Comments on this story can be sent to

redblank5.gif (3065 bytes)

Part Three

Charlotte Frost


It was well past midnight before he emerged. Marianne had the TV turned down low and was trying to watch an old movie, but she was really more interested in the magazine she leafed through over and over.

He seemed surprised that she was still there. "You always stay up this late?" he asked. She thought his hair and clothes looked a little disheveled.

"I've always been a night owl. I usually don't get up until noon or so." She sipped her drink. "How is he?"

"Sleeping." He gestured toward the television as he sat down. "What's the word on the fire?"

"It's destroyed nearly an entire city block, including the hotel where it started. The wind blew it into some of the surrounding residential areas. A real mess."

His face looked puzzled. "Hard to imagine something like that spreading."

"There's been conflicting reports, but they think it was caused by a truck that spilled gasoline along the street. That helped it spread. I guess it's almost out now. There's something like sixty people dead and over a thousand injured. They've called in the National Guard."

"I guess Rita might have gotten caught up in helping them."

"Or maybe she couldn't get anyone to send help back here, since that's the bigger emergency." She didn't want to give him the wrong impression and soothed, "Ken doesn't seem to be in too bad a shape, considering." She then realized that she hadn't really seen him close up. "He is better, isn't he?"

Starsky settled back on the couch. "No worse. If he can get some rest and as long as there isn't any infection...yeah, he'll be okay." His face changed as he said the last, as though he was just now realizing it.

She got up from her chair. "I'm having more casserole. Would you like some?"


As she reheated it, she found her thoughts returning to the same spot they'd visited when she'd been alone while Starsky tended to his partner. She kept trying to search inward for her true feelings about the blond cop. She remembered, even now, with much affection, the way they had come together when they had run away from Fitch's men and ended up at Ken's apartment. Though she knew it had not been an act of love, for they hadn't known each other at all, it was an event of great passion and warmth. And, she realized now, she had unintentionally lied to Starsky when she'd told him that she'd seen his partner's nudity before. They had never looked at each other. They had only kissed and wrapped themselves around each other, him sliding into her...the entire process one of gentle, eager touch and not vision. He had put his underwear back on as he left the bed; and he had respectfully turned his back while she dressed.

Of course, it was only afterwards that she started to question who he was and what he was doing in her life. He'd asked a question or two of his own about Fitch. That's when the instincts in the back of her mind came to life. She absolutely did not want to believe it, but after the guilty look on his face when she inferred that he was a cop, she didn't see how she could have ever thought anything but. And he had used her, trying to get to her brother so he could get to Fitch. Trying to loosen her up with lovemaking so she would talk to him.

She had never hated more in her life than she had at that moment. Hated him, and hated herself because, as she left, she still had a pleasant memory of their brief time together. Hating the fact that, despite the deceit, she was glad that it had happened, even though it never would again with him.

And then, such a short time later, he'd tried to tell her that it had been "special", as though there was something unique or uncommon about a bed being shared by a man and woman who did not know each other.

Worse, he'd seemed to genuinely believe what he was trying to tell her that night.

"You're awfully quiet."

Marianne removed the casserole from the microwave. Starsky had approached and now asked, "What were you thinking about?"

"Pity," she replied, spooning them each out a serving.

He blinked in surprise. "Pity for whom?"

She handed him his plate. "For him."

Starsky's face softened. "I think he's gonna be okay." He moved away.

"I didn't mean that." She waited until he put his plate on the coffee table and turned. "I was thinking about the night he was beat up--before it happened--when he was trying to lecture me about taking control of my life, as though I had a choice. " She was glad that her voice was mild as she lit a cigarette. "As much as I hated him for being just another man who was using me, I also felt a great deal of pity for him because I think he truly believed everything he told me in his pretty little speech."

Starsky took a deep breath, as though trying to restrain his own reaction. Then he approached so he wouldn't have to shout across the room in the quiet of the night. "Marianne, Hutch would not have taken you to bed if he didn't have real feelings for you. He just can't act that well."

"I wasn't talking about that," she pointed out, wondering why he behaved so funny whenever she mentioned what she and Ken had shared. "I was talking about what a pathetic person he was because he seemed to think that a single act of intimacy can make all the difference between two people. Like it can change the world. Or a whole relationship." She exhaled smoke through her nose. "Maybe you ought to teach him a thing or two about real life and tell him not to take his little ten-minute romances so seriously. Or his heart is bound to get broken a hundred times over. Surely, that's not much of a future to look forward to."

"You want to talk about future?" He was angry now, and she could see he was trying to keep his voice down. Still, his tone was so intense. "Do you want to know why he's in that bed," his arm shook in the direction of the bedroom, "in the condition he's in and I don't even have a scratch? Because some--some bisexual...pervert...took a fancy to him and...yes, Hutch used that. You know what he used it for?" His eyes flared with indignation. "He used it to spare my life. He offered to give that godforsaken excuse for a man exactly what he wanted to save my hide. He exchanged his--his pride, his dignity, his--his whole being for my life and my freedom. And you know what else?" he demanded on a high note. "When it got down to it, he couldn't do it. He couldn't perform for that bastard. Despite what you may want to think, he can't command his prick to act on cue. It only works for him when he really wants it. That's why they were trying to kill him. You didn't see the shape he was in, Marianne." He gestured frantically on his own body. "He had his eyes blindfolded, his hands tied behind his back. A gag across his mouth. They were going to do a classic execution. But somehow--God love him--some way, he got away, even though he couldn't even see where the hell he was running." His head shook back and forth. "Don't stand there and tell me how pitiful he is. He's the bravest man I know." He took a deep, deep breath and spun away.

His words did not hurt. She realized she felt pride at what Ken had done, but her feelings were quite different than Starsky's.

She picked up her plate and moved to the easy chair. "I didn't know," she said simply.

The fight had gone out of him as he sat slumped on the sofa, staring at his food. "Look, Marianne," he said in a more amiable tone, "I know you can't help how you feel. You got a bad deal all the way around. It's just that...there's nothing any of us can do to change what happened. We can't turn back time. We can only go forward. So, I guess I don't see the point of rehashing it."

"It won't be rehashed," she told him. She felt more at peace, at least for the moment. Maybe all she'd needed was someone to take her anger out on. Apparently, he'd needed someone to vent to, as well.

Now having a better understanding of each other, they both ate with a more amiable feeling surrounding them. The only conversation revolved around their food and the movie on TV.

* * *

Morning's dawn cast shadows across his bed and the walls of his room.

At first, the walls had puzzled him. He'd figured out that they were part of an unfamiliar house and that he'd been here a while, but he didn't know for how long. He knew that Starsky was near, because though he was very sore and had throbbing in various parts of his body, especially his side, he knew he'd been taken care of in a way that only Starsky was capable. He remembered Starsky tending to him. Though he was too sore to move his head enough to see behind him, he knew that Starsky wasn't in the room now. But he knew that he'd been in the bed next to him at some earlier point in time.

The door creaked softly and Hutch looked up to see a sun-shrouded figure. He thought he was seeing a ghost and blinked repeatedly, flooded by a sense of guilt that he did not understand.

"Hi," she said softly, coming into the room.

In that moment, he connected a name with the face. And the reason for his guilt. He tried to raise his head. "Marianne?"

She smiled a gentle smile. "Small world, isn't it? I know you're surprised to see me, and I was surprised to see you when you were brought here."

He was trying to compute that as she stepped closer and said, "Your partner's asleep. He wanted me to get him if you woke up."

Images flashed through Hutch's mind. All the pain. The frantic soothing. Starsky a constant presence. "No. Please. Let him sleep."

"He'll be mad if I don't get him," she said mildly.

"Doesn't matter. Let him sleep." He was grateful to rest his head back against the pillow.

She nodded. "I think he could use it." Her expression grew soft as she gazed at him. "He loves you so very much."

Hutch blinked, wondering why she was stating the obvious, and what kind of response she was expecting. Then he realized she wasn't looking for a response at all. He decided to change the subject. "Where am I?"

Her eyes roamed around the walls. "At the house of my lawyer. He and his family are away for the month and I'm house-sitting. It just happens to be in the general neighborhood of where your case was."

It seemed odd that she would know about the case.

"Don't worry," she said, as though she were almost amused. "Your partner didn't give away any state secrets."

That was a relief, not that he would have thought otherwise. "How long have I been here?"

"Since about three o'clock yesterday afternoon. They couldn't get an ambulance for you because there's been a very bad fire in town. An entire hotel burned down and the surrounding buildings. The phones out this way don't even work." She smiled warmly. "You look like you might not even need an ambulance now."

Hutch hadn't yet taken the time to take stock of his injuries, but he liked hearing that he might not wind up in a hospital. With his immediate questions answered about himself, he voiced his curiosity. "How are you?" he whispered.

She shrugged. "I don't have any complaints since the trial. I've gotten involved with another club and we've got some exciting projects going, maybe an album. And I've taken up oil painting to keep me busy when I'm not working."

Hutch managed a smile and realized that his face hurt. But he said, "I hope...I hope my being here hasn't upset you."

She regarded him for a long moment. He knew that her integrity was such that she would be brutally honest. She said, "I don't get any pleasure from seeing what was done to you."

Hutch hesitated, feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable with the word "seeing".

"Not that I really 'saw' much," she amended. "Your partner was being more protective than a mother hen with one chick and a bull protecting his territory, put together. He didn't want me near you." She shrugged. "I don't think he'd be too happy knowing that I'm here now. But I thought I'd look in on you since he was sleeping so soundly."

It was a moment before Hutch realized that her tone wasn't upset or annoyed; if anything, she seemed faintly amused.

"Don't wake him," he pleaded again.

"I won't. Can I get you anything?"

He had to urinate, but the urgency wasn't such that he couldn't wait for Starsky. He shook his head.

"Not even a little food?" she suggested. "Hot soup?"

It wasn't that he didn't think he could eat. It was just that he knew he couldn't without assistance. He wanted that assistance from Starsky. Though Marianne was being more than cordial, he was uncomfortable with the idea of depending on her. His head shook again.

"I'll let you rest," she said. "Would you like the door open or closed?"

"Open." He wasn't quite sure he wanted her to leave, for he was feeling a little lonely and had questions about his condition. But that, too, was Starsky's area.

After she left the room, he closed his eyes. He still felt weary. But his mind was alert and he knew sleep wouldn't come again for awhile. He slowly investigated his face, feeling acute tenderness, but nothing external except at the corner of his lip. He remembered that that particular injury had happened when he was confronted by Milford and his men with the fact that he was a cop.

Hutch swallowed. Despite Marianne's reassuring comment about the ambulance, he was hesitant to explore his body for further injuries. He remembered a tremendous amount of pain and fear. Heart-pounding trauma. Guaranteed death. Running blindly. Being shot at. Hard to breathe. Hearing laughter. Not being able to move any more because something was pulling at his flesh.


The word rushed out of his lungs before he realized he'd spoken. Hutch clamped his jaw shut, embarrassed that he'd cried out.

For a moment, he thought perhaps his shout wasn't as loud as he'd feared. But then Starsky charged through the door, looking disheveled.

"It's okay, it's okay," he chanted, sitting on the mattress and holding the right side of Hutch's face with one hand, squeezing his shoulder with the other. "It's okay, Hutch. It's okay." His voice softened. "You're gonna be fine. Just fine."

Hutch hated seeing the other so worried. "I know, I know," he assured quickly, then drew a deep breath. "I just need to know...what happened. What's wrong with me?" He reached up to grip Starsky's forearm, wanting to feel that strength. He saw, behind Starsky, that Marianne had been standing at the entrance, and now left while closing the door behind her.

Starsky blinked. His own panic seemed to have eased and his breathing evened out. "You don't remember?" he asked gently.

"There's lots of images," Hutch replied, "but I don't know the right order." He got to the root of his fear. "Just tell me what my injuries are."

Starsky's face softened. "You worried about the bandage between your legs?"

Hutch had to think about that. He realized that he was bandaged there, but Starsky misunderstood the more general meaning of his question. Still, he asked, "What's it for?" As he spoke the words, he realized how serious the significance could be.

But Starsky was calm. "Hutch, you're okay there. Nothing's damaged. You just got some wounds from the barbed wire. They didn't puncture your balls or anything. Just right next to them."

Automatically, Hutch sent his hand down to explore. He felt the bandage to the right of his testicles. The actual organs all felt fine. Then he realized his arm was feeling other bandages. And his body seemed to ache all over. "What else is wrong with me?"

Starsky grinned. "Nothing's 'wrong'. You're doing great, pal." Then he said, "Your most serious wound is from the bullet that went through your side."

Hutch's hand came up and instinctively pressed near the bandaged area that was, he realized now, the most painful part of his body. He flinched as he touched it.

"Still pretty tender, huh?" Starsky said with sympathy. "But it's just a flesh wound, Hutch. Bullet went right through you." Starsky straightened a little, but didn't dislodge Hutch's hand on his arm. "You've got little punctures all over from being tangled in barbed wire, but they aren't anything serious, either. 'Cept you'll probably have an ugly scar on the back of your leg, 'cause the skin got ripped pretty good." While Hutch tried to comprehend the barbed wire part, Starsky added, "And you're probably pretty stiff and sore from Milford's men beating on you. But I don't think anything's broken."

More images fed upon the ones he was beginning to understand. Hutch closed his eyes. "I shouldn't be alive." He had been a goner, he was certain.

Starsky gripped his shoulder. "Hutch, you got away."

Hutch shook his head, more images becoming clear. "No. They had me cold. I couldn't get far enough away fast enough." He felt anger at that. Anger at what they had intended to do to him.

Starsky's voice was very quiet. "Then what happened?"

"I-I don't know." Hutch's eyes opened, as he remembered an annoyed voice back at Milford's house. "Maybe I got through to him."

"Got through to who?"

"One of the guards. I told him it could be him next time that Milford wanted to sleep with. I didn't think he was listening, but...." He paused, images coming more into focus. "After I was caught--I guess in the barbed wire--I was dead meat. But I heard him say to the other one that they needed to get out of there and that Milford wouldn't know any different if they'd finished the job or not. They'd already gotten their money."

Now it was Starsky who closed his eyes, letting out a sigh of relief. When they opened, he was wearing a tiny smile of affection. He reached out and put his hands behind Hutch's neck, rubbing there.

The contact felt good. It gave Hutch the courage to continue. He squeezed Starsky's arm and said, "I remember hearing you calling my name. I heard you, but I couldn't talk because of the gag...."

Starsky rubbed at him more intensely. "I found you," he said simply, as though that were the end of it.

Hutch smiled then. He felt uncomfortably full of emotion and looked for a distraction. "Is that the john?" He nodded toward the open door.

"Yeah, but you're not going to visit it, because I don't want you up."

He had a vague recollection of Starsky's assistance in the middle of the night. His mind hadn't been very clear then. He was much better now. "I'll be careful."

"Uh-uh," Starsky said. "I don't want to risk tearing your bullet wounds back open. Just a sec." He got up from the bed.

Hutch felt annoyance, but knew he couldn't argue with his partner's fears. His throat was sore and his fuzzy memory of piercing pain told him why. And he knew, from experience, how much worse it was observing your partner's pain--and not being able to do anything about it--than suffering it yourself. He could only imagine how much worse it must have been to be the cause of it.

As much as he hated the thought of pissing in bed, he decided to give Starsky a break.

The other returned with a plastic pitcher, cheerful now. "Here, just use this." Starsky patted his cheek--the one that wasn't bruised--and pushed the pitcher into his hands. "I'm gonna give you some privacy, but then I'll be back to change your bandages. 'Kay?"

Hutch nodded.

When he was alone, he brought the pitcher beneath the covers, but then realized he was in an awkward position. Cautiously, he hoisted himself up onto an elbow and cringed at the soreness that made itself known through most of his body.

He managed to relieve himself without making a mess. After putting the container on the floor, he was grateful to relax again. The morning's conversations had tired him, and his weakness made him realize that he wasn't as up to par as it had seemed when he first woke up.

He lay there lazily, eyes closed, while waiting for the door to open and reveal Starsky's return. The images from yesterday continued to run themselves through the fatigued defenses of his mind, and Milford's face and fat, ugly body came into view. The other's rage when Hutch couldn't give him what he wanted. The realization that he'd held the power of his own life in his hands...and couldn't do what was necessary to save himself. That he'd let both himself and Starsky down.

Thank God he didn't find me dead. All because a half-witted goon of a guard had taken his words to heart.

"All done?"

Hutch looked up sharply. Starsky was entering the room with a bowl in one hand and a glass of orange juice in another, napkins tucked under his arm.

"Looked like you were dozin'," Starsky said as he put the supplies on the table.

Hutch decided not to answer. While he was tired and could sleep again, he was glad that Starsky was here; the unwanted memories going through his mind weren't something that he was eager to face alone.

"Gonna get some nutrition into ya, then change your bandages." Starsky turned to him. "We need to see if we can get ya to sit up a little. Feel up to it?"

Before Hutch could respond, his partner had scooped up the plastic pitcher from the floor and taken it into the bathroom. A moment later the toilet flushed.

Hutch had managed to get himself onto an elbow before Starsky returned.

"Real slow and easy," Starsky said when he sat back down. "Last thing we want to do is tear open your wounds." He reached for the pillow behind his partner's head. "Here, let's move this so we can sit you up."

Hutch held onto Starsky while the other moved things around.

"Okay," Starsky said, "I'm going to try to lift you up by the armpits and you push with your feet."

Hutch nodded. "Okay."

Starsky counted to three and then they moved together. Hutch became aware of a new set of aches and pains as he got his rear underneath his body. When he lay back against the upright pillow, he found even more areas and grimaced.

"Just a sec," Starsky said, grabbing a sofa pillow that had been used to support Hutch's spine. "Let's try this." He worked with placement of the pillow at the small of Hutch's back until Hutch grunted his agreement. Starsky then took the other sofa pillow and placed it on top of the regular pillow, adding more support for Hutch's head.

"There you go," Starsky said triumphantly, rearranging the blankets so that Hutch was covered up to his chest. He took the bowl from the nightstand. "Now you can eat."

"What is it?"

"Oatmeal. Nice and healthy. I even added bananas and a little milk."

Hutch was intrigued. "You made it yourself?"

"Of course." Starsky sounded indignant. "Who else do you think..." he suddenly lowered his eyes.

"Starsky, I know about Marianne."

The other looked up. "You do?"

"Yes." Hutch couldn't help but be faintly amused, and he wondered why Starsky was so touchy about the subject. "In fact, she and I had a nice little talk this morning. I wouldn't let her wake you up."

"Oh. Are know, okay about being here?"

"As long as she's okay about my being here."

Starsky shrugged. "She doesn't have a lot of choice." Then he grinned. "She and I have had a few 'nice little talks' ourselves."

Hutch felt a rush of curiosity, but Starsky was holding the bowl up to him. "Come on," the other said. "Eat up while it's still a little warm. I couldn't find a tray around here, so I'll just hold it for you."

Hutch took the spoon and scooped out a serving. He placed it in his mouth and appreciated the warmth. But it was also very sweet. "You put sugar in it," he accused after swallowing.

"Of course, it has sugar in it. Who can eat something as bland as oatmeal without sugar?"

The over-sweetness spoiled the flavor to a large degree, but Hutch didn't want to disappoint his partner after Starsky had made the effort to cook for him. He took a few more bites, then said, "Marianne told me about the fire."

"Yeah, it sounds really incredible. Close to a hundred people dead and over a thousand injured. Marianne's neighbor--the one who helped me carry you out of the woods--went into town for help, but we haven't heard from her yet. The phones don't even work."

Hutch swallowed again, then said, "Doesn't really matter, does it? I don't think I need to go to the hospital or anything."

Starsky tilted his head to one side, his voice hinting at scolding. "Nice try, but no dice."

"What's a hospital going to do for me that you and bed rest haven't already done?"

The other's voice was more serious now. "For one thing, they need to sew up the bullet holes in your side. Otherwise, you aren't going to be able to get out of bed for a long, long time."

Hutch reluctantly knew Starsky was right. He let the spoon plop back down into the bowl. "I can't eat anymore."

Starsky reached to the nightstand. "Here then, chase it down with orange juice."

It tasted good and Hutch drank almost the whole glass. While doing so, he watched Starsky help himself to the rest of the oatmeal, and he knew then the real reason why his partner had added so much sugar.

When the empty bowl had joined the empty glass on the nightstand, Starsky left the bed to pull a laundry basket from where it had been against the wall. "Okay, blondie, time to change your dressings."

Two brandy bottles, one of which was empty, were on top of the basket, and Starsky silently took them out and pushed them to one side.

Hutch realized it was what had caused the ferocious stinging that had sent him into fits of screaming...just yesterday. It seemed like a bad memory from a long, long time ago.

Starsky again sat on the bed and then flipped up the covers in one swoop.

"Hey!" Hutch protested, reaching for them.

Starsky pushed them back farther, not allowing Hutch's fingers to get a grip. "This is all my handiwork," he said firmly. "I gotta check it out." Then he muttered, "Nothin' to be bashful about. You ain't got nothin' I haven't seen before." He was already turning Hutch's lower leg.

Hutch let his head fall back to the pillow and his eyes took refuge in the ceiling. He and Starsky had never been modest around each other. But it made a difference when one didn't have a choice. Still, he found curiosity overtaking his embarrassment, and he lowered his eyes to watch Starsky unwrap the bandage on his leg.

"This is where the barbed wire did the most damage," Starsky was saying. After having the bandage removed, he reached into the laundry basket and moved things around. Then he took out a tube of Neosporin. "Didn't know this was here yesterday," he said in surprise.

Hutch watched while his partner squeezed a stream of ointment along the injury. It did look ugly. Some skin was completely torn away and that which remained was twisted, and he wondered if even sutures would make it heal properly. Starsky was now rubbing the cream in, and Hutch felt his eyes water from the pain. He looked to the ceiling again, and was grateful a few moments later when the anesthetic kicked in.

Starsky carefully wrapped his leg back up with clean gauze. Then he moved to the bandage at Hutch's groin. "Let me get this undone and you can rub this stuff on yourself while I work with the little bandages."

Hutch moved his legs, to allow Starsky easier access. The movement of the bandage and his partner's hands were feeling ticklish, but he was curious to see what it looked like there. When all the gauze was pulled away, he was surprised that the puncture wounds, though ugly looking, really weren't as dramatic as he'd feared.

"Thought they'd be worse," he muttered, "since you put so much bandaging there."

"They were bleeding a lot," Starsky explained. "Here." He raised the tube and turned it upside down.

Hutch held out his hand and Starsky squeezed a big lump onto his fingers. "Rub that in real good."

While Hutch rubbed cautiously at the tender area between his balls and his thigh, Starsky invested a considerable amount of time in removing each small Band-Aid along his leg, squeezing a drop of ointment onto each injury revealed, and covering it with a fresh Band-Aid. When Hutch was done with his task, he said, "Hand me the gauze."

Starsky stopped to find a fresh gauze pad and a roll of the material. He handed them to Hutch, then moved to the Band-Aids dotting his partner's thigh.

"Ouch," Hutch protested when the removal of the sticky plastic hurt the soft skin of his inner thigh. Starsky didn't pay attention to his protest, so Hutch focused on his own task, re-wrapping his groin area by running the length of gauze across his hip and underneath his thigh. It wasn't as heavy as what Starsky had done, and he thought his more moderate job a more efficient one.

Still, it was bizarre to look down at himself and be confronted with the fact that his balls appeared to be in a sling, because the bandage kept them pushed to one side. He sat staring at them, wondering if they were still the friends to him that they been since puberty.


Starsky looked up from where he'd put ointment on the last thigh wound.

Hutch felt his chest constrict with the increased speed of his heart. But he met his partner's eyes and said, "Milford didn't try to do what you thought he was going to do."

Starsky's face softened to such a degree that Hutch felt relieved, but also puzzled.

"Yeah, you told me," Starsky said gently, "that he wanted you to be on top...?"

Hutch's brow furrowed. "How do you know that?"

"You told me when we were still in the woods and I was waiting for Rita to come back with help. You don't remember?"

Hutch shook his head.

"Yeah, well," Starsky reached for a new Band-Aid from the box, "I guess you wouldn't. You were pretty stressed right then."

That could be the end of the subject for now, but Hutch still felt a need to confess what had happened. He snorted harshly. "I-I was so shocked. He didn't even try to kiss me when he realized I wasn't interested. He went down on me. He went down on me and I couldn't respond. I wanted to...I tried to...."

Starsky rubbed the last Band-Aid in place on Hutch's thigh, his fingers moving very slowly. Then he looked up again and said, "What could you do, Hutch? You couldn't help it. You'd just think he would have realized that as much as the next guy. Holding a gun to your head, more or less, and expecting you to feel amorous."

"I wanted to cooperate," Hutch insisted. "I really did. I wanted to go through with what I'd promised to give him. I could have handled it. But..." he trailed off, and then said quickly, "When he couldn't make me hard by sucking on me, he undressed and got on the bed..." Hutch closed his eyes, the memory washing over him. "He really thought that would make a difference, me seeing him ready for me like that. I thought I was going to be sick."

Starsky was still now, gazing at the floor. Then he looked up and said, "Considerin' how things turned out, surely you aren't sorry he...he didn't abuse the way you'd expected."

Hutch released a heavy breath. "Of course, I'm not sorry." But that fact brought him no peace.

Starsky started pulling off the bandages beneath his sternum. When he was done, he met Hutch's eye and asked, "What else is goin' on in that thick skull of yours? Huh?"

Hutch wished he knew the answer to that himself. When Starsky had started in again with the ointment, he said, "I just feel like I should have...done something...been able to act. Do what was necessary to stay alive."

Starsky's hands paused as he looked up again. Sternly he said, "You did do something. You talked the guard into letting you go, even if it seemed like it had no effect at the time. You refused to go down easy, and you stayed alive."

Hutch closed his eyes, feeling new Band-Aids being placed over his highest wounds. He couldn't explain to himself, let alone to Starsky, the unease he was feeling about what had happened. Finally, he muttered, "I made a deal for your life and I didn't keep my end of the bargain."

Starsky tossed the box of Band-Aids into the basket. Teeth gritted, he said, "The only deal between you and me was that we each stay alive. Your deal with Milford doesn't matter." He snorted. "Surely, you aren't feeling guilty about going back on your word to him."

Hutch shook his head. "No, nothing like that."

"Hey." Starsky's hand rested on his cheek. Hutch reached up and took hold of Starsky's arm, wanting to feel that strength again.

"Hutch, what you went through yesterday isn't something a person can read a manual about ahead of time that tells 'em how they're supposed to feel about it all." Starsky's voice softened to a whisper. "It's understandable that things might seem sort of confusing right now." His eyes lowered. "Don't even like thinkin' about what it must have been like for you when they dragged you outta that car."

Hutch tightened his grip on Starsky's arm. He didn't like thinking about it, either. It had meant certain death. Defeat. Which is why he'd had nothing to lose by trying to get away.

"Ah, Hutch."

He felt the mattress shift. A hand on his other shoulder. And then Starsky's forehead came to rest against his.

Hutch relaxed, relishing the contact.

"Ya know, if I knew it wouldn't hurt, I'd squeeze the stuffin' right outta ya."

Hutch grinned while keeping his eyes closed. Starsky didn't often verbalize the depth of his feelings.

"But," Starsky moved back, "I've got more important things to do. Like change the bandage around your middle."

Hutch opened his eyes as the mattress shifted again. He wasn't eager for the wound to be messed with, but he was curious as to how it looked.

They were silent while Starsky cut the bandage, then carefully unwound it. He pulled the gauze away from first the wound in the back, then the one up front.

Hutch gazed down at it. It looked raw, but there was no fresh blood.

"I'm not gonna put any of that ointment on it, because I'm afraid the pressure from it might break some of the healing. Just gonna put new bandages on it and leave it at that."

Hutch winced when there was pressure from the new gauze pads. But he reached down to help hold them in place while Starsky started with the dressing.

"You know," Starsky sighed, "the really rotten thing in all of this is that Milford's going to get away scot free."

After allowing a moment for the statement to sink in, Hutch realized that he hadn't given any thought to the case itself. "Damn," he muttered.

"Yeah," Starsky said as he worked. "If I coulda phoned Dobey, he maybe coulda been stopped somehow."

"Maybe if we ransack his place," Hutch suggested, "we'll still find more records of his activities."

Starsky looked up at him while tying the bandage. "Yeah, but that still doesn't change the fact that he'll probably never have to face up to the charges. I can't see him daring to show his face in this country again."

Hutch chose not to respond. The subject put a solid damper on the morning. All their efforts the past few weeks were going to be for nothing.

"There." Starsky straightened. "You're set for another day."

"Thanks," Hutch said off-handedly, re-arranging the covers over himself.

"I'll get a glass of water so you can take some more Tylenol stuff." Starsky moved the laundry basket back against the wall. Then he suddenly froze. "Hear that?"

Hutch listened. A vaguely familiar sound was permeating the air above them.

"I think it's a helicopter," Starsky said. He rushed to the window. "Can't see nothin'." He moved to the door, squeezing Hutch's leg beneath the blankets in passing. "Be back in a sec."

* * *

Marianne stood in her bathrobe in the middle of the living room, smoking a cigarette. There were grunts of effort from the paramedics, but they finally had the gurney rolling down the hallway. Starsky, of course, was at the side of the bed, babbling encouragements as the group of them made their way to the front door.

She saw enough to tell that there wasn't an IV. That was a good sign. She hoped to get a glimpse of Ken's face, but Starsky was on the side of the stretcher that blocked her view.

She didn't think that was by accident.

After the gurney was out the door, Starsky moved back inside. His face looked impatient, and she knew it was difficult for him to be separated from his partner for even a brief moment.

"I can't thank you enough," he told her from where he stood inside the doorway.

Marianne flicked ashes into a tray on top of the TV. "Then don't thank me," she suggested.

He seemed to understand her meaning. "But tell Rita thanks for getting in touch with Dobey." The helicopter was from Los Angeles, rather than the surrounding area. "Maybe I'll try to contact her later." He started to turn, then asked, "What's her last name, by the way?"

"Hayworth," she told him.

He grinned bashfully. "Oh, like the actress."

"Yes, like the actress."

"Should be easy enough to remember."

"Yes, it should." But she knew he wouldn't. Starsky wasn't a man who collected debts. He paid them as he went, and moved on.

He hesitated, as if he thought he should say something else. But there was nothing else to say. "Goodbye," she told him.

"Yeah," he nodded, stepping out the door. "Goodbye." And he was gone.

Marianne drew in a puff from her cigarette. She had wondered before if she was glad or upset to have seen Ken again.

Now she knew. Now the door to that wall could be firmly closed forever.

Part Five

redblank5.gif (3065 bytes)