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She was staring at him, and then seemed to shake herself. She looked past him to the sled, then back at Starsky. Unsteadily, she said, "It's...him?"
Rita shifted restlessly. "Uh...maybe this isn't such a great idea?"
Marianne looked at her. "No, no. It's all right." She seemed calmer when her eyes went to Starsky again. "Of course, it's all right to bring him in." She swallowed. "Is he serious?"
"Kinda hard to tell," Starsky replied. He was anxious to get Hutch into a more comfortable room. "Where can we put him?"
She opened the door and led the way through the living room, then pointed down a wide hall. "The last room on the left. It has an attached bath."
Starsky peeked in. The room had a queen-sized bed with sturdy wooden furniture. "Terrific," he said, already heading back toward the door; he didn't want to leave Hutch any longer than necessary. He trotted back out to the sled and knelt beside it, preparing to say something soothing. But then he noticed that Hutch's eyes were still closed. His partner was breathing somewhat harshly and still sweating, but Starsky decided to let him be. At least, if he wasn't fully conscious, he was less likely to be aware of the identity of their hostess.
Rita appeared. "Time to get him inside?"
"Marianne is going to hold the door open."
Starsky took the sled. "Ready?"
They hoisted together and moved their burden toward the house. Thankfully, the doorway was fairly wide and the length of the living room allowed them to get the sled all the way inside, before having to turn it to go down the hall.
"Put it down," Starsky said as they reached the bedroom. They wouldn't be able to get the sled inside the bedroom without tilting it, and that was out of the question. He took out his pocketknife. "I'll carry him." He cut the ropes that bound his partner to the sled.
Marianne stepped around him to move into the room. "I'll pull the covers back."
"Is there anything I can do?" Rita asked Starsky as he put his knife away.
"Just make sure the blanket beneath him doesn't catch on anything."
Starsky worked his right arm beneath the blanket at Hutch's shoulders. "Buddy," he whispered, "I've gotta move you. Just once more." Reluctantly, he put his left arm beneath the blanket at the blond's knees. Normally, he would prefer to leverage himself against the other's upper thigh to make it easier to lift him, but that was out of the question with the wounds in Hutch's groin.
"Okay, here we go," he said, then lifted with a mighty heave.
There was a gasp from Hutch and his head and arms fell back. Starsky moved as fast as he could to the bed, feeling the tremendous strain on his back and legs.
Marianne was on the other side of the bed, holding the covers back as Starsky lowered Hutch to the mattress.
"Want me to move the blanket from beneath him?" she asked.
"No, leave it there," Starsky said, panting. It'd be better to move it later after he'd cleaned Hutch up, rather than soiling the bed sheets.
Rita said, "I'd better get moving. I'll take the sled back outside, then get the first aid supplies and bring it to you. Then I'm outta here."
Starsky nodded. He found himself wishing it was Rita who could stay and Marianne who would look for help in the car, but he didn't know how to voice what was on his mind. Plus, Rita seemed confident about getting help. Seeing a notepad on the nightstand, he tore a page from it and picked up a nearby pen. "Take this," he said as he began to write. "When you get to a phone, call Captain Dobey of the LAPD at this number. Tell him Starsky and Hutch need help to be sent."
She took the paper from him. "Listen," her voice was apologetic, "I don't know how long it'll take. With the phones down, I can't call you to let you know what's happening."
Starsky squeezed her arm. "I know you'll do the best you can."
She bent to pick up the sled. Then she was gone.
There was a sharp in-drawn breath and Starsky turned around to the bed. Hutch was lying awkwardly upon it, his barely open eyes focused on the wall. Thankfully, Marianne was on the side he was turned away from, and he was still unaware of her presence.
Starsky knelt next to the bed. "Hey, buddy boy, got you into a nice bed, huh?" He brushed at the sweat on Hutch's forehead. "We still need to move you a little, don't we?" He looked up at Marianne. "I want to turn him a little onto his side, so I can get to all his injuries. Do you have some pillows or something that we could use to support his back?"
She moved toward the door. "Let me get some from the sofa."
Starsky decided that the top blanket wasn't needed, so he pulled it off Hutch and bunched it behind him. He then took the bedclothes, which were still pushed back, and molded them around Hutch's back. There was no point in covering Hutch with them until Starsky was done with the first aid.
Marianne appeared with a couple of firm pillows. Starsky took them from her and also placed them near the blanket at Hutch's back, trying to build a small mountain range of cloth. When he glanced up, he saw her looking down at Hutch's naked form. Then she looked at Starsky. "What happened to him?"
"He's been shot, tangled up in barbed wire, and beat up." Tightly, he commanded, "Get me a towel."
She stepped into the bathroom and came out with a hand towel. Starsky held up his hand and caught it when she tossed it to him. He draped it over Hutch's genitals.
She shook her head in disbelief and said, "Don't worry about his modesty, I've seen him before. About thirty minutes before I found out he was a cop." Her tone was quiet and level, but Starsky knew that all the anger at being used was present again. Before he could comment, she added, "Sorry. This isn't the place."
Starsky decided to let it go. "Look, get on the other side of the bed. I'm going to tilt him toward me, and I want you to push the blankets and pillows against his back."
She nodded and obeyed, kneeling carefully on the mattress.
Starsky leaned close to Hutch, who had closed his eyes again. "Listen, buddy," he whispered, "I'm going to tilt you up onto your side. It might hurt a little, but I think you'll be more comfortable. Okay? I need you to help and roll towards me a little." He took Hutch's far shoulder in one hand and hip in the other. He gently pulled. "Roll towards me, Hutch."
Hutch made a groan of effort and tilted onto his left side.
"That's good, that's good," Starsky encouraged. Marianne pushed the pillows and blankets up against Hutch's back. "Okay, buddy, that's all for now. That's perfect." He patted Hutch on the head. "That a little better for you, huh?"
Hutch's eyes blinked. He was still breathing hard from the effort of moving, and he muttered, "Where are we?"
Starsky rubbed at his partner's shoulders. "We're in a house where you're nice and safe. Someone has gone to get help. In the meantime I'm gonna take real good care of you."
Hutch's expression went blank after a moment, as though Starsky's words hadn't been computed. But Starsky couldn't see the point of going into an explanation about the fire, and why they were in a house instead of a hospital, while Hutch's state of awareness was questionable.
There was a sound from the front of the house and Marianne left the room. She returned a moment later with the basket of first aid supplies. "Rita brought this." She set it next to Starsky. "What else can I get you?"
He wished both him and Hutch could rest a while, but that was out of the question. "Cold compresses for his forehead, warm water and wash cloths to clean him up. Mild soap. Anything like peroxide or rubbing alcohol that will work as a disinfectant." Starsky glanced into the basket at the gauze. "Lots of regular-sized bandages."
"Some of that is in the bathroom," she gestured with her chin. "I'll get the rest." She left the room.
Starsky gave Hutch's shoulder a final squeeze, then got up and went into the bathroom. He grabbed another towel and some soap. He opened the medicine cabinet. There wasn't much in it, other than a box of Band-Aids and bottle of peroxide. He took them.
He placed the items on the floor next to the nightstand. Then he stood, watching Hutch, and began to roll up his sleeves.
Hutch seemed even quieter now, and was perhaps only partially conscious. The last thing Starsky wanted to do was disturb him further, especially when the immediate result would be more pain. But the end result--clean wounds and no infection--didn't leave him with any choice.
Marianne appeared with a pan and a stack of cloths. "Here's the cool water. There's no other first aid items in the house. Did you find something in the bathroom?"
"There's some Band-Aids and peroxide, but the bottle is half empty." As Starsky spoke he continued to stare at Hutch. Marianne cleared the lamp from the end table and set the pan and cloths there. He hated the thought that was going through his mind...what he was going to have to do in the name of taking proper care of his partner.
Marianne moved toward the door. "I'll get something for the warm water."
Starsky reached for her arm to stop her. Without emotion, he asked, "Is there any alcohol in the house? Whiskey or brandy?"
"Yes," she whispered, looking at him as though puzzled by his expression.
"Bring it," he said softly.
She turned away.
Starsky went to the nightstand and dunked a cloth into the cold water. He squeezed it out and then placed it on Hutch's forehead.
Hutch's face twitched in surprise, and then his eyes opened a little.
Starsky knelt beside the bed. "How ya doin?" he whispered.
The other swallowed and, in a strained whisper, muttered, "Hurts all over."
Ah, Hutch. Starsky picked up his partner's hand and squeezed it. "Hutch?" He brushed his fingers along the other's mustache. "I'm going to have to clean your wounds and disinfect them. It's gonna hurt, pal. It's gonna hurt a lot. Can't be helped."
Hutch closed his eyes and looked away, his jaw tight.
Starsky took Hutch's hand and pressed to his forehead, gathering the strength to hurt when all he wanted to do was comfort.
He looked up when Marianne appeared from the hall with a large, empty pan and a couple of bottles of brandy. He moved quickly to the door, and took the bottles from her just as she was about to enter the room.
She looked him up and down. "You don't want him to know I'm here, do you?"
The words were accusing, but the tone was not. Starsky looked away, not knowing how to respond truthfully.
She went into the bathroom and turned on the water to fill the pan. Starsky followed and she said over her shoulder. "If you want my help, I'm available. If not..." she trailed off. When the pan was full she turned around and held it out to him.
Not knowing how else to communicate what he was feeling, Starsky replied in a low voice, "I'll call you if I need you."
She left the room without a backward glance.
Starsky put the new pan on the floor beside the bed. He found a pair of scissors in the basket. "All right, buddy boy," he said as he sat on the bed next to Hutch and cut the tie to the bandage around his partner's lower torso, "we're gonna get you all fixed up here." The bandage had stuck to the dried blood and when Starsky yanked it loose it drew a half-hearted gasp.
Starsky shifted closer to the head of the bed. "Hutch, buddy, I'm gonna have to clean the wound. You want something to bite down on?" He reached for a dry cloth. "Huh, pal?" He held it up to Hutch's mouth. "Might make it easier."
Hutch's eyes were pinched shut, as though in dread, but he finally opened his mouth a little and Starsky inserted the cloth. He picked up Hutch's hand and wrapped it around a wooden bar at the head of the bed frame. He did the same with the other hand. "You grip all you want."
Now that Hutch was prepared for the worst, Starsky didn't want to waste any time. He dunked another cloth into the pan of warm water. He briefly did the same with the soap, and then rubbed the bar against the cloth. He then mentally braced himself, and pressed the soapy cloth against the blood surrounding the wound.
Hutch made a low, animal sound through his gritted teeth, and his hands tightened on the headboard.
Starsky knew he had to ignore it and keep working. He wiped swiftly at the blood, then scrubbed at the wound when he could see it, which caused Hutch to shift his legs and brace a foot against the mattress. He quickly rinsed the cloth out, applied more soap, then rubbed once more at the open wound, which was now bleeding freshly, relieved to see that dirt was appearing on the cloth, and no longer in Hutch's body.
Starsky let the cloth fall back into the pan and he grabbed the nearest bottle of brandy. He tore the cap off and tilted it over the wound.
* * *
It didn't surprised Marianne when she heard it, for she had been watching from the hall, a dozen feet away.
The dark-haired one--Starsky was his name, she remembered--was now rushing to apply gauze to the wound and trying to tape it into place, while keeping firm pressure. It was tempting to help him, whether he wanted it or not, but she decided to not add to the displeasure of the job he had to do with her presence.
He'd finally managed to finish with the taping and now he pulled the cloth out of Ken's mouth, which hadn't done any good once he started screaming.
"At least we don't have to worry about you gettin' pneumonia," Starsky was babbling to him, "if you're gonna keep your lungs nice and clear."
It was interesting, watching them. Watching him. Ken was no longer screaming but Starsky was trying so hard so soothe him, petting him and talking to him. Somehow, in all his coaxing, he was able to get Ken to turn a little more so that his back was more exposed. Marianne took a few steps forward and could see that his back looked as injured as the front. She had thought Starsky wanted the whiskey because he was going to try to remove the bullet. Now it appeared that there wasn't a bullet, because it had gone through Ken, creating two separate wounds.
Starsky made sure Ken's hands were firmly gripped around the headboard again. He didn't bother with trying to give him something to bite down on. His face closed and he began scrubbing at the wound on Ken's back, ignoring the way Ken was gasping and flinching.
She'd seen the look on Starsky's face when he asked for the whiskey. This task was not something he had wanted to do. Maybe another reason he hadn't wanted her in the room was so she wouldn't see Ken while he was so...vulnerable.
She felt a flare of affection, but squelched and lowered her eyes. Ken was capable of incredible deceit and not to be trusted. She had seen Starsky quite a bit during the Fitch trial and she had always thought of him as a typical cop--shallow, crude, probably alcoholic, and incapable of feeling very deeply, for surely the ugliness of a cop's job was too intense for a normal, healthy human being to bear. So, to bear it, there had to be plenty of walls built.
She knew about walls.
But here they were, the shallow one showing so much caring and concern for one who was so untrustworthy. Surely, even in the code of the department, there were limits on how much you trusted your partner. The police might stand for law and justice, but they were just as corrupt as many of those who were on the other side of the jail cells. In many ways worse, because it was easier for them to get away with so much more.
There was another scream, sounds of the mattress creaking as Ken fought against the pain his partner was inflicting.
Marianne did not look up. Ken's throat would be raw when his torment was over. She went to the kitchen to make sure there was enough ice for ice water.
* * *
Even though Hutch still made periodic gasping noises, the room seemed relatively quiet to Starsky's ears. He had disinfected and bandaged the two sides of the bullet wound, the ugly tear at the back of Hutch's calf, and the injuries to his groin. He had discovered cuts in Hutch's feet and taken care of them. Now he was scrubbing at and applying peroxide to the smaller injuries from the barbed wire. He knew the peroxide stung but, relatively speaking, it was a minor pain and for the most part Hutch didn't complain.
After cleaning each series of wounds, Starsky had applied Band-Aids, wanting to be sure even the small injuries stayed clear of any foreign debris.
Hutch was panting his exhaustion, each exhalation almost in tune to the ticking of the clock on the wall.
The last series of injuries were the larger ones across Hutch's midsection, beneath his sternum. Starsky dipped the cloth into the bloody water, which he'd emptied twice, grateful it would be the last time. He applied the soap, then scrubbed across the three wounds. Because they were deeper than most of the others, he wasn't surprised when Hutch tilted his head back and made a noise that sounded like a soft, weary cry.
"Alllllmost done," Starsky assured softly, his own voice weary. He tilted the bottle of peroxide, not worried about being conservative like he had before, because this was the last series of wounds.
Hutch sucked in a shaky, teeth-clenched breath.
Starsky watched the substance bubble up as it removed dirt from the wound. He reached to the box of Band-Aids, and found himself struggling with the paper peelings. His own hands were shaking a little, and he realized then just how weary he himself was. His neck and the back of his shoulders ached, his eyes kept blinking, and he felt the urge to collapse on the bed next to Hutch.
He looked over his shoulder at the clock. It was a little past seven and almost dusk outside. It had been around ten o'clock this morning when he'd returned to Milford's estate.
Nine solid hours of intense angst for them both. And pain and sweat for Hutch. And, for himself, a non-stop attempt to soothe and comfort the past three or four.
He smoothed the bandages into place over the final three wounds. Then he pulled at the blanket beneath Hutch, while bracing a hand against him to hold him in place. He got the upper part of the blanket free, which was wet with water and antiseptic, and soiled with blood. He stood, feeling the weariness in his legs, and pulled the rest of the blanket from beneath Hutch's lower body. He wadded it up and threw it into a far corner.
He knelt back beside his partner, whose eyes were squinted open. "Now, we've got you on nice clean sheets," he whispered, pulling at the bedclothes and covering Hutch with them. "The worst is all over, pal. From here on out it's a piece of cake."
Starsky heard footsteps and looked up. Marianne stopped at the entrance and held out a glass. "Water."
Starsky got up and took it. "Thanks." He watched her stride away, her cooperation making him feel guilty that he had, essentially, demanded that she stay away from Hutch.
He took the first few sips himself, realizing how thirsty he was. Then he carefully sat on the bed next to his partner's head. "You thirsty, buddy?"
Hutch blinked more, as though trying to rally.
"Here, pal." Starsky lifted his head and brought the glass to his lips. Hutch started to raise his hands, then seemed to reconsider when it was obvious his partner was going to do all the work. The glass was nearly empty before Hutch stopped swallowing.
"There, that's better," Starsky said, placing the glass aside. He stroked up and down the unbruised side of his partner's face. "How ya feelin'?"
The response was a barely audible whisper. "So tired."
"Yeah, I hear you." Starsky gently laid Hutch's head back on the pillow. The cold compress had long since been dislodged with his partner's thrashings, and he now re-wet it in the pan of cold water and placed it across the pale forehead. He took another cloth and wet it, and dabbed at the dry sweat along Hutch's chest and neck. He also used it to wipe at the redness decorating the blond's checks, from the tears that had streamed down his face during the worst of his suffering.
When he was finished, Starsky knelt by the mattress again. "You need to sleep, Hutch. That's all you have to worry about." He massaged his fingers into the other's blanketed shoulder. "I'm gonna be nearby if you need anything. Just want you to rest and not worry about nothin' else."
Hutch's eyes were already closed. Starsky wonder what pain-killers Marianne might have available, but he preferred to not have to disturb Hutch further. He seemed exhausted enough to fall asleep without drugs.
Starsky gave Hutch's shoulder a final squeeze. After getting up, he went toward the bathroom, reaching in to turn on the light, then closed the door only partway, so Hutch wouldn't be in a completely dark room in a strange place. The ceiling light was already off--Starsky just now realized how dark the room had become with the setting of the sun--and he exited, leaving the bedroom door open a crack.
Lights were on in the living room. He found Marianne sitting in an easy chair, leafing through a magazine and smoking a cigarette. She looked up. "Are you finished for now?"
Starsky plopped down onto the couch. "Yeah. Hopefully, he'll sleep through the night." He rubbed at his neck and arched his back.
Her bright, inquisitive eyes seemed to dance...he wasn't sure if it was from humor or something else. She said, "Does he treat you as kindly as you treat him?"
Starsky tugged off his shoes. "Do you mind if I put my feet up?"
He rested his feet on the coffee table. He didn't want to answer her question. Once again, the words had been biting, but the tone was conversational. More importantly, he didn't like talking about his feelings for Hutch with anyone. Not even Hutch.
But she was looking at him, and he thought it in all their best interests to at least be cordial and take a stab at alleviating the tension between them. He shrugged and muttered, "'Course, he does."
She lowered her eyes then, as though his answer were beyond her comprehension.
She put her magazine aside and stood. "You look whipped. Would you like something to drink?"
"I don't have any beer. Will a soda do?"
"I'm afraid all I have is diet."
"Want a glass and ice?"
She had ice water for herself and held out a can to him.
"Thanks," he said, making an effort to sit up and pop the lid. "You know...Marianne," he said softly, after taking a sip, "I really do appreciate you putting us up."
Her eyes flicked away a moment. "Despite how I feel about him, I could hardly turn you away." She looked back at him and said, "I know you probably can't discuss what happened, but I admit I'm curious."
Starsky set the can down and put his head in his hands. He spent a moment letting the weariness wash over him. Then he rubbed at his face and raised his head. "Let's just say that to say that Hutch has had a rough day would be the understatement of the century." Then he muttered, "Can't believe that at nine o'clock this morning everything seemed terrific."
"It was a case you were on?" she asked, her tone merely curious as she flicked her cigarette into an ashtray.
"Yeah, undercover job."
"Around here?" she said in surprise.
"About thirty miles south."
"Oh." She sipped her drink.
"Our covers got blown."
"Oh," she said again. Then, "He seems to have a knack for that."
Starsky raised his eyes to look at her, wondering why she would want to say something so cruel, considering the circumstances.
She shrugged at him and, reluctant as he was to admit it, he realized that she wasn't being deliberately provocative. Just honest. Still, he wanted to change the subject. He looked around. "Nice place you have here."
She shook her head. "Wish it was mine, but it isn't. It belongs to my lawyer. His family is on vacation for a month, so they're letting me house-sit."
Starsky continued looking around, not knowing what else to say.
"There's some leftover tuna casserole. They have a microwave. It'll take just a few minutes to heat it up."
Starsky rubbed at his eyes again. "Sounds great."
She moved to the kitchen. "If you want to see what's going on with the fire, you can turn on the television."
"Think I'll pass. I've got my hands full already with an injured person."
"I wonder how long Rita will be."
"She didn't know. She was expecting the car to run out of gas before she got to a phone. Hope she's okay."
"She's a nice lady." There were beeping noises as Marianne punched numbers on the microwave. "She and her husband are both great people. All the people around here are. I was starting to feel some hope for humanity."
"'Was'?" Starsky questioned.
She faced him, still in the kitchen. "The condition Ken came here in is a rather frank reminder of what one human being can do to another, don't you think?" She reached to pull some dishes from the cupboard. "I know what kind of man he is, but even he doesn't deserve to be treated like he was...no matter what he may have done to provoke it."
Starsky looked away, trying to push down his desire to explain how wrongly she perceived Hutch. But what would be the point? Still, he did mutter, "You don't know what kind of man he is."
She turned sharply, plates in her hand. "Do you?" she challenged.
Starsky was amazed that anyone would question that. "Of course, I do. We've been closer than brothers for seven or eight years now."
She put the plates on the counter and stood over the microwave. "Then I assume you approve of his hypocrisy."
Her tone was biting this time. He stood. "What do you mean?"
"You don't know, do you?" She reached for her pack of cigarettes and quickly lit one. "You don't know what was said between us. The things he said that went against everything he did. But I suppose any cop would excuse that since it's all right for someone undercover to use people and lie and make up pretty words."
"Look, Marianne," he stepped closer until he was a few feet away from the kitchen, "I know it's not going to make you feel any better for me to say this, but I'm gonna say it anyway. Hutch had feelings for you. Real feelings. Feelings he should have never let himself have. He broke rule number one and got involved." His voice softened. "It happens. It's happened to me before, too."
She snorted, blowing smoke through her nose. "Are you saying that one roll in the sack qualifies as 'real feelings'?"
Starsky hesitated, not sure where she was coming from, and therefore not sure how to deflect it. And wondering why he should even try.
"You're surprised," she told him. "One minute making passionate love, the next not denying he's a cop, and then just a day later, trying to tell me that we shared something 'special'. Ha." She turned to shake loose the ashes into the sink.
The microwave beeped and she snapped open the door. "Where did he come from anyway?"
Starsky definitely wasn't sure what she meant by that. "Huh?"
"What kind of upbringing did he have?" She quickly stirred the casserole and placed it back in the oven. "Making pretty little speeches to me." She jabbed at the buttons. "That you've got to say, 'This is me, and I like it.' That you've got to know that you're worth it. That, for once in your life, you've got to own that." She turned to Starsky, her hands now stretched out behind her to lean against the counter. "A person doesn't say things like that unless something's happened in their life to make them question their worth. Something deep down. Or was that some speech he read somewhere and memorized in preparation for his little undercover job?"
Starsky could only stand there with his mouth open, not remembering anytime when Hutch had used the words that she quoted. Finding himself curious, too, about what brought those words on. And wondering what he could possibly say to soothe Marianne's anger.
"Talking down to me," she went on, "like I didn't have a right to feel that my life was absolutely miserable. That he could compare his pains to mine."
Starsky grabbed at the last group of sentences. "Well, you have seemed to do pretty well for yourself since then. I mean, I know this isn't your house, but you look like you have things together a lot more than you did back then. You must be doing something to get your life back on track."
The microwave beeped again and, more calmly, she opened the door. For a long moment, she stared at the wall. Then she said, "The death of my brother, whom I loved more than anyone, was probably the best thing that ever happened to me." She took the casserole out and glanced at him. "Try fitting that fact into a life that's supposed to make sense."
Starsky watched her pick up a plate and spoon out casserole. "Lots of things in this world don't make sense. I mean, take the reason Hutch ended up like he did today. The circumstances are totally crazy. Beyond belief."
She held the filled plate out to him. Softly, she said, "But at least he has you to care for him."
Starsky took the plate. It was on the tip of his tongue to say that everyone can have someone to care for them--if they just make the effort--but he knew they were only words and wouldn't help.
She dipped out another serving. "It seems odd to me now, having watched you with him. That night before my brother's death--when he was beat up by Fitch's men--I don't understand why he came to me instead of you."
Starsky turned away, guilt stabbing through him as her words sent him back to that time. He'd been looking all over for Hutch, and grew all the more frantic when Huggy had told him that Fitch had put a price on Hutch's head. He had wondered at the time--and now he was certain--that if Hutch wasn't lying hurt somewhere, that the reason Hutch didn't call him was because he didn't want Starsky's lecturing and lack of sympathy.
Starsky put his plate on the coffee table and sat on the floor. Quietly, he said, "Well, Hutch and me weren't goin' through the best of times then. I mean," he shrugged, wondering why he was explaining himself, "it's one of those things that you don't really realize until you look back on it later." He ate a forkful of casserole, realizing how hungry he was. Silently, he thought back, remembering how they'd gotten to the point where he and Hutch simply weren't spending as much time together outside of work. He found his partner frustratingly negative and moody a good percentage of the time, and Starsky quit seeking out his company. And when he stopped initiating it, personal time together stopped happening. That grated, too, that Hutch didn't seem to want to seek out his company any more than he wanted to seek out Hutch's.
But we came through it when we both decided to make a better effort...because we needed each other. And our friendship grew to be all the stronger. He didn't see any reason to share something so private out loud.
She sat down in the easy chair with her plate, and they ate in silence, Starsky finishing quickly.
"That was great," he said, putting down his empty plate.
"I'll help myself. But first I want to check on Hutch."
He moved back to the bedroom, glad his stocking feet were quiet against the carpet. He peeked through the crack at the door.
The light from the bathroom shone across the bed. He saw an arm move, heard irregular breathing. He strained his ears, then was relieved that it didn't seem to be a noise of distress. But more of restlessness.
Starsky retreated back down the hall. He picked up his plate. "He's not sleeping. I'm going to lie down with him for a while and see if that'll help." He put his plate into the sink and poured water over it. "Are there any drugs in this place for pain?"
She put her plate aside and stood up. "Just Extra Strength Tylenol."
"That'll have to do."
She moved into the kitchen and reached to the cabinet. "Here it is."
Starsky took the bottle and filled a glass with water. He wished he would have asked for the Tylenol earlier.
As he passed back through the living room, he saw that secretive glint in Marianne's eye, and again didn't know if it was amusement or something else. "Hopefully it won't take long," he told her, and headed back down the hall.
Starsky entered the room and carefully closed the door behind him. He went to the bathroom door and opened it wider, so more light shone in the room. He then moved to the bed and knelt beside it. "Hey, there, pal," he whispered. Hutch's arm shifted and he took the blond's hand and squeezed it. "I'm right here, Hutch. How you doin'?"
"Starsk?" The other's eyes opened a little.
"Right here, buddy." He squeezed again. "You're supposed to be sleepin'."
Hutch's legs shifted a little beneath the covers. "Hurts all over."
"I might be able to help with that. Got some pills for you." Starsky sat on the bed, and reached to put his hand behind Hutch's head. "Let's wet your throat first. Here's some water."
He lifted the blond head with one hand and placed the glass against the dry lips with the other. "Swallow, Hutch," he said as he started to pour.
Starsky allowed a few sips then took the glass away. "Open your mouth a sec."
The other obeyed, but only slightly. Starsky had to force his jaw lower with his hand before he could place the capsule at the back of Hutch's throat. He picked up the glass again. "Drink."
After Hutch had swallowed, Starsky repeated the procedure with the other capsule. "That'll help," he assured when he pulled the water away a final time. He then picked up Hutch's hand and placed it between his own. "Your gonna be fine, pal, just fine. Just need to rest now." He held the hand a while longer, then placed it back on the bed. "I need some rest, too. I hope there's room for two."
Hutch didn't respond. Starsky moved to the other side of the bed. He pushed the bathroom door closed in passing, then cautiously knelt on the mattress. "Just gonna get right here behind you, buddy. I hope you don't mind sharin' a little body heat." Starsky carefully stretched out alongside the blanket and pillows supporting Hutch's back, angling himself so that his cheek came to rest against the back of Hutch's covered shoulder. With his right arm, he reached around to Hutch's chest and rested his hand there, over the blanket. He rubbed back and forth a moment, then muttered, "Much better, don't you think?"
After a long moment, he felt one of Hutch's hands come up and wrap around his arm.
"That's my buddy," Starsky muttered against the shoulder. "Sleep now." He took a deep breath of his own and felt himself relax. He was asleep moments later.
* * *
It was a "thump" that woke him. Starsky raised his head in the darkness, and realized a body was moving next to his. It took a moment to orient himself, then he grabbed the blanketed form and realized he had an arm. "Hutch, what is it?"
"Piss," came the pained response.
Starsky sat up quickly. "Just a sec. Just a sec. Hang on." He squeezed the arm firmly. "Stay put and I'll help you."
He rushed to push open the bathroom door, which revealed light.
The door to the hall opened and Marianne poked her head in. "I heard something fall."
"Get something for him to relieve himself."
She backed out.
Hutch's face was cringed in pain. "Have to..." he muttered, struggling to get up on an elbow.
"Hutch, just hang on." Starsky sat beside him. "Just hang on another minute. You can't get out of bed." Gently, he pushed him down. "Lie still. Just lie still." He pressed the blond head back to the pillow. Hutch seemed more alert than he'd been since they arrived, and Starsky didn't want him to see Marianne when she re-entered the room. He went to the door just as she returned.
She held out a plastic half-gallon measuring pitcher. "I hope this will do."
"It'll do." He took it from her. "Thanks." He closed the door before she'd had a chance to turn away.
"Okay, Hutch, it's okay." He sat on the bed and pushed the covers away.
The other's face was still pinched. "Have to," he panted.
"I know, Hutch." Starsky placed the pitcher where it needed to go. He gently held the flesh in place. "Okay, pal. It's okay now. Go ahead."
There was a noise of effort, but nothing came out.
"Take your time, take your time." Starsky could see the effort Hutch was making to relax, but that didn't seem to help whatever mental block was at work. He knew from experience that trying to urinate while lying down and having someone else handling you wasn't the most conducive path to successful relief.
Starsky removed his hand and pressed against his own lower region, finding from the uncomfortable pressure where his bladder was. He skimmed his fingers across Hutch's skin, then pressed at the comparable area.
Hutch gasped and reached down with his hand, and Starsky let him take over and just focused on holding the pitcher.
Finally, it began to fill. After many seconds he was afraid it wasn't going to be large enough to hold it all, but the flow finally ended. Starsky was relieved that the color looked normal and Hutch hadn't given any indications of pain. He wasn't sure how seriously Milford's goons had pummeled Hutch, but it now seemed apparent that most of their efforts had been directed at Hutch's bruised face.
Starsky dumped the pitcher into the toilet, flushed, then returned to his partner's side. He did a cursory perusal of the bandages, not seeing anything amiss. He would have liked to remove some to see how the wounds were healing, but he thought it best not to disturb them after just a few hours' time. He glanced at the clock and saw that it was past eleven. He settled the covers around Hutch, who had closed his eyes and seemed more peaceful, though it was obvious from his shallow breathing that he was still awake.
Starsky got back into bed with him.