow.
"Mister?" The frightened young face pushed in close to Starsky. "Mister, let me help you. Where are you going?"
More awareness was coming back to Starsky, and, with a start, he realized he was practically lying on top of Hutch--at least on top of his legs. "Help me, Bobby, please. Help me up some."
Together, they made their way to Hutch's head. There wasn't room for both of them, but Bobby stayed close to Starsky's back. Supporting him with his hands and knees. When Starsky reached his partner, he was instantly relieved to see his mouth moving. He got down as low as he could to hear the whisper.
"Oh, yeah, babe. Oh, yeah. I'm right here, and it's all over now. All over." He found Hutch's seeking right hand and gripped it as firmly as he could. "Hutch? Were you shot?" He couldn't see a bullet wound, but he had to ask. There'd been gunfire. There were two dead men obviously from Hutch's Magnum. Relief climbed a little higher when Hutch shook his head slowly.
"Okay," he murmured. "Okay, then. We're gonna get you out." At the same time he was trying to reassure Hutch, Starsky heard Bobby let out a gasp of distress.
"Bobby?" Starsky asked distractedly, trying to find the strength to get Hutch's head in his lap.
"Look! Oh, God, look at that!"
Reluctantly, Starsky turned his head to see what the boy was pointing at. The sight made him wince. It was their prisoner. Eyes open and staring with a switchblade buried in his throat.
"Look away, Bobby! Look at me!" Starsky directed firmly. "I need your help."
The boy continued to stare with trembling lips.
"Please, Bobby. Just listen to me and help me, okay? I need you to straighten my friend's legs out. Get your hands under his ankles but wait for me. Okay? Okay, Bobby?"
White-faced and trembling from head to toe, Bobby seemed to hear him that time, and he scooted down to Hutch's feet. "O-okay."
"Good boy." Starsky didn't waste anymore of his strength on words. His own pain and dizziness were making him barely able to function, but he had to get Hutch out. He had to get them all out. Hutch, Bobby, his mother…all of them, and he was the only one to do it. He pulled in a weak and shaky breath, then squeezed down on his side in order to reach Hutch's left arm. The cuffed and broken arm, he remembered with a heavy heart.
He went to the dead man's shoulders, and with a pain-filled cry, dragged him as far from Hutch as the cuffs and the limited room would allow. This gave him just enough room to reach Hutch's front pants' pockets. If the keys weren't there, Starsky knew the only other thing he could do to free his partner would be to force Leonard's arm out of the cuff. The thought of manipulating that dead limb in such a manner sickened him further.
Please let them be in his pocket.
Cold and stiff fingertips reached the top of the left pocket. The stretch to his upper body was torture, and from this position he could see more of the wound in Hutch's side. The one he'd been trying to put pressure on before the thugs had arrived. Starsky had no idea how much time had passed in that deadly exchange, but he knew just from looking that Hutch had lost a dangerous amount of blood. Hutch was also moaning again, crying out for him, and he wanted nothing more than to crawl back up to his partner's head, to cradle it and offer some kind of reassurance that they were all getting out of this alive.
The keys first, he reminded himself with grim determination, redoubling his efforts to search the pocket. It was flat and empty. Starsky sucked back his sigh of disappointment, and stretched farther to reach the right pocket.
"Starsky? Starsk, where…Starsk?" The weak plea coming from Hutch sounded more like delirium than consciousness. That scared Starsky even further, but still he tried to answer.
"I'm right here, partner, right here. I'm getting you out now." Starsky's shaking fingers covered the pocket. He found the small hard bulge at the bottom and gratefully dug inside until he was able to retrieve the ring. "Got it! Can you hear me, Hutch? I got the keys. We're on our way."
"Heard…a shot. Heard it. Starsk…."
Starsky was sorting through the ring to get the right key--the small one--as Hutch was muttering. "Easy, buddy. Bad guys are dead. You just lie still for me, okay?" Starsky forced his fingers to work and managed to insert the key without disturbing Hutch's arm too much. With a satisfying "click," the cuff was off the swollen and bruised wrist. Just knowing he'd accomplished that much--that Hutch was no longer cuffed to Leonard and they could move him to a more comfortable position where he could start to take care of him--buoyed Starsky at least a little bit.
He returned to the top of Hutch's head and tried to squat down, but that position put more pressure on his damaged midsection. This time, he groaned aloud with eyes squeezed tightly closed.
Hutch heard the sound, recognized it even in the shape he was in, and raised his right arm weakly, trying to reach behind him where Starsky was. "Starsk?" he cried out softly, his reserves long since spent.
Starsky swallowed hard and dropped to his knees. It gave him a little relief, but he knew he was on borrowed time. He was too badly hurt to expect much more from his body. Still, he tried again to reassure Hutch when he felt the arm bump his legs. "Sorry, partner. Didn't mean for you to hear that."
"How bad?" Hutch whispered, with enough coherency in his voice to surprise Starsky.
Starsky was getting his hands under Hutch's arms as he spoke. "Well, you've got a busted arm, so we're gonna go real slow moving you. I need to see what's causing that bleeding in your side and get that bandaged up--"
"Not me," Hutch interrupted. "You. I heard them. I saw… You. How bad?"
Starsky signaled to Bobby while he thought quickly, trying to figure out how much to tell his partner before he jumped to his own conclusions. "Bobby? Take his feet. We're gonna move him together, but wait for me."
The boy nodded and wrapped his arms around Hutch's ankles.
"Tell me, how bad?" Hutch tried again, his voice cracking and barely loud enough to be heard.
"Shhh, Hutch, easy. You don't need to worry about me, okay? They got some licks in, and my jaw feels like hamburger, but you stopped them before it got bad." Starsky prayed his lie would be believed. He only had a rudimentary understanding of first aid and injuries, but he knew Hutch was in shock, and he had to keep him as calm as he could and get the bleeding stopped.
Whether Hutch understood him or not he didn't know, because his words were barely out when Hutch went limp in his arms.
"Oh, God, Hutch!" Frantically, Starsky felt for the carotid artery in Hutch's cold-as-ice throat. It was there, but far too faint.
"Now, Bobby! Move backwards until I say stop."
Each inch they moved was agony for Starsky, but slowly and carefully they got Hutch into the more open area. Starsky was panting with pain and exertion, but he hurriedly ripped open the flaps of Hutch's shirt and peeled the jacket back as far as he could. The dim light made him want to scream in frustration, as he tried to see how bad the wound was. Then he remembered the flashlights the dead men had brought with them.
"Bobby, look around your feet; look all over the ground. See if you can find a flashlight. There should be two around here somewhere." Starsky placed the flat of his hand down on the wound in an attempt to slow the bleeding. This elicited a moan from Hutch, and his eyes fluttered open and shut a few times.
"Hey, babe, gonna stay awake for me?" Starsky encouraged, his own emotions severely reined in.
"That hurts," Hutch cried softly, making an attempt to turn away from the pressure.
Starsky was about to speak when Bobby held a large bundle aloft. "Look what I found! It's an emergency pack," he cried excitedly.
Having forgotten all about the pack he'd found earlier, Starsky could only nod in relief. Inside that pack would be a blanket for Hutch, and bandages, and a flashlight. "Rip it open," he ordered in a voice so hoarse and broken it could have belonged to a stranger.
The blanket whirred once as Bobby shook it open. Starsky caught it by the edge and wrapped it carefully around his partner, whispering to him as he tucked the edges around Hutch's legs with one hand, while the other smoothed the matted blond hair.
"I love you, Hutch," he murmured, not caring if Bobby heard him. The need to say it out-weighed anything else. The need to make Hutch hang on was primal. Basic. Strength gone, waiting for Bobby to unwrap the bandage, all he could do was repeat it from his heart--make Hutch hear him. "I love you…" Then he looked up in shock as the car began to fill with loud shouts. He and Bobby looked at each other for long seconds as the shouts drew nearer, both of them almost afraid to believe. When the first firefighter reached their area, they knew it was real. They had been found.
Harold Dobey sat as quietly as he could in the hard, stiff-backed chair, watching his unconscious friend closely. The doctor in charge had reluctantly given his permission for him to wait inside the room, instead of the waiting area. It had taken all of Dobey's power of persuasion to convince the doctor that he had to be there when his detective woke up.
The battered face was pale and still, against the stark white pillow, and it was so hard to not think back to that other time, not that long ago, when this same man had lain in a similar bed fighting for his life. This time, Dobey reminded himself seriously, his life was not in danger. Two broken ribs, a concussion, and more bruises and contusions than Dobey could count made up the worst of his injuries. He would recover after a period of rest and healing. From what little information Dobey had been able to learn regarding the details of the crash and Leonard's murder, full recovery would be no small miracle.
The captain glanced at his wristwatch, his sleepless night showing in the slightly unfocused numbers on the wide face. He scrunched his eyes a bit until he was able to clearly read the time, and with a start, realized it was almost 8:00 in the morning. He'd received the call from this small hospital at 12:30 that same morning. The news of the crash had already been reported by that time, and he had been dressed and ready to start the eighty-mile drive to the crash site when the phone interrupted him. The knowledge that his men had been rescued eased some of the fear the horrible images of the burning train flashing from his television had brought him, but the nurse told him almost nothing of their conditions, only that they had been brought in.
The car radio had filled in some of the blanks during the long, frightened drive. A big-rig truck had stalled on the tracks less than an hour after the train had departed the Bay City station. The collision had been unavoidable, since the engineer simply had no time to stop the train, and the truck had no ability to get off the tracks. Some of the cars had derailed while others caught fire in the horrific chain of events. Some passengers walked away without a scratch, but many more had been injured and some killed. The numbers weren't in yet, nor was the search and rescue of all of the cars complete at that point. Dobey sighed heavily, as he remembered hearing these reports and wondering about his men.
When he'd arrived at the hospital, controlled chaos met him. Triage teams were in the parking lot, and ambulances slowly negotiating narrow passageways brought in some of the rescued passengers. The town only had one hospital, but there were two others in the surrounding area, and all were sharing the unexpected patient load.
Now he waited. Waited for Starsky to wake up. Waited for Hutch to come out of surgery. Waited to know….
Starsky moaned softly from the middle bed. The room held four beds, all occupied with men both asleep and awake with scared and confused expressions. Dobey ignored them as he hurried to Starsky's side. Black smudged eyes opened to look at him dazedly, and he picked up a limp hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze.
"Starsky. You're awake." Somehow, saying the obvious aloud was reassuring to the worried man.
"Cap'n? How?" Starsky moved his head slowly as he spoke, taking in the room and his surroundings. Dobey could hear his breathing quicken before he spoke again. "Where's Hutch?!"
"Hutch is in surgery," Dobey said as calmly as he could, making sure he had his free hand on Starsky's shoulder. It was a wise move, since the injured detective immediately tried to get up.
"Surgery. My God, while I've been just laying here?" Starsky tried to shake off Dobey's grip and move the sheet at the same time. "Let me up, Cap'n. I need to find out how my partner is."
"Lie down, Starsky, you're not going anywhere, and if you thrash around you'll get me tossed out of this room." Dobey punctuated his words with a gentle but firm shove to Starsky's slightly raised shoulders, forcing him back against his pillow. The sheet was redrawn a little awkwardly under Starsky's chin, and Dobey smoothed it as he tried for a soothing tone. "Hutch is going to be okay, and as soon as he's in the recovery room they're sending a nurse to tell me, so we'll know right away."
"What are they operatin' on him for?" Starsky held still for the answer, recognizing the return of the headache that had been present ever since the train had crashed. He thought back to his last glimpse of his partner, as they were both loaded into an ambulance. After that, he couldn't remember anything else.
"He lost a lot of blood," Dobey began.
"I know that, I was there." The throbbing was hard to ignore, as Starsky tried to speak slowly. "I couldn't get him clear to be able to stop it until the very end, and by that time the rescue crew was there. I knew it was bad, though." One hand flew up in frustration to pull at a tangled curl. "I should'a--"
"Starsky, you were in a train wreck with serious injuries yourself. I'm sure you did all you could for your partner." Dobey glanced down at the tortured face, wondering if he should wait to make his next comment. He thought for only a moment before he jumped in. "Starsky, I spent a lot of time last night in the waiting room with a young man named Bobby. He was waiting for his mother to be treated."
"Did you hear if she's gonna be okay?" Starsky asked. "Bobby was real worried about her, but then he came to help. He was…oh, shit." He paused to angrily wipe at his eyes, momentarily focusing on something other than fear for his partner, as he remembered Bobby's fear for his mother. The boy had so willingly gone to his aide….
"Yes, I did." Dobey was grateful to have some good news to give his stricken detective. "They're keeping her a day for observation, but she didn't need surgery, only a pile of stitches. Bobby called his father in Portland--that's where they're from--and his dad was catching the next plane. They're all going to be fine."
"That's real good," Starsky said briefly, his thoughts already back on Hutch.
Dobey tried again. "Starsky, Bobby told me what he saw. Between that and what the ambulance attendants who brought you in told me, I think I know a bit of what happened." He finished carefully, not wanting to upset Starsky any more.
"So, you know about Leonard," Starsky replied wearily.
"Yes, I know." The breath Dobey took in was deep and shuddering, literally moving his ribcage. "Starsky, I…" the words died in Dobey's throat as he imagined the horror his men had experienced. What Starsky and Hutch both had to see and fight to live through.
"Finish tellin' me about Hutch," Starsky demanded. "I don't want to think about anything else right now."
The captain nodded simply. "Okay, we can talk about the rest of it when you're feeling stronger."
Dobey placed a palm over Starsky's hand a little awkwardly. "Something punctured Hutch's side, you know that from what you saw, but the bleeding wasn't just on the outside, it was internal as well."
"They're operating to repair the damage. That's all I know, Starsky."
Starsky felt an unwelcome tremor in his chin, and he used a finger to steady it. "How long?"
"Since the crash?" Dobey asked to clarify the question.
"No, how long have they been operating?"
"I'm not sure, son. It's been a few hours now, I guess."
"Jesus." Starsky turned pleading eyes on his superior. "Cap'n, I can't just lay here without knowing something. Please, go find out how he is."
Dobey could see the grief and barely restrained panic, so he stopped himself from explaining he'd just checked on Hutch's condition not thirty minutes before. "Okay, I'll be right back, but you stay in that bed!"
With a warning nod Dobey headed for the door, only to have it open before he could reach it. He stood back to make room for an exhausted-looking man wearing green hospital scrubs.
"Hello, I'm Dr. Olson, are you the man waiting for information on Detective Kenneth Hutchinson? I was told you were waiting in this room instead of the waiting area."
Dobey ignored the disapproving tone, but before he could answer, Starsky cried out loudly from the bed, "How's my partner?"
The doctor stepped to the bed with one finger at his lips. "Calm down, there are other patients here trying to rest."
Starsky didn't give a damn about the other patients, and he asked again in only a slightly lower voice. "How's my partner?"
The doctor glanced at Dobey, who was returning to the bed himself.
"Doctor, this is Detective Hutchinson's partner, Detective David Starsky. He just woke up a few minutes ago, and he's been very anxious to get some information. We both are," he added in a low tone, praying the news would be good. The sight of Starsky's white, stricken face caused an uncomfortable lump in his throat.
The doctor reached a hand down to Starsky's shoulder, patting him a few times before he spoke. "Your partner came through the surgery beautifully, and I was able to repair the damage caused by the puncture. He'll be receiving blood transfusions as well as IV antibiotics while we get him back on his feet, but I believe he'll be just fine."
Starsky closed his eyes, savoring the words, incapable of speech at the moment. However, the men watching him closely saw everything on his face that he wasn't saying with words. Bruised and battered though it was, the expression was still very recognizable. David Starsky was beaming.
Even though he was pulling a casserole from the oven when the shout reached his ears, Starsky shouted back, a small smile on his face at the petulant tone that had been delivered.
"Whatcha want, Blondie?"
"I want that hanger thing. My arm is itching under this damn cast!"
"Go get the hanger thing, then. I'm gettin' dinner and your legs aren't broken," Starsky responded firmly, laughter just under the surface of his words.
"Come on, Starsk, I just got comfortable on the couch, and I don't want to get up and find it."
"I'm holding a hot dish of noodles and God knows what else right now. You're gonna have to wait or find it yourself."
Some heavy grumbling was issued from the living room as Starsky put the casserole down, opened the lid, and then began stirring it a bit suspiciously. He only looked up briefly when Hutch entered the kitchen, scratching furiously inside the top edge of his cast as he leaned against the doorframe. "I can't find it."
Starsky put the spoon down and turned around with a smile. "Come 'ere, I'll find something that will work," he said, beginning to rummage through the silverware drawer.
Barefoot, and clad in only a tank-style shirt and cut-off shorts, Hutch shuffled over to stand next to his partner. He extended his casted arm gratefully and waited for the cure. "Hurry?"
"Here we go, this'll work." Starsky held a long wooden skewer in his hand, as he grabbed Hutch's arm carefully.
"What the hell is that?" Hutch asked, then began to wriggle. "Hurry, Starsk."
"Big baby." Starsky inserted the skewer and began to gently move it up and down inside the cast. "To answer your question, this is a fondue skewer."
"When do we ever eat fondue?" Hutch wondered aloud, even with his eyes closed in bliss. "Oh, yeah, there, babe…right there."
Starsky smiled indulgently and increased his efforts to bring relief to the encased arm. "I seem to remember those words from our distant past." Hutch had been home from the hospital for over a week now, but it was only the last day or two that he'd started to feel like himself again, the casted arm not withstanding. "Have I told you today how good it is to have you back home?"
Hutch opened his eyes and wrapped his right hand around Starsky's neck. He leaned in tight and very softly kissed him. "No, I think you forgot to mention it today, but you can tell me right after you tell me when we've eaten fondue. Do we have a fondue pot?"
Laughing hard, Starsky withdrew the skewer and tossed it in the sink before going to Hutch's waist and drawing him close. "Somewhere in this house we have a fondue pot, but don't ask me where it came from, and, no, we've never eaten fondue." His hand traveled lower to caress Hutch's hip and nearly naked thigh. "Wanna see what we're eating tonight, though?"
Together, they walked to the steaming casserole, and Starsky reclaimed the spoon, giving the dish a few heavy stirs.
"What is that?" Hutch asked, taking a tentative sniff. "I can see the noodles, but the rest is all gray."
"I have no idea," Starsky replied cheerfully. "You know as well as I do that all the kind ladies in our life stocked both our refrigerators and freezers with all these dishes. All I do is read the attached note and try not to burn it, I claim no responsibility for knowing what it is."
"Which kind lady gave us that one? I know it wasn't Edith, because Edith knows how to cook."
"I'm tellin' you I have no idea. The note wasn't signed." Starsky closed the lid again.
"If I left that at someone's house, I wouldn't sign the note, either," Hutch said decisively. "Here we are convalescents, and someone leaves us that. It's enough to make you wonder if she really likes us at--"
Starsky silenced him with a deep kiss, one ripe with meaning, then released him to say, "You know what, babe? I feel all better now. How about you?"
Hutch sighed loudly, feeling a hunger that had nothing to do with food start somewhere deep inside him. "I feel pretty damn good, Starsk, but I don't feel like dinner."
"No. I think we both need an early night, starting right now." With a smile heavy with promise, Hutch led a more than willing Starsky toward the bedroom, and neither spared a glance at the gray-colored food intended to satisfy their appetites. That, they'd take care of on their own.
The setting sun provided a warm, soft hue to Starsky's bedroom. The bed itself was unmade, since Hutch had napped earlier, but the rumpled sheets looked very inviting to both men.
"I need to kiss you," Hutch stated simply, wrapping his good arm around Starsky's waist and pulling him close. He gently touched his nose to Starsky's, then nuzzled against the bristly cheeks. "Been so long, huh?"
"Too long, Hutch, but are you sure you feel...ready?" Starsky's lips remained parted after he spoke, chin tilted in anticipation.
Hutch just nodded and began to show Starsky how ready he was. Their kiss was deep and long and soft and lovely. It was as intoxicating as wine, making both feel light-headed. They parted at the same time, moist lips simply smiling at each other, as they stood chest to chest. Hutch moved his hand from Starsky's waist, skimming it over supple denim full with curves. His breath quickened when he felt Starsky's answering stroke, first on his covered buttock, then on his bare thigh. He couldn't contain a little shiver when that hand made its way up past the hem of his cut-offs to explore.
Hutch pushed forward, but Starsky pulled back with a deep, throaty chuckle. His hand remained inside Hutch's shorts, splayed fingers softly kneading. "Why, Detective Hutchinson, you seem to be missing your underwear."
"You're such a good investigative cop," Hutch said, wearing a faint blush on cheeks that had been too pale for weeks. "Its hard to get dressed with one hand, so the less I put on..."
"Means the less I have to take off," Starsky finished for him. "I think I'll take care of that right now."
Starsky fumbled deliberately at Hutch's zipper, delighted to feel the hardness waiting for him. The snap pulled free with a loud "crack," but it went unheard compared to the loud knock at the front door that occurred at the same time.
Both men looked at each other in shock, as if a knock at the front door was an unknown event. "Is that someone at the door?" Hutch asked stupidly, momentarily forgetting the stream of visitors they'd been having since, first Starsky, and then himself were released from the hospital.
Starsky shook his head at his partner, grinning slightly at the shocked expression he wore. "Well, I don't think the wind did the knocking, so, yes, I guess someone's at the door."
"If we ignore it, they'll go away," Hutch said with determination, again pulling Starsky close.
"If we ignore it, they'll either bust in or call an ambulance," Starsky replied, pulling out of Hutch's embrace. "We're convalescents, remember? We're supposed to be here." He ran a quick hand through his hair, then glanced at Hutch's flushed face, and the way-too-tight shorts he was now wearing. "You stay here, I'll get it. If it's the Avon Lady, I'll be right back."
"Try and get rid of whoever it is fast, okay?" Hutch asked, then went to the bed and began making a show of smoothing the sheets.
Starsky didn't bother replying, but he did close the bedroom door on his way out. The knocking at the front door had started again, while he tried to quickly straighten his clothing. "Coming, hang on!"
He opened the door to find Lizzie and Arturo standing there, both wearing impatient expressions. "About time, Starsky. Liz and I were about to set up a picnic right here on your balcony." Arturo brushed past Starsky as he spoke, bearing a large covered bowl.
"Um, hi," Starsky mumbled, quickly grabbing a six-pack of Pepsi that Lizzie was juggling with another bundle, as she, too, entered the apartment. "This is a surprise, guys."
"We did think about calling, Starsky, but the afternoon started to disappear on us," Lizzie said, already inside the kitchen. "Then we had to stop by my place to pick up the food I made last night. We figured you and Hutch must be getting pretty tired of warmed-up casseroles by now."
"That's the understatement of the year, but you really shouldn't've gone to the trouble."
You really, really shouldn't have, Starsky thought in frustration, wondering what Hutch was thinking of this turn of events from behind the bedroom door.
Arturo settled himself on the couch, as Lizzie started to busy herself in the kitchen. He smiled at Starsky warmly. "We haven't had much of a chance to really visit with you and Hutch. I mean, sure, we took the drive when you were both still laid up in the hospital, but neither of you were even awake very long. Eighty-mile drive, too." He finished with a laugh.
"True, but I seem to remember you were still wearing that fancy hospital headband at the time, Arturo," Starsky teased back, before joining him on the couch. "You'd barely been released yourself, then."
"Speaking of being released," Arturo said, changing the topic, "where's your partner? Is he napping?"
"What the hell is this?" Lizzie cried from the kitchen, at the same time the bedroom door opened, and Hutch joined them wearing a pair of loose fitting jeans and a crew-necked t-shirt. A barely there wink greeted Starsky before Hutch answered Lizzie's question.
"Thatwas going to be our dinner, but unless I heard you wrong, you've brought us something else?" Hutch walked to the middle of the living room as he spoke, then turned his head to catch Arturo's eyes. "And, no, I wasn't napping. I'm just about done with the invalid routine."
"Beside the fact he took a two-hour nap earlier this afternoon," Starsky supplied, followed by a chuckle.
"It wasn't two hours," Hutch protested loudly, then turned to Lizzie who had just joined him where he stood.
Lizzie laughed at the harmless bickering, then reaching up, captured Hutch's face between her hands. She inspected him closely before kissing his cheek. "You do look better, thank God. Still too pale, though. Why don't you sit down?"
"I think I'll do just that," Hutch made his way to the couch, perching on the arm next to where Starsky sat. "You going to join us?"
"Nope," she responded, turning back to the kitchen. "I'm going to toss out your intended dinner, because it looks like dog food, and then lay out this nice meal we brought. We're eating right away. Arturo and I aren't staying late. He needs to get home and you two still need rest."
"I'll give you a hand, partner," Arturo said, quickly getting up from the couch. "Let's get these two bums fed."
Ten minutes later, the group was seated around Starsky's kitchen table, enjoying the shrimp and vegetable salad, along with numerous pieces of hot crusty French bread, dripping butter.
"This is incredible, Lizzie," Hutch commented, eating more than he had since he'd been injured. "I'd forgotten what fresh food tasted like."
"Listen to him," Starsky grumbled, lips shiny with butter. "I've been keeping us fed."
Hutch found himself drawn to those lips, briefly imagining the extra softness and taste provided by the butter, so he hurriedly pulled his eyes away and turned to Arturo. "Have the Feds turned any connection yet between the punks that jumped you and...Leonard?"
The day following Hutch's surgery, federal agents, as well as senior detectives from the police division investigating the assault on Arturo, had interviewed him and Starsky. The two teams were working together to configure both crime scenes: the robbery and assault at the coffee shop, with the attempted murder of Starsky and Hutch and the murder of William Leonard. The killers on the train had been traced back to the Washington-based crime outfit that Leonard had been working for.
Arturo looked up quickly, then put down the piece of bread he'd been eating. "No, nothing. You already know the perps that took me down left no fingerprints and were wearing masks. I've been interviewed so many times I've lost count. They ask the same questions, and I give the same answers. I didn't see their faces or recognize their voices." He glanced around the table, taking in all his friends in turn. "I'll tell you something. I have a new appreciation for the witnesses we question every day. Sometimes the answers just aren't there."
Lizzie covered his hand briefly, before starting to clear the table. Starsky started to rise, but she motioned him back down. "I've got this." She made a quick trip to the sink, then came back to the table. "I also have my partner. And we have our friends--you two. You all came way too close." A deep sigh followed her words and she quickly gathered more dishes.
Arturo watched her back for a moment, before addressing Starsky and Hutch. "Lizzie's right. We're damned lucky to have you two back. Hearing about what happened--"
Starsky glanced at Hutch, noting the change in his complexion. The events of that night, when they'd both had to find resources they hadn't known they possessed to save the other, would not be forgotten easily. They'd spent a lot of time talking it out with each other, once they were home. Facing what each had felt when he thought the other could be lost. Combined with this, was inevitable guilt that Leonard had been murdered while in their custody. Both knew they'd done everything in their power to stop it, but that didn't change anything. The man was dead. It was all still raw pain to remember, and it belonged only to them. Even friends as close as Arturo and Lizzie would never know its depth.
"You're right," Starsky interrupted quickly. "We were real lucky." He cleared his throat before speaking again. "How about I make some coffee?"
Returning from the kitchen, Lizzie only had to look once at the forced smiles before answering quickly. "Sorry, but we have to be heading out now. Carolyn will be wondering what's taking so long."
"You should have brought her," Hutch said, getting to his feet.
"Next time," Arturo answered hurriedly. "This was spur of the moment."
Neither Starsky nor Hutch reminded them that they'd said the food had been made the night before. They all just walked as a group to the front door and exchanged warm good-byes.
Hutch closed the door sharply, then walked to the kitchen. Soon, the sound of running water reached Starsky's ears, and he joined his partner at the sink.
"Better finish cleaning up, huh?" Hutch said with a bright smile, beginning to wield a sponge one-handed. He looked up in surprise when Starsky took it away from him.
"No, that can wait ''til morning." He reached a hand behind Hutch's neck, his clasp warm and possessive. "It won't always hurt this bad, babe."
Hutch shut his eyes, nodding as he released a shuddering sigh. "I know. It's just that sometimes...I can still hear it in my head. Their voices. What they were doing to you."
Starsky tightened his grip. "And sometimes when I close my eyes, I can still see you layin' there, with all that blood, and me not knowing if I could get you out. If I could stop it."
"But you did get me out."
"And you did stop them from killing me."
"And we both survived."
"That's right," Starsky whispered, reaching his other hand around Hutch's waist. "We both survived."
Neither spoke again. They walked as one into the bedroom, then Starsky lit the few candles in the room before pulling off his shirt. Shoes and socks were removed before he sat on the bed and held a hand out to Hutch, beckoning him closer. "Come 'ere."
Hutch never took his eyes from his partner's face as he crossed the floor to join him. Once seated, he turned bright eyes on Starsky, his expression thoughtful and tender.
"Whatcha thinking about?" Starsky asked, lacing his fingers through Hutch's fine hair.
"About how good you look in candlelight," Hutch answered in a whisper. "Or moonlight or sunlight…about how good it's going to feel to make love to you." Hutch's hand was slow and gentle, as he stroked Starsky's side and belly. Appreciating the bare skin that had been wrapped in tape to protect his healing ribs until a few days ago. "So…good."
The honeyed tone Hutch used went straight to Starsky's heart. "We're gonna make love to each other...slow and easy," he said gently, finding the bottom of Hutch's t-shirt and pulling it free. "And I'm not the only one in this room who looks pretty damn good in candlelight." Starsky started to lift the shirt. "Raise your arms."
Hutch did as he was told, pulling both arms over his head. The weight of the cast was barely noticeable when Starsky began nuzzling under his right armpit, holding his shirt high. Hutch squirmed in pleasure, delighting in each tug Starsky's teeth were delivering to the hair there, then a kiss in the same spot, before the shirt was pulled over his head.
His arms remained over his head, as he enjoyed the feel of his partner's delicate touch, painting his sternum and throat with just the tips of his nails, then Hutch felt his arms being lowered by his elbows. Somehow, he then found himself on his back, not quite sure how he'd gotten there. Or when his legs had reached the bed, for that matter.
"Down here, babe," Starsky replied from the foot of the bed. He was working to remove Hutch's shoes and socks as he spoke.
"Why don't you get back up here?" Hutch settled a pillow behind his head as he spoke. Now he could see his partner, and he loved what he saw. The auburn hint in the dark hair backlit by the glowing candles. The working muscles in both Starsky's arms and stomach. The slightly flushed, bare chest. He could look at this man forever, but right now he needed to touch. "Don't make me wait."
"Don't be so impatient," Starsky said with a wide grin. He took hold of both Hutch's bare ankles, spreading his legs until there was enough room for Starsky to knee-walk in between them. Briefly, he hovered over Hutch's groin, then lowered himself to plant a trail of moist kisses along Hutch's jaw and throat. "See," he murmured against his neck. "I'm right here."
"Right where I want you," Hutch responded, curling a leg over Starsky's thighs to press him closer. Then using his good hand, he stroked the back of Starsky's neck, guiding him back to his mouth. "Gonna kiss you a whole lot," he declared, then ran his tongue around Starsky's lips, circling them wetly, before starting a gentle dart to part them.
Starsky eagerly welcomed that seeking tongue inside his mouth, but he let the gentleness only last a second, before he took the lead, and that sweet kiss changed to a searing thing. Together, they hummed their pleasure, and neither knew how long they took to just enjoy this simple act again. Letting it ignite their passion into a steady blaze.
"I could kiss you all night," Hutch got out between breaths, when they finally parted.
"Sorry, Blondie, but with what I have in mind for us--well, let's just say you'll be sleeping like a baby when we're done."
"Says you," Hutch whispered.
"Says me, all right." Starsky returned in a very confident voice. He rolled off Hutch to lie next to his left side, right against the hard cast. Then he used gentle fingers to trace around the bandage Hutch still wore over his surgical site. "Just one thing, though."
"What's that?" Hutch asked, picking up Starsky's hand and depositing it on his own swollen crotch.
Starsky ran the heel of his hand over the cloth-covered mound several times before he answered, waiting until Hutch began to squirm. "I'm directing the show. I know you're feeling okay--and I intend to make you feel even better momentarily--but I don't want you getting too physical, so I'm in charge."
"You love to get tough," Hutch hissed out, his concentration all between his legs and what Starsky was doing to him with that hand.
"I love you."
"That's mutual, babe." With an effort, Hutch pushed Starsky's hand away and started fumbling for his own zipper. His erection was demanding its freedom. "Just watch how fast I'll be on my belly once I get these damn jeans off, then you can direct this show and screw me into tomorrow."
Starsky laughed deeply and replaced Hutch's hand with his own. The stubborn zipper came down easily, and one fast tug had Hutch's jeans and briefs bunched on his thighs. Starsky stared unabashedly, soaking up the beauty of all that naked masculinity. He gripped the long cock firmly, just holding it for now. "Nuh, uh. That's not how we're doing it."
It was impossible to think clearly with Starsky's hand wrapped around his hungry length, making him throb, making him want to thrust, making him want to reciprocate. He needed to feel Starsky, needed him out of those pants. He grabbed Starsky's waistband. "No more talking. You get naked and then I'll do any damn thing you want."
"That's an offer only a fool would pass up." Starsky got off the bed in order to expeditiously shed the last of his clothing. He undressed with his back to Hutch, well aware of his partner's fascination for his ass. His own erection was swaying, so Starsky used a hand to steady it as he climbed back on the bed, kneeling next to his partner.
"God, you're so beautiful," Hutch whispered, reaching for that thick length he couldn't take his eyes from.
"Flattery will get you royally laid, babe," Starsky returned, quivering when Hutch found his balls. Even one-handed, Hutch was delivering an exquisite torture to the snug testicles--first letting them lie in his large palm, then squeezing them ever so slowly and softly.
"Wish I had the use of both my hands," Hutch said regretfully, leaving Starsky's balls to trace a thumb around the head of his moist cock. "I don't like having to do things one at a time."
"Aw, man. Aw, Hutch…God, so good. You're doing just fine. Too fine, in fact. Been so long since you touched me like this. I feel like a horny seventeen-year-old."
"You feel pretty damn good to me." Hutch began to stroke in earnest, curling his hand tightly. He made the rhythm as erotic as he could, ending each stroke with a tease to the head and putting just a little pressure under the crown--enough to make Starsky cry his name again.
"Yeah, Mr. Director?" Hutch laughed before resuming his actions, knowing he was in control of his partner's pleasure, and reveling in the joy that brought him, while he brought joy to this man he loved with all his being. So caught up in the feel of that delicate skin sliding through his closed fist, at first Hutch barely registered the fact that it left him with a smacking noise, then he looked bereft. "No fair, Starsk."
"Shut up, Blondie, and lay your gorgeous self back down." Starsky punctuated his words with a slight shove to Hutch's shoulders. Once Hutch had complied, Starsky hurriedly moved to strip the forgotten jeans and underwear from the strong thighs. He took a moment to massage them, one hand on each thigh, before seeking out the satiny inner skin, lavishing it with attention. "Gotta get you real, real hard."
"I am hard," came Hutch's rejoinder. "Feel me. I'm real, real hard."
"Little bit more." Starsky dipped his head and drew Hutch's cock slowly into his mouth, loving the gasp of surprise Hutch issued, as if he'd never gone down on him before. Starsky worked the head first, tonguing it wickedly while his hand gripped and caressed the base. Then he tugged at the sweat-dampened hair just to entice, letting that tiny bit of pain sharpen the pleasure his mouth and tongue were bringing his now groaning partner. Starsky sucked in one inch at a time, until his mouth could hold no more, and Hutch was simply writhing.
That's it, baby. That's it. Feel my mouth all around you, making you so hot. So crazy. Gonna do you so good. Starsky continued his silent encouragement along with his sensuous sucking, until he tasted Hutch's juices and knew he had to pull off. He knelt over him, panting, catching his breath, and trying to control his own raging desire.
Hutch's wet cock stood straight up in anger. Its owner was even less pleased. "Starsky!"
"Hang on, we're gettin' to the main event now."
Hutch groaned in frustration, then watched as Starsky fumbled in the nightstand drawer. His frustration turned to renewed anticipation, when he saw the half empty tube Starsky held in his hand.
"Me?" he asked, beginning to draw up his knees.
Starsky pushed them back down. "Us," he answered, quickly squirting a stream of the silky jelly over Hutch's erection, then spread it carefully, knowing Hutch was right on the edge. He handed the tube over when he was finished, then turned around, straddling Hutch's chest on all fours, his bottom only inches from Hutch's face. "Put some in me, babe."
Too excited and far too mesmerized by that lush ass to worry about how he was going to balance himself on one arm while penetrating his partner, Hutch simply did as he was told. He coated the warm passageway thoroughly, then pumped two fingers inside it, relaxing the muscle.
Starsky bit his lip, the feel of his lover's fingers stretching and working his asshole so intense, he was afraid just that was going to make him lose it. "'Nuff," he cried hoarsely, crawling forward away from those magical digits. "That's all we need."
Hutch watched in fascination, as Starsky turned around to face him again, then deliberately knelt over Hutch's raging erection. He grabbed it at the base, then positioned it over his center, rubbing the head against his clenching orifice to wet it more. He grinned at Hutch, who was staring at him wide-eyed and open mouthed. Without a word he lowered himself, taking an inch inside, letting the head of Hutch's rigid cock spear him and open him to this delight. "Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. I got you now."
"Who has who?" Hutch wondered aloud in delicious confusion. One centimeter at a time, his shaft was engulfed in that tight heat, making his blood roar in his ears, as he watched Starsky's face. Watched each erotic gesture that massaged his cock until Starsky was sitting, squirming, flush on his lap. "Oh, babe."
Starsky was breathing as hard as if he'd just completed a foot race, but his expression was pure smug lust. "Gonna fuck me now, baby?" he asked, as he began to raise himself again, just enough to let the tiniest amount of air pass between their joined bodies.
Hutch couldn't answer with words, but his hips made his intent clear. With his good arm wrapped around Starsky's ass, helping his rise and fall, Hutch began to pump.
It was shattering, this union. Hearts pounded as their bodies sought to bring each other to a sweet crescendo. Again and again, Starsky raised up while Hutch soared to meet him, then finally he anchored him down. Starsky sat still, while he watched Hutch's face change, watched the orgasm first show itself there, sparking the blue eyes until they closed tight, and Hutch's mouth went slack, then he felt the creamy jets inside him. It was that look. That look of pure bliss and the knowledge that he'd put that look on Hutch's face, that finished him. With no additional stimulation to his throbbing cock, Starsky came, spraying Hutch's chest.
Long moments were spent staring at each other in wonder. Amazed that they could always make it this good, this special. Their caresses were tender as each loathed to leave the other, needing to touch, to relax and come down from the peak while still joined. Both knowing that nowhere on the planet were there any two people more in love than they were.
"I love you." From the heart. From the soul. Said simultaneously by both men. Then Starsky eased himself up and off of Hutch's body, lying next to him to cuddle close.
"Wanna take a bath together?" Starsky asked, after a few quiet moments. His fingers dipped in the fluid on Hutch's chest as he spoke, motivated by a strong need to prolong the intimacy a little bit longer.
"Only if the bathtub is now located bedside." Hutch was simply too sated to move, although the offer was tempting.
Starsky took his hand. "Come on. One quick bath. I'll even use those big sponges on you, and I know for damn sure you'll probably fall asleep in there."
Hutch allowed himself to be towed, knowing when he was out-maneuvered. "Well, if I do, don't let me drown, okay?"
"Not a chance. Don't you know by now that with me you'll always be safe?"
Hutch felt a lump in his throat, as he digested the truth and beauty of those words. "Yeah, that's one thing in this world I can always count on. Just like I know the sun will rise and set, and tomorrow I'll love you even more than I do today."
"That's mutual, Blondie."
Together, they headed for the tub.
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