All the King's Horses
by Lucy

SHSVS, Episode 801

**********

Starsky awakened and stretched, pulling back sharply in response to the pain the movement caused with the accustomed morning stiffness. With an almost silent groan, he turned to look at the lump of covers next to him. A tiny wisp of blond hair poked above the blanket. He snaked his hand under the covers to touch the sleep-warmed skin, ghosting a touch from Hutch's shoulder to his hand.

"Starsky..." the lump that was Ken Hutchinson moaned." We don't have to be at work until three. We didn't get to bed until almost one and it isn't even seven, yet. Why are you awake?"

"We've got the second shift for the next two weeks. I like second shift. You know why?" Starsky asked, running his hand back up the path it had just taken, resting it in the warm hollow of Hutch's neck.

"No, I give up. Why?"

"Because we get to sleep late in the morning because we don't have to be at work until three," Starsky replied happily.

"Then why the hell did you wake me up?" Hutch asked, irritation plain in his tone.

"Because there's something else we get to do when we work the late shift."

"What's that?"

"We get to fool around if we wake up early, and still have time to go back to sleep before we have to be at work by three," Starsky supplied with a broad smile.

"Why didn't you say so?" Hutch answered as he pulled his partner under the cocoon of covers with a soft laugh.

Starsky followed eagerly, melting into the touch of Hutch's lips against his. Their hands wandered over the angles and planes of their bodies with familiarity, the touches easily inflaming their early morning erections. Starsky straddled his lover and groaned his delight when Hutch wrapped him up in his long arms. The friction and rhythm perfect.

"God, Hutch, you feel so good. I could stay like this forever."

"You must have me confused with some other lover, babe. Your skin is so hot when you first wake up it's like being covered in lava, and I'm going to burn...ummmm, yeah, just like that," Hutch purred.

Starsky pelted Hutch's neck and upper chest with an alternating array of soft kisses and strong sucks intended to inflame. Starsky smiled at his obvious success when, a few seconds later, Hutch arched sharply against him as his climax shook his long frame and bathed the space between their groins with his hot discharge. Starsky tried to slow down and prolong his own completion, but his lover evidently had other plans as Hutch's fingers dug deeply into his ass, pressing him down in the hot sticky fluid, then increased his own movements, drawing out Starsky's release in spite of his intentions otherwise.

Starsky settled against his lover and snuggled his head against Hutch's smooth chest. After several long minutes to calm his breathing, he raised slightly, "See...aren't you glad we're on the second shift?" Starsky asked sleepily as they both drifted off.

The sound of the phone ringing was the next thing that registered. With a groan, he batted at the alarm clock twice before fully realizing the sound was coming from the phone.

"Starsky."

"Let me speak to your partner," Dobey's voice demanded.

"Just a minute, Captain. Let me get him awake for you." Starsky nudged the lump next to him. "Hutch…Hutch, wake up. It's for you. It's Dobey."

A hand reached out from under the blankets to grab the phone. "Hutchinson," came the sleepy answer.

"Did you give the deposition in the Stewart case yesterday?" Dobey asked.

"Yes," Hutch answered, struggling to sit up and pushing Starsky slightly off him in the process. "I met with the stenographer at the DA's office about four, maybe a little after. Why?"

"Because they can't find it. I need you to get in here and give it again until they can locate the original. The DA is set to meet with Stewart's attorney tomorrow, first thing. She needs that information to review tonight so she can be prepared."

"What do you mean, they can't find it? It should be on the stenographer's tape. She recorded it while she typed the deposition. Are you saying they can't find that either, and it never got transcribed?" Hutch asked.

"The stenographer who worked yesterday, the one you probably worked with, started her vacation today. There was nothing from you in her in-box or anywhere else. So get your tail in here as quick as you can, so you can give it to someone else before you go on duty."

Hutch groaned loudly as he threw the covers off. "Yes, sir. I'll be there as soon as I get ready."

"Good. The supervisor of that department has her tail in a wringer, trying to explain the screw-up. Evidently, yours isn't the only one MIA. I'm sorry about this, but it's necessary."

"Right...I'll be in as soon as I can." Hutch passed the phone back to Starsky who hung it up without looking at it.

"What's up?" Starsky asked, rubbing a hand over his face to encourage an alertness he was far from feeling.

"Clerical error. My depo from yesterday is in the Twilight Zone, and I've got to go in and give another one ASAP." Hutch tossed back the covers and pushed himself up off the bed. With a smile and a ruffle of Starsky's curls, he added, "You don't have to get up. Stay where you are. I'll see you when you get in. Bring me some of that leftover meatloaf, will ya?"

"Sure. See you later, love you," came Starsky's mumbled reply as he did as Hutch suggested and dug down a little deeper in the warm spot just vacated by his lover.

**********

"Would you like a cup of coffee while you finish reviewing that, Detective?" the secretary asked. "I just made a fresh pot. How do you like it?"

"Black, thanks, that'd be great." Hutch watched as the too-thin woman handed him the cup she had in her hand.

"Here, take mine. I'll pour another cup."

"Thank you." Hutch took a sip of the coffee, closing his eyes in pleasure. It was strong and hot and unusually good for precinct-house brew. He had been in such a hurry to get there, he hadn't taken the time to make coffee at home before leaving. This was just the jump-start he needed after the late hours the previous night and the early morning wake-up. He smiled to himself as he remembered the details of the first wake-up Starsky had given him, and felt a stirring tingle with the memory. The call from Dobey wasn't nearly as pleasant a memory. He quickly finished his coffee and silently hoped the secretary would come back and offer a refill.

As if reading his mind, she poked her head around the corner. With his most charming smile, Hutch held out his cup entreatingly. "Sure, I'll be right back." Hutch watched as she left with his cup. There was something vaguely familiar about her, but he couldn't place it. She was stick-thin with mousy brown hair and dark-rimmed glasses that hid much of her face. She must be new; I don't think I've seen her here before...seems nice enough. He gave her a bright smile as he accepted the refill and went back to reading the transcript of his replacement deposition before signing it into permanent record.

Finishing, he picked up the pen from the desktop, fumbling it slightly in the process. Hutch signed his name and pushed the paper in the file folder it had come out of. The room seemed unusually warm to him, and he wiped at the sweat on his upper lip before he stood. The dizziness was worse once he was standing, and he held fiercely to the table-top to keep from falling.

"Is everything okay, Detective? You don't look too well. Can I help you?" The mousy secretary's voice seemed to be coming from a long distance away, even though her face was very close to his own.

"I don't feel so good...if you could give me a hand to the men's room..." Hutch leaned slightly on her frail shoulder, and he followed her lead out of the small interrogation room.

He wasn't paying too much attention to anything beyond trying to put one foot in front of the other, and he'd walked several yards before he realized they were not in the main hallway of the DA's wing of the municipal building, but the ancillary hallway that ran the length of the back of the building used for deliveries and prisoner transport.

"I just need to get to the john and splash a little cold water on my face... This isn't the way...."

"I called your boss, Captain Dobey. Don't you remember? He said there were two other detectives out with some sort of flu. He said they described it as coming on like a freight train. He was going to call your partner to come pick you up and take you home. You're not to go by the station at all. He didn't want you to expose anyone else."

"That makes sense," Hutch muttered.

"Does your captain always growl when he talks?" the secretary asked.

Hutch laughed weakly at the thought before he answered. "Yeah, that pretty much describes my boss."

"Here's my car. I'm going to drive you to meet your partner. Get in."

Hutch fell heavily into the back seat of the station wagon. His dizziness came in powerful and increasingly incapacitating waves. His head pounded and his ears rung. He closed his eyes; his only thought was how comfortingly cool the upholstery was against the side of his face. Then nothing.

**********

Starsky walked into the squadroom, looking for the blond head of his partner.

"Hey, Arturo, how's it going?" Starsky asked, as he slipped the paper sack with the leftover meatloaf sandwiches in the small refrigerator next to the coffeepot.

"Not bad. I don't want to say the 'q' word then go off shift and leave you with the jinx, so I'll just say it's been a pretty okay day."

"Where's Hutch? Are they carving his depo into stone tablets that it's taking so long?" Starsky asked.

"I don't know. I haven't seen him at all. I knew you guys were on swing shift; I thought he hadn't come in yet."

"Dobey called him in early to redo a depo. I thought he'd've been done long before now."

Dobey opened his door and overheard the last of Starsky's statement. "I thought so, too. Give them a call and see what the hold-up is. I've got a case I want to send you both out on."

"Right," Starsky answered and picked up the phone to cradle it between his shoulder and ear, as he ran his fingers through the Rolodex to get the number for the DA's transcription department.

Starsky knocked on Dobey's door and pushed it open without waiting for an answer. "He isn't there, Captain, and the head of Transcription talked to me like she thought I was on something. She said she never expected Hutch to come in this morning because there was no misplaced dictation. She said the DA's office had picked up the depo Hutch gave last night, late after it was transcribed. What's going on?"

Dobey looked as confused as Starsky felt as the big man reached for his phone. "This is Captain Harold Dobey. Let me speak to Carolyn Richter, please."

Starsky paced in front of Dobey's desk, determined not to let his imagination run away with him. But as each second ticked by, he could feel himself losing the battle.

"Yes, Carolyn, I was looking for one of my men. He was down there this morning to redo a depo. Yes, Detective Hutchinson, that's right. You saw him then?" Dobey looked up to meet Starsky's eyes. "What?" Dobey's eyes cut away and he frowned. "You called me yourself, this morning. You said the depo recording was misplaced and it hadn't been transcribed. You told me to call my man in to redo it so the prosecution team would have time to go over it before the trial tomorrow."

Dobey's face darkened and he stood up behind his desk. "Yes, I'm sure I was awake when I got to work. You called me, lady. Are you saying you didn't?" Dobey reached out a beefy hand and punched the intercom button to allow Starsky to hear both sides of the conversation.

"Yes, I'm saying I didn't. Captain Dobey, I haven't any idea what you're talking about. As I told the other detective who called down here a few minutes ago, I didn't ask for Detective Hutchinson to come to do anything. His depo was checked out by the DA's office last night. There was never anything lost about it. What kind of place do you think I run down here?"

"Ms. Richter, I took the call from you myself, asking that I get Hutchinson in right away," Dobey insisted.

"Well, it wasn't me you talked to."

"Who else would have been there at, say, oh...seven-thirty?"

"No one. This department doesn't open until eight-thirty. Just enough time to check things out to people going to court. Staff occasionally stays late to finish up things, but no one comes in early."

"You're sure?" Dobey looked up to meet Starsky's stare.

"Positive!"

"What time did you get in today?" Dobey asked, grabbing a paper and pen.

"About 8:25."

"Was there anyone there when you got there?"

"No, I was the first one in...except...."

"Except what?" Starsky jumped into the conversation.

"Except for the college student who's been observing. She's doing a paper for her Criminal Justice class, and she's got an observer's pass. There was coffee made when I got in, so I assumed she had made it. She sometimes does."

"Then where does she go?" Starsky asked.

"It depends on what she's observing that day. Sometimes to in-processing, sometimes to court. It depends...why?"

"Because, Ms. Richter, someone professing to be you, called me a little after seven this morning and told me to get my officer in to your office ASAP. That officer is now missing. What is that observer's name?" Dobey bellowed.

"Harriet Walden, but you can't think that--"

"How long has she been observing?" Starsky asked.

"Since the beginning of the semester. That would be about three weeks."

"Do you have a background check on her, clearances and references?" Dobey barked.

"Of course I do. I've been in the district attorney's office for over twelve years. Maybe you should look under your own haystacks for the missing man. He is not here now, and I have no reason to believe he was ever here earlier, since I certainly did not send for him." Ms. Richter's voice was icy.

"I'll get back to you, Ms. Richter," Dobey's voice had also cooled considerably during the last few verbal exchanges. Dobey hung up. "Call and get the file on Ms. Walden. I'll check with the switchboard. I'm pretty sure the call came from an inside line."

Starsky turned and went to his desk. He called Records and got a busy signal, which broke his last thread of control. He slammed the phone down hard enough to crack the instrument, and snatched his jacket off the back of his chair. If anyone gave him any questioning looks as he stormed out, he was too preoccupied to notice.

"Minnie," he almost grabbed the small woman in his relief to see her. "I need some information fast. There was an observer's pass issued to a Harriet Walden for the DA's office. I need to see her background check, please. Right away, it's really important."

"Sure, baby, but why the rush?"

"Hutch is missing. That's the last place he was supposed to be, and this observer person is the only one that doesn't fit in the mix as far as we know."

Minnie went quickly to her desk and sat at the computer. Her fingers flew over the keys for a few seconds then stopped. With a mumbled curse under her breath, she got up and roughly pulled out a file drawer and began searching through folders there. "Aha!" Minnie jerked a thin file free and opened it. "Shit, there isn't anything much here either. I've got her name, social security number, birthdate, and address, any or all of which might be bogus because none of the information here has ever been verified."

"What?" Starsky took the statistics sheet. "They fingerprinted her but never ran the prints? Why the hell not?" Starsky stared open-mouthed at the page.

"Because this is part of the PR from the mayor and commissioner's office. It's their push for a community buy-in to the criminal justice process. There was a big memo sent out about it. They had officers going to the high schools and colleges all over the area...they were asking for this type of stuff. Opening the door for anybody that wanted to sign up for a ride-along."

"Fuck. Let's make a copy of this sheet and see if any of it's real." Starsky let Minnie take the page from his trembling fingers, and he blindly followed her to the Xerox machine in the corner of the office.

"Maybe she's a foxy lady and he took her to lunch, although you couldn't tell from the picture on her driver's license," Minnie offered.

Starsky stopped any further conversation along those lines with a look. "No, Minnie. Wherever he went, it wasn't willingly. We were supposed to start our shift at three. If he'd gone off, he'd've left me a note, or told somebody to let me know. His car is in the garage, and no one in the squadroom has seen him all day."

"Here you go, sweetie. Good luck. If you need anything else, you just call Minnie. You hear? When you do find that beautiful partner of yours, kick his ass once for me for worrying all of us."

"Right, I'll do that." God, I hope I get the chance....

**********

Starsky gunned the Torino toward the 101 Freeway and made good time getting to the address on the driver's license copy from the file. It came as no great surprise to him that it was a warehouse address of self-storage units. Just to be sure, he got out of the car and went into the office. At a cluttered desk sat an elderly Asian man, eating a bowl of noodles while watching an Asian TV station.

"Excuse me," Starsky began, digging his badge out of his jacket pocket as he waited to get the man's attention.

"Yes? May I help you?"

"I wonder if you have any units rented to a Harriet Walden? Here's a copy of the picture from her driver's license. My name is Starsky; I'm a detective with the BCPD."

The old man slowly stood and approached the desk, looking carefully at Starsky's ID, then at the picture of Harriet Walden.

"No, the name is not familiar, and I do not know this woman. I am sorry not to be able to help you."

"Yeah, me, too," Starsky replied as he put his badge away and carefully folded the piece of paper. "Here's my card," he said as he placed one on the counter top. "If you should see this woman, please give me a call."

"I have a feeling it isn't this woman you are truly looking for, is it?" The old man stared into Starsky's eyes as if he could read the writing in his very soul.

"No, sir. But I may need to find her to find my partner. That's the person who's important. "Starsky pulled out his wallet and eased out the photo of himself and Hutch he kept behind his ID. "If you see this man...."

"I will keep my eyes and ears open. One never knows what one can see and hear if one only takes the time. I hope you find your...partner, and that he is safe." The man turned away and resumed his seat, picking up his small bowl and pulling up noodles from the nest of them in the bottom. Starsky put the picture away after a brief glance at the two smiling faces in the pose. The memory of that happy day cut through him like a knife. Please be safe...please let me find you.

Starsky got back into the Torino and headed for the college at which Ms. Walden was allegedly enrolled. "Damn it to hell, Hutch. When is enough, enough? When will we have paid our dues and fate will leave us alone to be happy for a little while? Is that too much to ask? What's it gonna take?" Starsky wiped roughly across his eyes, determined not to consider the moisture there to be anything beyond reaction from the smog outside.

"Zebra Three, I'm holding a patch for you from Captain Dobey. Acknowledge, please."

"This is Zebra Three. Go ahead, Captain; what you got?" Starsky asked, holding his breath against the rise of fear that terrified him.

"I checked with the registrar at Cal State Long Beach. There is no Harriet Walden registered there in Criminal Justice or any other major. She is not now, nor has she ever been, a student there. What did you get from her address?"

"About as much as you got from the university. It's a self-serve warehouse storage facility, and she doesn't rent any space there. The guy had never seen her before." Starsky sighed his deep and bitter disappointment into the back of his hand as he held the microphone. "What now?"

"Now, we put out an all-points since we don't have to worry about scaring off anyone we thought we could sneak up on. I've got Forensics upstairs dusting the deposition rooms for fresh prints. We should be able to pick up Hutchinson's and where he was; maybe hers are there as well. It isn't much, but it's all we've got for now."

"Did anybody look at Hutch's car? Maybe there's something in or around it that might give us a clue."

"Good thought; I'll get Flores right on it," Dobey answered.

"I thought he was going off shift," Starsky said.

"He was; he should be. But when he found out Hutch was missing, he and several other officers stayed."

"Tell them thanks for me until I get back to do it myself."

"I'll do that. And listen...you be alert out there. Don't be so focused on finding Hutch that you let your guard down. If someone wanted to grab Hutch, they'll have a vested interest in you, too. You hear me?"

"Yes, sir. I hear you. I'm gonna do a little more digging, then I'll head back. Zebra Three, out."

"Maybe if I'm real visible, somebody will show a little interest. Might not change anything, but at least we'd be together," Starsky muttered to the streets as the sun set and the streetlights winked on, one by one.

**********

Booze. Booze, not beer or wine; the hard stuff and lots of it. The smell was overpowering and sickeningly sweet. He turned his face to try and get away from it, but it seemed to envelope him in all directions. He tried to move or open his eyes, but nothing seemed willing to work normally. He gave up for a moment and just lay still, trying desperately to ignore the stench of alcohol, accept the darkness, and simply listen.

Hutch could hear the faint ticking of a wall clock and a fainter hum of something electrical. Refrigerator? Air conditioner? Fan? It didn't give him much to go on, but it was a start. He grimly registered the absence of street noise, but noted no birds or barking dogs that would indicate a more rural setting, so he opted to believe he was still in or close to the city. Maybe it's the hum of an A/C and the windows are closed, he reasoned hopefully. Next, he took stock of his body, pointedly ignoring the pounding in his head and the rolling of his stomach. He was lying on something firm, but soft. A bed, he opined, definitely not the floor, even with carpet. He tried to move his hands, but was not entirely surprised to find only a minute movement was possible before he felt the cold, sharp bite of handcuffs. Probably my own, he thought glumly. He moved his legs slightly, but only to straighten them; his ankles were securely bound together with something wide and tight. Duct tape, he guessed. Well, wherever I am, I'm not going anywhere any time soon, he reasoned, his head pounding more fiercely with even so slight an external inventory. With what he surmised to be drug-induced resignation, he stopped trying to process and let the calming darkness claim him once more.

**********

Dobey stood in the front of the room of detectives, writing on the large chalkboard. "What do we know for certain?" he asked aloud as he wrote in one column of the board.

"My partner is missing," Starsky said sharply.

"Right." Dobey wrote "Hutchinson" in the top of the space. "And what do we think we know?"

"That Harriet Walden, if that's even her real name, is somehow involved," Lizzie Thorpe offered.

"That she, or whoever snatched Hutch, wanted to get him alone to be able to do it," Flores added.

"That adds weight to the idea that it may have been this woman. If it had been a man or a group, they could have taken him without insuring he was alone," Dobey finished.

"That they didn't want Starsky," Lizzie put to the group.

"Not necessarily. Maybe if it was the woman alone, she knew she couldn't handle both of them, and she plans to nab Starsky later. Maybe using Hutch as a lure to get him to come willingly," Arturo said, meeting Starsky's eyes.

Starsky held the younger man's gaze a few seconds before looking away, knowing Arturo could easily read how willingly Starsky would go.

"Starsky, any prompts from any of the prison agencies that anyone with a grudge would be coming up for parole consideration or has escaped custody?" Dobey asked.

"Nothing recent. The only one I can remember is Aldred Rawlings, a counterfeiter we put away, got an early out because he'd developed prostate cancer and has only a few months to live. I think the memo said he'd gone to live with his son out of state. He sounded too sick to do anything personally."

"That doesn't mean he doesn't have connections here to do it for him. Check it out, Lizzie," Dobey ordered, adding that name to his column of "possibles."

"Anything from Forensics on the fingerprints in the room where Hutch's fresh prints were found?" Arturo asked.

"They found about thirty different sets on the desk and chairs and doorjambs. They're wading through employees, lawyers, trying to eliminate all the ones we'd expect to find and hoping we have a few good ones that are unexpected," Dobey answered, but kept his eyes fixed on the board. None of the experienced officers needed to be told that the chances of this woman having fingerprints on file anywhere, unless she'd served in the military or had been arrested, was slim.

"What about any current cases? Anyone stand to maybe get a shorter ride if Hutch isn't around to testify against them?" Lizzie asked.

"The only one coming up right now is the Stewart case. That was the one Hutch gave the depo on at the DA's office yesterday. If that was the reason, why wouldn't they have grabbed him yesterday before he gave the depo? All the damning evidence Hutch had is now a part of the permanent record," Dobey said.

"But if the defense had something that would cast any doubt on it, without Hutch to call to the stand, their hole in his deposition would be unchallengeable. It might be all they think they'd need to secure that 'reasonable doubt'," Arturo said. "I say that's as good a place as any to start digging a little."

"I agree," Dobey said as he wrote Arthur Stewart's name in the "possibles" column. "Let's make sure we aren't missing anything more obvious. You or Hutch haven't received any letters or phone calls that you dismissed as pranks, have you?"

"No," Starsky answered flatly, becoming uncomfortable with the amount of time he felt he was wasting sitting there when he could be cruising the streets.

As if reading his mind, Dobey fixed him with a stare. "Then let's get going with what we've got here. Starsky, you hit the streets and shake your snitches and see what you can find out. Lizzie and Arturo, you guys check on the Stewart case and the man recently released from prison. I'll keep after Forensics for anything on prints taken from the DA's office and Hutch's car. After four hours, we'll check in with any progress one way or the other and regroup." Dobey put down his chalk and dusted off his hands. "Four hours, Starsky. I mean it. You check in. No hot-dogging. Don't make me pull you off the streets and chain you to a desk."

Starsky felt his cheeks warm and knew his eyes were blazing at the thinly veiled threat. "Four hours. I'll check in. Hopefully, someone will have something before then."

"Hopefully," Dobey agreed as he reached to slip on his suit jacket and walk to his office, effectively dismissing the group.

**********

Hutch heard the door open and felt the rush of a cool air current wash over his sweaty skin. His captor approached his blind side, but he felt too weak and groggy to try and roll over to get a look. His shoulder was rocked forward, pressing his face down into the mattress, as another hand held his handcuffed arm steady. He waited, barely breathing for whatever opportunity would present itself...then he felt it.

A sharp sting as a needle entered the vein on the inside of his elbow. He stiffened as he recognized with a dreaded clarity of memory the quickly spreading warmth. He tried to lick his dry lips to make the tongue, he felt was covered with cotton, work, but speech failed him. As he felt his head swim, he thought he heard someone moaning out a word...one mournful sound of "Noooooooo," and wondered as the darkness covered him if the cry had been his own.

**********

Starsky stared at the bag of food on the desk in front of him, as he idly traced the beads of condensation forming on the outside of his drink cup. He had taken out the burrito, but it lay congealing in the wrapper, essentially untouched. He'd tried, he really had, but the swallow of Coke he'd taken from the large cup barely made it past the huge lump in his throat. He had no delusion whatsoever about his lack of interest or ability in forcing anything more solid past it.

He looked up at the squadroom doors as they burst open with Arturo's rapid entrance. The Hispanic officer waved a sheet of paper in his hand as he approached Starsky's desk.

"We've got some prints from the coffeemaker. The name Jeanie Walden mean anything to you? She's got a rap sheet for prostitution and shoplifting that goes back for years before racking up a manslaughter conviction that landed her in a state hospital a few years ago."

Starsky took the page Arturo offered. "Jeanie Walden...yeah...that name rings a bell." Starsky picked up the phone and dialed quickly, kicking himself that the last name alone hadn't triggered his memory earlier. He reached for the photocopy of the picture ID and shook his head. If she'd been standing in front of him at that moment, he'd have never guessed it was the same model-beautiful woman of a few years ago.

"R & I, what can I do for you?" Minnie's voice answered.

"Minnie, you ran previous arrests...is Ben Forest still in the slammer?"

"Let me see...ah...yep. He's doing a thirty-year stint. He won't even be eligible for parole until the next century. Why?"

"Jeanie Walden's prints showed up somewhere they shouldn't have. She's got a history with Forest."

"Well, he's still locked up. Doesn't mean he isn't behind it, though."

"I'll find out..." Starsky's voice faded, but the determined promise behind the words was clear.

"I know you will, honey. Keep me posted."

"I will," Starsky replied as he hung up.

Dobey had silently moved to stand at Starsky's elbow. "You think Forest is behind this?" he asked softly.

"I'll be taking a ride in the morning to find out," Starsky answered.

"I'll go with you," Arturo offered.

"That's a good idea. I'll give the warden a call and let his duty officer apprise him of your early morning arrival. There's nothing else we can do tonight. It's after nine; go home, everyone. Eat and get some rest. We'll meet back here at seven in the morning." Dobey gave Starsky's shoulder a squeeze as he turned away to walk into his office and shut it down for the night.

Starsky drove home much more slowly than usual, as if he dreaded his arrival there. Since they'd bought the house, he'd gotten home before Hutch lots of times, but it had never felt like this. He pulled into the driveway, coasting in, and was flooded with so many memories. For a second, the force of it took his breath away.

"Hang on...you can't lose it. That won't help Hutch. You hang on, too, babe. I'm coming I'll find you, I swear!"

Starsky cut the engine but couldn't force himself to move. He sat still as stone for an undetermined length of time before his hands and feet registered the coldness of the night seeping inside the car. Numbness seemed to be the only feeling he could identify as he pulled himself from the car and plodded inside. Numb, he could live with. Thinking and the paralyzing fear it fostered, he could not. He let himself into the dark and quiet house, shedding his jacket and his gun before falling fully dressed into bed.

**********

Cold, his mind registered as he felt his skin raise with goose bumps and a full-body shiver shake his frame. "Starsky, you blanket hog..." He opened his eyes to the dim light in the room and knew he wasn't in his own bed and that Starsky's warmth and the blankets were a long way from here. Wherever here was. His mouth felt like it was full of cotton and tasted like the bottom of a birdcage. He could smell his own sweat and wrinkled his nose in distaste.

Hutch rolled onto his back, wincing at the protest his shoulders gave at the pressure of his body's full weight on top of his arms with his hands cuffed behind him. He craned his neck to take a better look at the room confining him.

There were two walls with windows. The one closest to him showed little promise for escape, since he could clearly see the large nails that held the sash in place. He glanced at the other wall, the window itself too far away to say for sure, but he guessed it to be the same. While he figured he could break the glass to get out, it certainly wouldn't be a swift and silent getaway. There was a dresser against the wall where the entrance door was, and a single nightstand next to his bed.

Hutch rolled off his arms, fighting the prickling and tingles from the return of circulation. He tested the binding on his ankles and found them to be as firmly in place as they had been all the other times he'd awakened. He registered the fact that his head didn't hurt as much as it previously had, but he felt an un-ignorable need to pee.

"Guess I should have passed on that second cup of coffee," he said to the empty room and then heard himself chuckle. He shook his head to try and clear it. The coffee... There was something important about that, but what it was kept skittering away from his brain like a small scrap of paper in a strong gust of wind.

The coffee... That skinny secretary gave me coffee...drugged coffee! She brought me here, his mind supplied, clearer, though still somewhat sluggish.

"Why the hell do I feel so wasted?" he whispered, feeling his body shiver once again as if when his fuzzy brain finally supplied the answer it would be fear-evoking.

"Hey!" he shouted. "Who are you and what do you want with me?"

Hutch lay and listened intently for evidence that his shout had been heard and that someone was coming.

The door opened almost soundlessly, and a woman entered--the same one who had given him the coffee in the district attorney's office.

"Who are you and what do you want?" Hutch asked, amazed at how strong his voice sounded.

"I'm crushed, " she said bitterly. "After everything we meant to each other...how sad." She stepped closer and let out a hollow laugh.

"What are you talking about? I don't know you!" Hutch answered.

"Oh, yes you do...and in the Biblical sense," she said, laughing once more.

Hutch stared, his eyes searching her features. There was something...a ghosting of familiarity, almost as if he were trying to place a "family resemblance."

"Why am I here, like this? What have I ever done to you?"

Her hand shot out, and Hutch felt his head snap back, tasting the hot and coppery tang of blood.

"What have you ever done?" she screamed in his face. "You gave me back to him! And he and his friends turned me into this!" She struck at her thin chest with both fists. "You were supposed to protect me. You promised me, and you lied! You told him where to find me and they came!"

"Who? Who came?"

"Ben Forest and his goons!" She wrapped her skinny arms around her body. "They came and took me… They pushed me into that little room you were in, but I doubt you even remember, you were so stoned." She leaned her face closer with a sneer. "Then they took me away, back to Ben's fancy place, and he beat me. Beat me over and over, for leaving him. He told me I was his property...bought and paid for, like his fucking car!"

"J-J-Jeanie?" Hutch whispered in frank shock. "I'm sorry...I...I'm sorry. I tried not to. It was all so mixed up between the drugs and the beatings... When I got away and even started to think clearly, I...I wasn't sure...I'm sorry. I couldn't keep them away from you. But when Forest was sentenced, you knew he was going away for a long time. Why didn't you leave then? You could have come to me...the police then, and asked for witness protection. They'd have set you up in a new city. You didn't have to--"

"Yes, I did!" She screamed again, painfully wrenching his head back by a handful of hair. "He left orders. I was business to be dispensed of, like his whole operation. Everything, me included, turned over to one of his lieutenants." Jeanie roughly let go of Hutch's head and took a step back. "I took over his girls in Vegas, but he never left me alone. Even when I got arrested for Malloy's murder, I was sent to a hospital, and they found me there. They took me away, and it started all over again. I had to make it stop." She moved closer with menace. "This is what I did to get out," she hissed, as she slowly unzipped the shapeless housedress she wore and let it slip to the floor.

Hutch couldn't suppress the gasp as he saw her nude body. What was once a winsome and beautifully lithe body was now unhealthy grey skin, hanging from bones that stood out in stark relief.

"I stopped eating...threw up when they forced me. If I was unmarketable, they couldn't make me work for them anymore. Eventually, nobody wanted to fuck this, no matter how sick or twisted they were told it could be." She stooped down to raise her dress and cover herself once more. "Would you?" she asked as she zipped her dress. "They used to get the guys willing to pay the big bucks and make me service them...sometimes three at a time. They'd take pictures and smuggle them in to show Ben during visits. He'd order the positions, demanding very specific activities like he was directing a porno flick, and then wait for the pictures to prove it had happened. If he was happy, they'd leave me alone for a while. If not, they'd hurt me and photograph that so Ben could see I'd been punished. It took a long time, but it finally worked and I was free."

"So if you're away from them now, why not eat and get healthy? Why grab me?"

"Because they hurt me...and you let it happen. When Ben got me back, he didn't want to have anything to do with me. He said he could smell you on me, but that didn't keep him from having one of his boys do it so he could watch. The rougher the better," she said, her eyes filling. "I'm all used up...empty. I can't eat anymore; even when I do, it won't stay down. This is what's left."

"I didn't know...you never came to me...."

"You didn't care!" she shrieked. "You went off like I didn't exist. Your partner helped you kick it, and you went back to your life like nothing had happened. My hell was just beginning."

"I-I'm sorry."

"You will be before I'm through with you, and I call your partner to come and pick up what's left."

"Don't do this. Please...let me go. Call Starsky and let me go!"

She walked slowly over to the dresser and opened the top drawer. Hutch's heart leaped to his throat as he saw the case she withdrew. He stared at her slender fingers as they took out the syringe and loaded it, then advanced toward him. He tried to kick out with his legs and throw himself off the bed to the floor, but could get no traction and flopped harmlessly on the bed like a beached whale. She laid the syringe down on the nightstand, and he felt her hands reach around his neck, drawing a leather belt around it. She snugged it tight. "Struggle, and it will get tighter and choke you. Lie still, and I'll take it off when I'm done."

Hutch pulled his upper body away, feeling the belt tighten, and heard the air as it drew in and out of his lungs becoming a strident noisy struggle. He felt her knee in his back as she forced him over, roughly grabbing his arm. He fought the increasing blackness of his peripheral vision, his mouth open in a silent scream before he felt the prick of the needle and the spreading warmth of the injected load. Oh, God...noooo.

**********

Arturo paced back and forth across the highly waxed linoleum floor. Thirteen blocked squares up and back. He'd counted them more than once. Starsky sat still and silent in a straight-backed metal chair occupying one side of the interrogation table. The detective's hands rested on top of the table, his long fingers interlaced loosely. He seemed the very picture of calm professionalism. Only Arturo knew the man, and, even if he couldn't see the bobbing of Starsky's leg underneath the table, he swore he could smell the very hate Starsky felt regarding the man they both waited to be escorted into the room. Ben Forest.

On the early morning drive to the prison, Starsky had slowly recounted the tale of Hutch's involvement in yet another rescue of a damsel in distress and how it had gone so wrong. As painful as it was for Starsky to describe, it was also difficult for Arturo to hear about the price Hutch had paid for his noble efforts. Arturo closed his eyes even now at the mental picture Starsky had painted of Hutch in withdrawal. Cold turkey was an ugly thing, and it pained him to associate that experience with his friend and former partner. Hutch is a good man. He should never have been dirtied that way, Arturo thought, feeling his own temper flare. He battled it down fiercely, wondering as he did just how effective he'd be at helping Starsky hold his own.

Ben Forest shuffled through the door the guard held open for him. His step faltered fractionally before he straightened, pulling himself upright to swagger the last few feet and take a seat in the chair opposite Starsky.

"Where's Jeanie Walden?" Starsky said, getting right to it.

"I don't know. It's not easy keeping track of old friends in here. She never answered my last year's Christmas card."

"Where is Jeanie Walden?" Starsky asked again, his voice rising slightly in volume.

"I said I don't know. You should have enough snitches with contacts to working girls to find out for yourself. What are you asking me for?"

"She has something important to me, and I need to find her--now! Whose stable is she in? What part of town?"

"The answer's still the same, kid. She hasn't worked for me in six, maybe eight months now. The way she let herself go, I can't imagine her turning tricks for anybody."

"You didn't arrange to have her do a little bait-and-switch game for you? Is that what you expect me to believe?"

"I don't give a rat's ass what you believe. Jeanie's not working for me. If she's grabbed somebody...wait a minute. That's it, isn't it? Jeanie's grabbed somebody, and you think I made the call?" Forest looked from Starsky to Arturo and back again before folding his arms across his chest and sitting back with a cocky smirk. "She's got your partner... Man, that's rich."

"Who said anything about his partner?" Arturo said, stepping closer to the table.

"You may be with him, kid, but you ain't his partner. He and that blond are tighter than I ever guessed back then. That's probably the biggest mistake I made, thinking I could grab him and it'd go unnoticed long enough for me to get Jeanie back and leave town."

"Yeah, Jeanie has my partner, so you understand how things are. I want him back," Starsky said, his voice the deadly calm of a cobra.

Forest met Starsky's gaze and hesitated, a little of the earlier smugness faltering. "I didn't order the grab. I haven't had anything to do with Jeanie in a very long time. I don't know where she is. Frankly, I'm surprised she's still alive."

"Why?" Starsky snapped.

"Because of the way she looked the last time I saw her. She's sick or something...wasted looking...nothing but skin and bones."

"She's still around. Where would she take him?" Arturo asked.

Forest sat quietly for a few seconds before answering. "Her mother used to live in Riverside. Maybe she went there."

"What's the address?"

"Her mother worked at the Indian school. It's been years; I don't know if she's still there or not, but they ought to have records. She was the school nurse. Uh...Sherwood, no...Sherman, that's it. Sherman Indian School."

"I know where it is," Arturo said. "I did a psychology paper in college and used that school as part of my resource material."

Starsky stood so abruptly his chair almost tipped over. He caught it at the last minute, righting it on four legs. Taking a few steps away, he turned back to Forest. "Thank you."

"Just so you remember whatever shape you find him in that I had nothing to do with it!" Forest replied.

Starsky nodded curtly and followed Arturo out the door, leaving the guard to escort Forest back to his cell.

The drive back to Bay City was a tensely quiet one. Starsky drove with the single-minded purpose of getting back as quickly as possible. If Arturo was hungry and wanted to stop, he wisely didn't suggest it. About sixty miles outside the city, the squawking of the radio disrupted the silence in the car. "Central dispatch to Zebra Three. I have a landline patch to you from Captain Dobey."

"This is Zebra Three, go ahead," Arturo said.

"I've got that information from the Indian School. Irene Walden was the school nurse there for sixteen years. She retired three years ago." Dobey paused. "She died two months ago. We have a last known address, but according to the county records, the house is all closed up, abandoned and in foreclosure."

"What's the address?" Arturo asked, fumbling with pen and paper from his jacket pocket.

"It's 31608 Mailander Street, Sierra Heights. It's off the 60 Freeway, exit Magnolia, follow to Van Buren, go east. Mailander's about six blocks down. It's a dead-end street on your left."

"Got it."

"I'll radio to the sheriff's office to meet you there for back-up," Dobey offered.

"Tell them to stay away from the house. Have them wait for us on Van Buren," Starsky said from behind the wheel, speaking loudly enough for Dobey to hear.

"I'll ask them to meet you at the cross-street. Ten-four. Good luck. Dobey, out."

"Thanks, Captain," Arturo said. "Zebra Three, out." Arturo re-hung the mic on the radio hook and turned to face Starsky.

"You got the address solid?" Starsky asked, weaving in and out of traffic.

"Yeah, off at Magnolia, go east on Van Buren. Mailander's the dead end on the left."

"I hope to God it isn't," Starsky breathed.

"Isn't what?"

"A dead end."

**********

"I need to pee and take a shower," Hutch announced, hating the thickness of his tongue and the way his words came out lightly slurred.

"I agree on the shower part," Jeanie offered.

"I know I stink. Let me up, then."

She rose from the chair, walked to the dresser, and opened the top drawer.

"No--it's too soon. I'm still flying from the last one you gave me," Hutch pleaded.

"Not if you can hold so coherent a conversation," Jeanie replied coldly as she prepared the syringe.

"No, please. Just let me up, I won't try anything," Hutch reasoned as his throat was encased in the all too familiar leather strap.

"I'll go get the bath ready," Jeanie purred in his ear as she loosened the belt.

Helpless tears of anger and frustration stung his eyes, and he turned his face into the sweat-stained pillow.

**********

Arturo rested his head back against the Torino's seat and tried to ignore the incessant nervous drumming of Starsky's fingers on the steering wheel. He was just about to give into the temptation to ask yet again for Starsky to stop the anvil chorus when he heard the approach of an unmistakably heavy-engined car. He turned to see the sheriff's vehicle approaching.

Starsky stopped drumming and exited the car, walking quickly to the cruiser as it slowed then stopped. Starsky provided his ID to the driver and nodded as the deputy in the passenger seat was introduced. Arturo approached and stood at Starsky's side.

"The daughter of the woman who owned the house at the address there..." Starsky indicated the scrap of paper he had passed through the window. "We have reason to believe she has kidnapped a Bay City detective." Starsky swallowed audibly. "My partner. He may not be there, but it's the only lead we've got."

"The county has it listed as unoccupied awaiting foreclosure. Good a place as any to hide, I expect. How do you want to play it?" the sheriff asked, his lined and weathered face squinted against the sun shining at Starsky's back.

"She might recognize my car, so I'll park at the corner out of sight. You pull around on the street behind the house, and I'll walk up to the front."

"Okay, go to channel three on your radio, and I'll tell you when we're in place," the older man offered. "Then you head to the front. We'll come in quiet from the back fence. If you run into trouble, holler; we'll be close enough to hear you."

Starsky nodded and shook the officer's outstretched hand and stepped back as the sheriff threw the powerful county sedan in reverse and pulled back onto the street to go around the block and get into place. Starsky watched as the deputy in the passenger seat took the shotgun down from the rack behind him and checked its readiness.

"God, I hope it doesn't come to that," Starsky said softly and looked up when he felt Arturo's hand pat his shoulder.

"Yo tambien, amigo," Flores whispered as he followed Starsky back to the car.

**********

Hutch was floating. He knew rationally that he wasn't still in the warm water of the bathtub, that it was the solid surface of the bed on which he lay, but he couldn't shake the feeling that his body remained disconnected from gravity.

"At least I smell better," he said, thinking his own voice sort of echoed back at him. Too much, too soon, he thought sadly. She's going to give me too much. She'll OD me before she strings me out again. Hutch consciously chewed on that thought for a moment, feeling that the prospect didn't bother him as much as he somehow believed it should. Maybe I'd be better off...better dead than-- He shut his mind down on the memory of what he'd endured in the room over Huggy's bar, unable to even form the memory. I can't do that again...I can't. I don't have another cold turkey in me. Starsky...I'm sorry. I hope you aren't the one who finds me. Better for you to remember happier times. Hutch let his eyes close, and the ever-present lethargy of the drug carried him away.

**********

Arturo watched Starsky as they waited. The tension in the Torino had become a palpable thing. The anvil chorus hadn't resumed, for which Arturo was grateful, but Starsky's leg bounce was back with a vengeance. Just as Arturo was about to extend his hand to still it, the radio crackled, startling both men.

"Detective Starsky, we're in place. Whenever you're ready," the sheriff's voice broke in over the static.

"Ten-four," Arturo answered, Starsky already out of the car and moving toward the house.

They approached at a crouch, assuming positions on either side of the picture window in the front of the Walden home. Starsky stretched up slightly to glance in the large window. He held that position for a few seconds then returned to his crouch. With a curt shake of his head to the side, Starsky indicated his intention to move. Getting a nod of understanding from Arturo, Starsky rolled across the sidewalk to low-crawl up to the front door. Arturo followed silently.

Starsky slowly drew his legs under him and stood, his hand moving toward the doorknob, his weapon drawn. Arturo likewise readied his service revolver and flattened himself against the wall on the other side of the door. Starsky tried the knob, his mouth forming a thin line when the knob turned only a fraction of an inch, indicating the lock was in place. He held up his right hand, three fingers showing, then two, then one. Starsky squared himself to face the door, giving it a vicious kick. The lock splintered the wooden doorframe as the door sprang open. Starsky dropped and rolled inside, with Arturo right behind him, the young man's eyes scanning the interior, gun drawn.

Starsky stood and ran toward the rooms off the hallway, motioning Arturo to check out the kitchen and the back exit.

Starsky pulled up short, his gun pointing steadily as a shadow solidified in front of him.

"Where is he?" Starsky asked, his voice harsh and strident.

"You came too soon. He didn't suffer enough...not nearly enough."

Starsky approached cautiously, until he was even with the woman and he heard Arturo's voice behind him.

"Go. I've got her. The rest of the house is clean."

Starsky sprang forward as if shot from a cannon, pushing past Jeanie to enter the bedroom she'd appeared from.

Only a few steps inside the room and the stench hit him. Sweat, urine, and vomit permeated the room. Hutch lay on the bed, dirty sheets rumpled around him, yet as Starsky moved closer, he noticed Hutch was surprisingly clean looking. His hair damp but not what he'd expected it to be when he'd first entered. There was a bath towel on the floor. She cleaned you up for the kill? his mind wondered, as he fumbled in his pocket for the key to unlock the handcuffs restraining his naked partner.

"Hutch? Can you hear me, babe? It's me. I've got you now. Everything's gonna be okay." Starsky opened the handcuffs, wincing as his fingers touched the raw scabs over the ridges at Hutch's wrists, the evidence of his partner's struggle to free himself.

Starsky pulled Hutch up off the bed, cradling him against his chest. "Flores," Starsky shouted. "Tell the sheriff to call for an ambulance, quick!" Starsky tightened his grip on Hutch, feeling his fear elevate at the coldness of his lover's skin. He felt his own chill, down to his very soul, with the realization that his yell had elicited no response whatsoever from Hutch.

"Hutch...come on. Move something, will ya?" Starsky began rubbing Hutch's arm with one hand, while he tried to pull at the corner of the sheet to cover Hutch's cold body.

"An ambulance is on the way. I turned Jeanie over to the deputy; he'll take her in. How is he?" Arturo asked, helping to finish Starsky's attempt to cover Hutch's nakedness.

Starsky leaned Hutch back to rest on the pillow, quickly turning it over to the dry side. He let his eyes roam over the body he knew as well as his own. Hutch looked thinner, or maybe the pallor made him appear so. There were bruises around his throat, a large one on his cheek, and a split at the corner of his lower lip. Starsky already knew the state of the unconscious man's wrists, so he gave a quick glance to Hutch's lower legs, noticing a wide pattern of reddened skin around his ankles and knees. He returned his scrutiny to Hutch's face, just as Arturo reached to lift one of the closed eyelids. Starsky noted the pinpoint pupils that yielded no reaction to light. With a sickening tightness in his stomach, he straightened Hutch's arm, turning it slightly to expose the inner surface.

"Oh, God, noooo..." Starsky choked out before his throat closed up. The inside of both Hutch's arms were peppered with red swollen-looking puncture marks. Hutch's veins were clearly visible, easily traced by following the reddened, hot flesh from the puncture sites farther up his arm toward his bicep. Hutch's body had felt so cold to Starsky when he had first touched him, it was a shock to note how hot and turgid Hutch's inner forearms were in comparison, as Starsky ran his fingers gently over them as if trying to wipe away the terrible truth there.

"Hutch, wake up for me, huh?" Starsky pleaded.

Starsky looked helplessly toward Arturo. "He's barely breathing. He needs a hospital. He's gonna hate waking up there, but--"

"You have to take him," Arturo interrupted. "We don't have any idea what she drugged him with."

Starsky nodded grimly, pulling Hutch back into his arms once more as he rubbed slow circles over his back. "Look around. See if you can find anything she might've used. We should take it with us to the ER. They'll need to know what's in it."

Arturo opened every drawer, dumping the contents onto the floor. Out of the corner of his eye, Starsky saw him bend over to pick up something. As Arturo walked over, the dim light in the room reflected off the contents of a small jewelry box. A syringe and a large vial were nestled there. Starsky could see evidence of multiple puncture holes in the brick-red stopper, as well as condensation of a clear liquid on the inside of the glass syringe.

Starsky tightened his arms around Hutch, his own heart aching as he anticipated the unfolding of the approaching hours.

The sound of a siren could be heard in the distance, getting louder as it drew closer. Starsky reached into his jacket pocket and tossed Arturo his car keys. "I'll ride with Hutch. Meet me at the hospital when you release the crime scene to the lab guys."

"I'll let Dobey know where we are."

Starsky opened his mouth to say thanks, but he couldn't force a sound past the lump in his throat.

At that moment, the EMTs arrived, and Starsky reluctantly gave Hutch over to their care. "This is my partner. He's a cop. He was kidnapped and drugged with whatever's in that syringe," Starsky said, indicating the open jewelry box on the nightstand.

The older EMT glanced quickly to where Starsky had indicated, and then turned his attention back to his patient. Starsky watched as they started an IV and took Hutch's vital signs.

Starsky couldn't take his eyes off his lover as he heard Jeanie's words echo in his head...and heart. You're wrong, lady...I didn't come anywhere near too soon. Didn't get here soon enough at all.

"BP's 90/46, heart rate 62, and respirations are 6 and shallow. He appears to have been drugged with an unknown substance." The EMT paused in his radio message to the hospital, listening intently. "Ten-four. Narcan after I draw blood for a tox-screen. Our ETA is twenty minutes. Goodhew Unit Twenty-four, out."

Starsky crouched at the side of the stretcher where Hutch lay, steadying himself as the ambulance raced through the city streets. Hutch was still deathly pale, but there were fluttering movements of his eyes under his closed lids, and he had begun to sweat profusely.

Hutch's eyes opened a fraction, then a little more, but his stare was unfocused and haunted. With a soft moan he tried to sit up, but was unable to do so. He turned his head slightly and vomited on the floor. Starsky took the towel offered him and wiped Hutch's mouth and face, leaning in to speak softly. "You're okay, buddy. We're going to the hospital to get you some help. It's all over...I'm right here."

If Hutch heard Starsky's gentle encouragement, he never let on.

A very long hour later, Starsky stood as the doctor he'd spoken to briefly upon Hutch's arrival approached.

"You're with Officer Hutchinson, right? I'm Dr. Flagg. Sorry things were a bit abrupt before; we're doing better now. We've gotten him stabilized. The toxicology screen came back, no surprises. The vial contained heroin, and he was injected often and with lots of it. If you hadn't found him and gotten treatment when you did, he'd have died from an overdose. His respirations were very slow and shallow, in spite of receiving a dose of reversal medication en route. He was minutes away from a respiratory arrest."

Starsky felt his knees become liquid as he took in the doctor's information. "Is he breathing better now?" Starsky asked.

"Yes, he is, but...you'd better sit down," the doctor said, gently leading Starsky to the chair behind him. "He's dehydrated, but we're combating that with IV fluids. My greatest concern now is systemic infection."

Starsky frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Heroin wasn't the only thing in that vial. It was crawling with bacterial contaminants. Your friend has been given multiple intravenous injections from that contaminated fluid with the same syringe over and over. Both arms have serious phlebitis."

"Phle--" Starsky stumbled over the word.

"Phlebitis, it means inflammation of the vein itself. You may have noticed there are red and hot areas around the punctures. I've started him on strong antibiotics and drawn blood cultures to be sure that what we're giving him is the best drug for the infection in his body. It will take a couple of days for the cultures to grow and give us the information we need. In the meantime, we're sort of shot-gunning with a general drug, hoping we'll get lucky and guess the right one."

"And if not?"

"In two days, we'll know if there's a better drug to use and make the switch. What I need for you to understand is we aren't out of the woods, but the trees are getting thinner. Your partner is going to get a lot sicker before he gets well. But I firmly believe he will recover."

"What about the aftereffects of the dope?" Starsky asked softly.

"As far as being addicted to heroin? He was only missing for two days; that's what you said, right?"

Starsky nodded.

"Not long enough to establish an addiction. I wouldn't worry at all about that aspect of it."

Starsky let out a slow, deep breath. Thank God. I hope you're right, Doc, and his earlier encounter with heroin won't make that a false statement. I'm keeping your secret, buddy. I hope like hell I'm doing the right thing by not speaking up.

"Can I see him?" Starsky asked anxiously.

"Yes. He's on his way up to Room 306. The elevator's around the corner to the left."

"Thank you. Thanks for everything." Starsky threw the words over his shoulder as he made his way hurriedly to the elevator.

He easily found the room and quietly stepped inside, grateful it was a private one. Hutch was still pale and unmoving as he rested slightly on his side, an emesis basin caught between his face and shoulder like a telephone handset. Starsky walked softly to the bed, reaching out to stroke the damp blond hair back off his lover's forehead.

Hutch's eyes fluttered open and struggled to focus, finally meeting Starsky's gaze with cognition.

"Hey, babe. How ya' doin'?" Starsky asked as he pulled a chair closer to the bed before sitting in it.

"I'm hot!" Hutch said irritably. "I don't remember being hot last time."

Starsky sat in confused silence for a moment. Last time?

"You're running a fever, Hutch. That's why you're hot. She didn't sterilize what she shot you up with, or what she used to do it. It gave you an infection. That's what your doctor told me. You're getting antibiotics for it. You're gonna be fine."

"Fine!" Hutch spat. "In a few hours I'll be climbing the walls, when I'm not puking my guts out. Is that your idea of fine?"

"No...no, babe. It's not gonna be like that again. The doc said two days wasn't enough to addict you. I know you probably feel lousy, but--"

"You don't know shit! And evidently neither does my doctor," Hutch hissed.

"Hutch..."

"Do you know what she gave me?"

Starsky nodded. "Heroin." He whispered the word as if it were a tangible enemy that might overhear.

"I want it! I wanted it from the first time she gave me a fix. Do you hear what I'm saying?" Hutch's face was a picture of misery.

Starsky stared at his partner, unsure what to say or do to help.

Hutch closed his eyes and turned his face away, one hand clenched into a fist that gripped the sheets, the other rubbing his stomach. "I don't know if I can do this again." Hutch's voice sounded completely lost.

"It's gonna be okay. I'm here and I ain't leaving. We'll get through this like everything else. Together." Starsky leaned closer, covering Hutch's fist with his own hand, holding on tightly until, gradually, Hutch loosened his hold on the sheets and turned his hand over to grip Starsky's like a vice.

"Sorry I snapped at you...I..."

"Forget it."

"I'm scared."

"So am I, babe. So am I."

"Where's Jeanie?"

"In custody."

"What are they charging her with?"

"Kidnapping, attempted murder." Starsky's voice sounded flat even to his own ears.

"She wasn't going to kill me."

"Oh, yeah?" Starsky spoke through clenched teeth. "Well, according to the ER doctor, you were pretty close to being OD'd. 'Minutes away from a respiratory arrest,' I believe is how he put it. Sounds like attempted murder to me."

"She was going to call you and tell you where to find me. She didn't want me dead...just...used up like her," Hutch finished softly.

"Don't!" Starsky's word cracked in the quiet room like gunfire. "Don't defend her!"

"You don't know what they did to her."

"No, and I don't care! She had a world of choices she could have made that would've made her life better, but she didn't act on any of them. That's not something you need to take on. You tried to help her." She wasn't worth it, his mind supplied.

"I gave her up. Once Forest and his goons had her, she was trapped."

"Bullshit! She had the guts to leave once. She could have again. She ran his stable in Vegas. She would've had enough money to walk if she wanted to. It was easier to blame you and hate you for the hell she lived in." Starsky waited for Hutch to turn and face him. "I'm not gonna let you beat yourself up over her. This was not your fault."

"Maybe if I--"

"No, Hutch. You wanna take on the guilt for everything from the original sin to the invention of gunpowder. No! She made her own choices, and if they were bad ones, then she's the one who has to live with the consequences...not you! Damn it, are you paying attention?"

Hutch gave a ghost of a smile. "Why? Are you only going to say it once? Yeah, right."

"Somebody told me once when I was drowning in guilt, 'I love your caring,' remember?" Starsky asked as he moved from the chair to sit on the edge of the bed. "I'm just returning the favor. Besides, I'm selfish enough to want you not to waste your energy. I want you to just concentrate on getting better and coming home. I can't sleep for shit in that big bed without you in it."

"I want to go home."

"You will, just as soon as the antibiotics do their thing and you're better."

"No...I want to go now. I don't want anybody to see me when...you know."

"Hutch, you need to stay here and get well. I told you, there's not gonna be any withdrawal. Nothing like before."

"You don't understand," Hutch said weakly and turned his face away.

Shit, you're gonna talk yourself into symptoms of withdrawal where there aren't any. Starsky shook his head, at a loss what to do to convince his partner he was telling him the truth. "Try and sleep, babe. I'll be right here." Hutch didn't comment, but after a few minutes seemed to have drifted off. Starsky moved carefully back to the chair to keep his vigil.

**********

Several hours had passed, when the entrance of a nurse roused Starsky from the light doze he'd slipped into. She hung a small IV bag and connected it to Hutch's main IV line, then quietly left. Starsky sat and watched his lover with growing concern as the clock ticked on. The concern blossomed at seeing Hutch's face become more and more flushed. He reached to touch Hutch's arm and was surprised at how fiery hot the flesh felt under his hand. Hutch moaned a little and moved his legs restlessly under the sheets. His movement continued and he became more agitated, finally waking himself. When Hutch's eyes opened for a brief few seconds, he scanned the room as if unsure of his location. When they closed again it was in a grimace as his teeth began to chatter and his whole body shook with a hard chill.

"It...it's starting. Oh, God, Starsky...help m-m-me!"

Starsky jumped up from his chair and took the shaking man into his arms, holding on tightly. "No, no, Hutch, it's not. It's just the fever. You're okay. I've got ya."

Hutch balled up Starsky's shirt on either side of his waist as if hanging on for dear life.

"Get me something; I'm going to be sick!" came Hutch's muffled cry. Starsky reached quickly for the kidney-shaped basin as Hutch dry-heaved for long minutes, bringing up little but bitter bile.

Starsky pushed the call light, and a voice from the desk answered, "May I help you?"

"Mr. Hutchinson's feeling worse. Can you send his nurse down here, please?"

"Right away," came the reply, and in a few short minutes the nurse from earlier entered.

She took Hutch's temperature, frowning at how high the numbers were reading and how fast they had climbed. "Let me get you something for the nausea, and then we'll work on getting the fever down. I'll be right back."

Starsky went to the small bathroom, and, filling a basin with cold tap water, he grabbed a washcloth from the towel rack and returned to the bedside. He was bathing Hutch's face and neck when the nurse returned.

"I've got good news and bad news," she said as she exposed Hutch's upper arm. "This shot will help with the nausea, but the medication burns like hell. Sorry."

Hutch's face screwed up in a tight grimace to verify that fact.

"Keep bathing him off. That'll help. Give the shot about twenty minutes to work, then let him take the aspirin. He should be able to keep it down. If not, call me and I'll try another route," she said with a smile as she left.

"I d-d-don't think I want to think about what other route she has in mind," Hutch stuttered, his teeth chattering as he continued to shiver and shake.

Starsky sat on the bed, untying Hutch's gown to let it slip down his body, exposing more of his heated flesh. Gradually, Hutch seemed to relax a bit, and Starsky held up the small pill cup.

"Stomach quieter now? Think you can get these in ya?"

Hutch reached for the pill cup and tossed the contents into his mouth, quickly accepting the water glass Starsky offered. Hutch's hands shook so badly, the water sloshed a bit before Starsky steadied it.

Starsky set the cup aside, after he was sure the pills were properly swallowed, and picked up the wash cloth to resume bathing his partner's body. Slow, methodical sweeps of the cold cloth became a soothing rhythm to both men. The shaking became less severe, then stopped altogether. The blond slowly relaxed into sleep. Starsky kept up the cooling measures until he felt Hutch's body sink to less than the inferno of earlier, and he could tell even in the room's dim light that the flush of Hutch's face was abating. With a glance at the wall clock, he set the basin and cloth aside. Starsky slowly straightened, rolling the stiffness out of his back and shoulders. Over an hour, Starsky thought, as he stood to stretch fully once more before sitting back in the chair...just watching. The stress of the previous two interminably long days weighed on him, and he felt himself hit the wall. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Hutch lying on that filthy bed, restrained. "I know I can't wrap you in cotton, but God help me, I wanna try. I want us to go home and never leave again," he whispered, feeling his eyes sting as the last of his reserved energy fled. Starsky leaned forward, taking Hutch's hand between both of his own, and rested his head on the mattress. He was asleep in seconds.

**********

The room was dark and quiet when he awakened. Sleepily sitting up, he winced as muscles protested the time spent in such an awkward position. Starsky rubbed at his face with both hands. A muffled cry drew his attention, bringing him fully awake, and in the dim light he saw Hutch--his body bathed in sweat, his head tossing slightly on the dampened pillow. "No...no more. Please...I'm sorry...let me go. Don't do this..." Hutch moaned in the throes of his fever-induced nightmare. Starsky touched Hutch's arm, alarmed at how hot the flesh was once more. Grabbing for the cloth and the wash basin, he began bathing Hutch's body again. With his other hand, he touched the call light. When a voice answered, he let the staff know that Hutch's temperature had risen. In no time, a new nurse entered, pill cup in hand.

"Any nausea this time?" she asked as she pulled the cord to turn on the soft over-bed light.

"I don't think so; he just woke me with his talking. I don't think he's even awake yet, but he's hot as hell."

"Mr. Hutchinson?" The nurse gently shook Hutch's shoulder. "Wake up for me and open your mouth so I can see what your temperature is."

Hutch weakly complied. "Yep, it's up there. It's 103 this time," the nurse informed Starsky with a grim expression. "Mr. Hutchinson. Open again for me, I need you to take some medication to get your fever down."

"Come on, buddy," Starsky cajoled. "Open your eyes and really wake up." Starsky dragged the cold cloth over Hutch's face, and the blond gasped a little and tried to pull away.

"What...where? Starsk?"

"Yeah, it's me. I'm right here. Open your mouth and take these pills, okay?"

"I'm hot!" Hutch protested as he pushed at the sheet covering him.

"I know, take these pills and it'll help that." Starsky raised Hutch's head as he opened his mouth, taking the medicine and swallowing the water in large gulps. Starsky gently lowered Hutch's head, still not convinced his partner was fully awake. "They go all the way down, buddy?"

Hutch eventually nodded without opening his eyes, and Starsky went back to the cooling rhythm of earlier.

"Let me know if he needs anything, or you get tired and need a break. I can send an aide down here."

"Thanks, we'll be fine," Starsky replied, unwilling to relinquish his task to anyone else.

Up one arm and back down. Up the other and across Hutch's neck and chest, wet the cloth and start over. Starsky was almost asleep himself as he moved in the repetitive pattern, and when Hutch spoke it startled him.

"I stink." Starsky opened his eyes to find Hutch's meeting them.

"Yeah," Starsky agreed. "A little. You pretty much soak everything when the fever breaks. I'll help you take a shower in the morning," Starsky said around a jaw-popping yawn.

"Help me now, then you can go home and get a few hours of real sleep."

"Not leavin'," Starsky answered, dropping the cloth with a quiet plop into the wash basin. "How do you feel?"

"Like I've been hit by a truck. You?"

"Twice," Starsky agreed with a grin. "Want something to drink? You've sweat away a lot of fluid."

"Yeah, I think I can keep it down."

Starsky poured fresh water from the ice pitcher into a glass and helped Hutch drink it all.

"This admission is going to be on my file at work," Hutch lamented when he rested back against the pillow. "We won't be able to hide it like last time."

"Couldn't get around it," Starsky answered.

"Every bust we ever make that involves drugs, IA is going to look at with a microscope."

"Let's not borrow trouble; it finds us easily enough," Starsky countered sagely.

"I'm just apologizing for the hassle ahead of time, I guess."

"Not necessary."

"I hope you'll still think so then," Hutch mumbled. "God, my arms are so sore... Damn, I can hardly move them." Hutch raised his head to look at the inner portion of his right arm, as he ran the fingers of his other hand over the angry-looking red tracks. "Shit, they're a mess."

"It's only temporary. When the infection goes away, you'll be back to normal. It'll be okay," Starsky assured him, drawing Hutch's hand away from the inflamed veins.

"I gotta get out of this bed. The sheets are all clammy; I can't stand it anymore." Hutch struggled to sit up.

"Whoa, wait up. Let me help you, so I don't have to pick your ass up off the floor."

Hutch swung his legs over the edge of the bed, swaying only slightly as he sat there.

"Hold what you got. I'll get things ready in the bathroom and let the nurse know I'm gonna help you clean up. Maybe they can send somebody down to make a fresh bed for you. Deal?"

Hutch took in a deep breath, the look on his face indicating that Starsky's proposition sounded like Heaven.

Once in the bathroom, the shower was accomplished quickly. Hutch kept insisting he could do it on his own, while Starsky was just as insistent that he wasn't about to let him try. Hutch sat trembling on the closed toilet lid while Starsky toweled him dry. When the towel reached the blond hair, Hutch leaned forward, resting his forehead against Starsky's chest. With a deep sigh, he slowly raised his arms and drew Starsky against him. Starsky let the towel fall and rested his hands against Hutch's back, drawing slow and, he hoped, soothing circles there. "Ready to go back to bed?" Starsky asked softly, almost hating to break the calm mood.

Hutch shook his head. "Just hold me a minute longer. I need this. It seems like such a long time since I felt this...safe." Hutch's voice sounded rough.

"I'll hold you forever, babe. I'm not ever gonna let you go." Starsky reached down to plant a kiss on Hutch's damp hair. "I love you so damned much," Starsky admitted hoarsely. "I was going nuts when I didn't know where you were or what was happening to you."

"I knew you would be. Just like I would if it had been reversed. I want this fever shit to stop so I can go home," Hutch lamented. "That's all I could think about--you and our...home."

"Well, let me tell ya, buddy. If you ain't in it, it's just a lotta lumber. My home is wherever you are. I may not be able to tell you the exact second that happened, but it's something I don't ever expect to change."

Hutch eased back his head to look up into Starsky's eyes, and the love and trust Starsky saw there brought a lump to his throat. "I love you, too," Hutch whispered.

"Let me get you back to bed. You're looking like you're about to fall asleep where you sit." Starsky kissed Hutch's soft mouth chastely and gently helped his lover stand. He slipped on the clean gown an aide had given him, and slowly led Hutch out to the dry, freshly made bed.

Hutch crawled in with a groan of relief as Starsky pulled up the clean sheet and gently tucked him in. "Sleep; breakfast should be coming in an hour or so," Starsky ordered as he sank wearily into the bedside chair, hoping Hutch would nap so he could as well. I can't remember when I've ever been more exhausted, he thought as his eyes closed.

**********

The next thing Starsky knew, his nose was registering the wonderful smell of fresh coffee and pancakes. He awakened with his mouth watering and his stomach growling loudly in anticipation. The door to Hutch's room opened and an aide entered carrying two trays.

"I took the liberty of ordering a guest tray since you seemed intent on staying. I hope you're hungry."

"Lady, you're an angel in disguise. I'm starved!" Starsky sat up, ready to dig in.

Hutch opened his eyes and blearily tried to focus on the tray of food that had appeared on his over-bed table as if by magic. Starsky was encouraged to see Hutch look at the food with a similar hunger. In no time, the room was filled with the warm pancake smell, and both men were eating as if the meal were their last.

The morning routine passed with doctor's rounds, vital signs, and optimistic words about Hutch's progress. The $24,000 question hung like a cloud in the quiet room when Hutch asked, "When can I be discharged?"

"I'd like to give you another twenty-four hours of IV antibiotics and get the results of the preliminary blood cultures back, so I know we're on the right track with the antibiotic therapy. Your white blood count was dangerously high when you were admitted. You were close to septic shock. That isn't something to take lightly, Ken." The doctor's answer was kind but firm.

Hutch's disappointment was obvious, his features darkening like the sun drifting quickly behind a storm cloud.

"I should get the lab reports back tomorrow by early afternoon. Let's say if everything looks good and your fever stays controlled, I'll discharge you after your IV dose at two p.m. Can you live with that?"

Hutch's face broke into a smile that took years off his face. "Yeah, thanks, Doc. I can live with that just fine."

"Okay, but remember, that's only if the blood count is coming down and the fever is controlled," he stressed.

"Got it, no sweat," Hutch answered optimistically.

The doctor shook Hutch's hand with an understanding smile, nodded to Starsky, and left the room.

Starsky sat on the edge of Hutch's bed as soon as the door closed, taking his lover in a celebratory hug. "I'm gonna go home and make a grocery run and clean up a little. Then, there won't be anything to do tomorrow but take you straight home and both of us can stay there," Starsky said, praying he wasn't getting his or Hutch's hopes up unnecessarily.

"For the next twenty years, at least," Hutch kidded, nuzzling amidst dark curls until he found the shell of Starsky's ear.

"At least," Starsky readily agreed, giving Hutch a gentle squeeze. "I'll be back in a couple hours. Rest, okay? Don't get into any trouble."

"Are you getting the groceries at Ralph's?" Hutch asked.

"Probably, why?"

"Would you bring me one of their deli corned-beef sandwiches?"

Starsky smiled broadly. "You bet. With brown mustard and kosher pickles."

"Hurry back," Hutch said with a smile.

Starsky kissed Hutch's full mouth tenderly, treating his partner like the treasure he was before pulling away reluctantly to break the kiss and leave.

**********

Starsky whistled tunelessly as he slid behind the wheel of the Torino and pulled away from the hospital toward Bay City. Once hitting the city, he made a short stop at a gas station to fill up and then headed for the station to check in.

Upon entering the squadroom, Starsky was met with a chorus of questions asking how Hutch was doing. After spending a moment to assure his colleagues his partner was doing well and might even be discharged as early as the next day, he went to his desk.

Arturo had completed the report on Jeanie Walden's arrest, leaving a copy for Starsky to amend and sign. As Starsky sat to read the crisply written report, Arturo quietly approached.

"How is he, really?" the young detective asked, his eyes filled with serious concern when they met Starsky's.

"Yesterday and last night were pretty rough." Starsky gravely shook his head with the memory. "His fever was so high, I thought he was gonna incinerate. He scared the hell out of me a couple'a times. But he was better this morning after breakfast, so I think he's on the mend."

"What about...about the stuff she gave him?" Arturo whispered.

"It was contaminated. That's what made him so sick. But the doc said, while she damn near killed him with an overdose, he didn't get the stuff over a long enough time to cause the other problem," Starsky replied, whispering also.

Arturo let out a big breath of relief and, giving Starsky's shoulder a squeeze, went back to his own desk. Starsky smiled, realizing he joined Arturo in that profound sense of relief, then signed the report and carried it to Dobey's office.

A muffled "Come in" sounded in response to Starsky's knock.

Dobey looked up at Starsky, the big man's eyebrows rising toward his hairline in question. "How's Hutch?" he verbalized in tandem.

"He's gonna be fine."

"Is he really?" Dobey pressed.

"Yes, sir, he is." Starsky's reply was full of conviction.

"Jeanie Walden was medically checked out before they took her to County. She has hepatitis. I had the hospital and Hutch's doctor notified."

Starsky felt like he'd been sucker-punched, and his knees wobbled as he lowered himself into a nearby chair.

Starsky remembered that Jeanie was thin, but with his attention focused on getting to his partner, he'd dismissed that fact completely. Now, he remembered Ben Forest's surprise that Jeanie was still alive, and it came back to haunt him. The ER doctor's words came flooding back as well. "Heroin wasn't the only thing in that vial. It was crawling with bacterial contaminates. Your friend has been given multiple intravenous injections from that contaminated fluid with the same syringe over and over." Oh, God, contaminated with what? Starsky's mind could easily conjure up pallid faces with yellow eyes that roamed in dark alleys, the walking dead and dying. Please, God, not Hutch. Don't let that touch Hutch, he prayed desperately.

The confident joy he'd been engulfed in when he'd entered the station evaporated as if it had only existed because of smoke and mirrors, its presence not real but a cruel joke.

"Just because she was sick doesn't mean she gave it to Hutch," Dobey countered. "She tested negative for drugs when she was arrested. There's no reason to believe the works she used on your partner were her own," Dobey continued reasonably.

Starsky nodded mutely. His brain racing in fear blocked the thread of hope Dobey was offering.

"I just wanted to be the one to tell you in case..." Dobey's voice trailed off.

"Yeah, thanks...I appreciate it." Starsky took in a steadying breath and met the captain's eyes, seeing compassionate worry there.

"We'll just have to wait and see."

"Right," Starsky agreed, firmly pushing away the negative possibilities. Nothing is gonna cut short our life together, he vowed silently. Nothing!

"I'm going home and clean up a little, get some groceries and stuff for when I bring Hutch home, then head back to the hospital. He had kind of a rough night last night. I want to be there tonight if he needs me."

Dobey nodded his understanding. "Let me know...if you bring him home. Edith will want to take something over. You know how she is..."

Starsky smiled with the memory of so many lovingly prepared dishes Edith had provided during his own convalescence. "Tell her thanks, Captain. Anything she makes won't go to waste, that's for sure."

Starsky pulled himself up out of the chair. "I'll be taking the rest of the week off, if that's okay. I've got the comp time coming after the Shelton case--"

"Don't worry about it. I know what you've got on the books. I'll take care of all that. Just keep me posted and let me know if you guys need anything," Dobey interrupted.

"I will, thanks." Starsky gave his best imitation of a smile as he left the office. The earlier spring in his step sadly absent.

The squadroom was a flurry of activity as Starsky re-entered it from Dobey's office. A loud woman, obviously under the influence of something, belligerently shouted her answers as Lizzie asked questions and Arturo stood close by in case more muscle was needed. Simmons and Babcock were both on the phone as Starsky headed toward the door, wearily returning their wave.

Starsky drove to the grocery store on autopilot, picking up the items he needed and the sandwich Hutch had requested, then drove home. He was grateful traffic was light in the direction he headed. After putting away the groceries and straightening up the kitchen, he quickly stripped and changed the bedclothes. The house in order enough to satisfy him, he stepped into the shower, letting the hot water beat on his tense muscles as he willed his mind to blank and his body to relax. Once clean and marginally refreshed, he hit the road for the trip back to the hospital and Hutch.

Traffic was quite a bit heavier as he was engulfed in the commuter crunch coming out of Bay City, and it continued all the way to Riverside. The car smelled thoroughly of Hutch's corned beef and his own pastrami by the time he arrived.

He opened the door to Hutch's room and, seeing his partner was asleep, entered quietly. The TV was on, and he recognized an old rerun of All in the Family. Starsky sat in the chair only half watching the TV playing a silly episode of an artist friend who wanted to paint Gloria in the nude.

Hutch stirred slightly, evidently disturbed by a particularly loud segment of the laugh track. "Hey...you're back," Hutch said, still sounding half asleep.

"I've got your sandwich. You hungry?"

"Starved. Hand it over and nobody gets hurt," Hutch teased, pressing the button on his bed's control to raise the head.

Starsky produced both sandwiches, which effectively ended any conversation.

Moments later, he folded up the empty wrappers and tossed them into the trash can with a flourish. "How are you feeling?"

"A little achy and my arms are still sore as hell, but the fever hasn't been as high," Hutch reported patting his full belly with contentment. "Thanks for the sandwich, it hit the spot."

"No sweat, I love seeing you eat something I consider normal," Starsky jibed, his eyes taking in every inch of his lover.

"What's the matter?" Hutch queried. "You're looking at me like you expect me to explode any second."

Starsky jumped guiltily, his mouth suddenly dry. "Nothing. What makes you think something's wrong?" Starsky answered with an audible swallow.

"You forget who you're talking to? I know you inside and out, Gordo," Hutch said kindly. "So what's up?"

Starsky stared at Hutch while his mind raced. He knew he should just come straight out and tell his partner. With Hutch's background in pre-med, he had a much greater medical knowledge base than Starsky did. Yet he sat, mutely staring, afraid that voicing it engendered it more power.

"Jeanie...uh...Jeanie's sick," Starsky stumbled.

"I figured as much looking at her." Hutch's face saddened and he looked down at his hands. "Is she going to die?" he breathed, not looking up.

"I don't know. Nobody told me. They only said...said what she...had.

"What?" Hutch asked, his voice strong and his pale blue eyes piercing Starsky's soul, demanding an answer.

"Uh..." Starsky licked his lips wishing his mouth wasn't filled with cotton. "Hepatitis."

Hutch nodded slowly. "Yeah, I should've guessed. She was jaundiced now that I think about it." Hutch rested his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes with a deep sigh.

"They're probably gonna test you, too," Starsky said, his fear evident in his quivering voice.

"They probably already have, knowing I was given IV drugs." Hutch raised his head to look at Starsky in puzzlement. "Did you just find out?"

Starsky nodded.

"Is that what you're upset about? Telling me that Jeanie's sick?"

"No...well, yeah...but not... I mean, I knew you'd be sad and I didn't want that. But it's not her being sick that has me spooked. It's you I'm worried about." Starsky's voice cracked in spite of his best effort to prevent it.

"Come here," Hutch called, extending his arms, and Starsky eagerly complied.

"I'm okay. Even if I test negative now, I'll have to test again in thirty days, and maybe thirty days after that. If it happens, it happens...although I think it's pretty unlikely. I didn't have any close physical contact with her. I never saw her use the syringe she used on me to shoot herself up. We'll just be careful until the incubation period passes. It's not like we've never used condoms for sex before, just not with each other." Hutch's voice was soft and assured as he settled Starsky's head against his chest and hugged him tightly.

"I don't want anything...anything to take you away from me."

"And nothing's going to if I can help it. You're stuck with me, Starsk, warts and all."

"You don't have any warts,"

"Sez you."

"Well, there are those two moles on your neck," Starsky teased, just before Hutch's long-fingered hands went from rubbing slow circles on his back to slide to his ribs on both sides and start to tickle unmercifully. Both men gave into laughing.

The laughter wafted out of the room to be heard by the staff at the nurses' station, where the charge nurse looked up and frowned. "Better go check on them. The curly haired one told me when he was in the hospital, they had a party in his room and they set off the fire sprinklers. Let's not have a repeat of that here, please. I just got this promotion. I don't want to lose it in the first month."

Stifling a chuckle of her own, the younger nurse rose to check on the occupants in Room 306.

**********

Hutch pulled in the driveway, seeing the lights on in various rooms of the house, signaling Starsky had gotten out of court early as he'd hoped. It was Friday, and Hutch was looking forward to the weekend off. This had been his first full week back to work and, while it was still technically light duty, he was exhausted.

He pulled his aching body out of the car, locked up, and plodded toward the kitchen door.

"Hi, honey. I'm home," he called, putting energy he didn't feel into the greeting.

"Good, dinner's in the oven and I've got a surprise for ya," Starsky called from another room.

God, all I want to do is fall on the couch and not move until next Tuesday, Hutch groaned silently.

"Just tell me it's nothing more taxing than one of your old movies," Hutch said, moving toward the hallway to find his partner.

Starsky's head popped out of the bathroom, his face one part anticipation, one part concern.

I must look as dead as I feel, Hutch thought as he saw the anticipation falter and the concern grow.

"Hey, babe...you okay?" Starsky asked, helping Hutch shrug free of his jacket and shoulder holster.

"Yeah, just tired. Sitting on my ass all day's worse than chasing after the bad guys!" Hutch offered with a smile and a kiss to the side of Starsky's face closest to him.

"Yeah, being bored to death should qualify as a work-comp claim. My surprise should be just what the doctor ordered. Starsky hung Hutch's jacket and holster in the hall closet and tugged on Hutch's sleeve, pulling him into the bathroom. Once inside, Starsky killed the overhead lights revealing a steaming tub surrounded by multiple flickering candles.

"It's all yours, Blondie; get naked and hop in! I'll finish dinner while you're soakin'. How's that sound?"

"Like Heaven," Hutch breathed in gratitude. "Just poke your head in once in a while and make sure I haven't fallen asleep and drowned."

"That would put a serious damper on phase two of my surprise." Starsky gave an exaggerated wag of his eyebrows and retreated to the kitchen.

**********

"Are you a prune yet?"

The question startled Hutch out of his light doze. With a yawn, he stretched and pulled himself to sit upright in the tub. "Almost. Dinner ready?"

"Yep." Starsky held out a towel as Hutch struggled to his feet and stepped out of the water, tapping the drain release with his foot as he did so. Starsky silently disappeared for a short moment, coming back with Hutch's robe and tenderly wrapping him up in it.

"Thanks, partner. That was great!"

"Come on, let's eat."

"Smells wonderful," Hutch said as he followed Starsky to the dining room.

The plates were filled and waiting. Both men abandoned any attempt at conversation in favor of eating while everything was hot.

Hutch had originally feared he'd be too tired to do justice to Starsky's efforts, but was relieved to be eating with a growing appetite, and surprisingly cleaned his plate. He leaned back while finishing the last mouthful and sighed with satisfaction.

"Man, that was great!" Hutch praised.

"Well, I can't take all the credit. It's one of the dinners Edith sent over frozen. All I did was put it in the oven."

"Thanks for doing it...and the bath and all that. I could get used to this. You'll spoil me."

"Give me about another forty years to work at it," Starsky said, his eyes shining in the reflection of the candles.

"You're magic and you don't even know it," Hutch whispered, taking Starsky's hand in his own. "Damn, I love you," Hutch said with a kiss to the hand he held.

"No magic to it, Hutch. I just appreciate what I have."

Hutch pulled on Starsky's hand until he brought that beloved face close enough to kiss. Their lips met in a soft, sweet, and unhurried kiss, tongues dancing over and around as they re-ignited the flavors of dinner and the wine.

"Let me help with the clean-up," Hutch offered when he pulled away.

"Nah, go crash on the couch. It won't take me long."

"It'll take you half as long if I help," Hutch insisted, knowing if his ass hit the couch, he'd be out for the count, and Starsky didn't deserve for him to flake out after all the trouble he'd gone to.

The dishes were scraped, rinsed, and loaded into the dishwasher in no time. Both men moved in an orchestration of sexual anticipation with frequent smiles of promise and soft touches. With the final wipe of the table and the dishwasher running, Starsky blew out the candles and took Hutch's hand, leading him toward the bedroom.

There were candles flickering in there as well, and Hutch smiled at the soft scent of lavender and sandalwood. Starsky gently nudged him to the edge of the bed and tugged the tie on the robe loose and let it fall open. He ran his hands up Hutch's chest and over to each shoulder, swiping the robe free to drift slowly to the floor.

Starsky followed his hands with his mouth, kissing up Hutch's chest to his shoulders and neck. Hutch fastened his hands tightly to Starsky's shoulders and pulled him down to the bed with him. The familiar weight settled full length against Hutch. One of Starsky's strong thighs insinuated its way between Hutch's, spreading them. Starsky's kisses grew hungrier, his touches more aggressive, and Hutch closed his eyes, letting his answering passion flare.

Hutch rolled slightly to the side, reaching between their bodies to grasp the rock solid column of Starsky's erection, stroking it slowly, root to tip. Starsky rocked into Hutch's fist, encouraging Hutch to go faster, harder, but Hutch refused to be rushed. Starsky moaned his frustration against Hutch's lips.

"Hutch, please...I want you so bad. Do something...anything," Starsky pleaded.

Hutch sucked on Starsky's earlobe, then gently rimmed the outer shell, causing Starsky to shiver. Hutch pulled his hand firmly upward from Starsky's balls, encasing his length in a tight grip. The pre-come he expressed was collected by Hutch's index finger, and he drew a bead directly between the rounded globes of Starsky's ass, circling the waiting pucker before gently pushing inside.

"Yes... Ohhhh, yes!" Starsky almost howled his pleasure. "More...come on. I'm so fuckin' ready for you. Come on..." Starsky was pushing himself hard against Hutch's hand, wanting more...needing more.

"Okay, wait a sec. Let me get..." Hutch withdrew his hand and rolled to reach into the nightstand for a condom and lube.

"I got it already," Starsky panted, coming up quickly to his knees and snagging a condom from under the pillow.

Hutch lay flat on his back at the direction of Starsky's hand pressed against his chest. He watched, mesmerized, as Starsky opened the condom and put it into his mouth, then lowered his head slowly to Hutch's groin.

The image of Starsky putting the condom on Hutch with his mouth was almost Hutch's undoing. "Where the hell did you learn to do that?" Hutch gasped.

Starsky just smiled smugly as he deep-throated Hutch's shaft, sucking hard, his cheeks hollowed.

"Oh, God..." Hutch was the one moaning now, his fingers clawing to find purchase in the linens.

Starsky slowly released his suction, leaving Hutch's shaft glistening with his saliva, and gracefully threw his leg over Hutch's hips, straddling him. Starsky helped to center himself as his body was impaled...down, down, down, until he rested fully joined against Hutch's body. Starsky threw back his head in ecstasy.

"So good...so good. Oh, babe...I couldn't think of anything but this all the way home."

Hutch ran his fingers up Starsky's torso, carding through the thick chest hair, tweaking Starsky's pebbled nipples.

Starsky reached and held Hutch's hands against his chest hard as he drew lazy circles with his hips against Hutch's groin. Hutch pressed up higher and deeper. With a sudden cry, Starsky fell forward, his elbows resting on either side of Hutch's head as Starsky's body rose and fell, taking Hutch in with deep sure strokes.

"I can't get enough of you. I never will," Starsky grunted as his strokes began to pick up speed. Hutch rose to meet him, the soft sound of their bodies joining and their panting breaths the only sound in the room.

"Not yet, oh, damn...I can't...God, I'm commiinngg! Huuuutch!" Starsky screamed as his whole body stiffened then shook wildly as he climaxed.

Hutch dug both hands into Starsky's ass as he pressed his lover's body hard against his, giving Starsky the friction he needed as Hutch, himself, followed his partner over the edge.

As their quaking limbs quieted, Starsky fell full-weight on Hutch in a boneless sprawl that Hutch threw lead-weighted arms around to hold close.

An indeterminate amount of time later, Hutch long since softened and slipped free of Starsky's body, Starsky, silently got up from the bed. He removed the condom from Hutch and tossed it in the toilet bowl as he relieved himself and headed to the kitchen. After he'd taken a healthy chug of orange juice out of the carton, he grabbed a clean washcloth from the laundry basket that sat in the corner of the room. He ran warm water in the sink, intending to go back to bed and clean Hutch up, but as he stood waiting those few seconds for the water to warm, his eyes fell on the stack of mail he'd placed on the counter near the phone. His gaze was drawn to the envelope on top addressed to Hutch. The envelope speared his heart, and he couldn't draw his eyes away from it. The return address--LA County Health Department--and the red stamp by Hutch's name, proclaiming "Personal and Private Health Communication," blared at him. Like the irritating whine of the emergency broadcast system tests on the radio.

Starsky ran the washcloth under the tap and wrung it out, pushing the handle to the off position with the back of his hand, all without taking his eyes off that envelope. He felt frozen, much like he'd felt when he'd brought it in from the mailbox earlier.

"Why didn't you open it?" Hutch's voice sounded close behind him, and he jumped.

"Wasn't addressed to me," Starsky answered without turning.

Hutch's soft laugh sounded a little closer. "Since when has that stopped you?"

Hutch reached for the envelope, but Starsky's hand stopped him. "Not now...not tonight. Tomorrow's soon enough."

Hutch let his hand fall to his side. Starsky turned and took a deliberate step forward, dropping to a crouch in front of Hutch to wipe over his genitals and belly, removing the evidence of their earlier lovemaking. "Tomorrow's soon enough," Hutch echoed, taking Starsky's hand and pulling him up, washcloth and all, he led them back to bed.

The End

Send your comments to :
ZebraThree Productions: z3prod@yahoogroups.com
Lucy: lucydoty@verizon.net

Coming October, 2004 on Starsky & Hutch:
"Shout at the Devil," by Candy Apple

SHSVS Home || Zebra3 Productions || Episode Main Page