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