I can't offer enough praise to the women who proofread this story for me. Their suggestions, comments, patients, and encouragement were invaluable, and pushed me to make the most that I could of this little story. Without them, it would have been posted weeks ago--and would have been the poorer for it. With deepest affection and gratitude, this story is dedicated to my editors extraordinaire, Yula, Val, and Jet.
I also want to thank swas for providing the original inspiration for this story. You know how much I owe you, girl!
All comments and criticism will be gratefully accepted (even if I have to "grin and bear it!" "g"), and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
What's in a Name?"
Three mornings in a row he'd tried to sneak in quietly, and it was the second morning in a row he'd found her fast asleep on the couch. It was still pitch black outside, not even the garbage men were awake yet, but the small lamp she left on for him caught the soft highlights in her hair. He knelt quietly beside her and, not wanting to startle her, kissed her gently on the forehead.
Her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled lazily up at him. The hand not trapped under her cheek reached out to gather him in a welcoming hug. "Hmmm, you're home," she whispered drowsily in his ear before placing a soft kiss on his check.
"Yeah, I'm home. Wha'chu doing out here?" His tone was faintly scolding, but he captured her lips in a kiss before she could answer.
"Mmmm," she murmured appreciatively. "Just a little touch of 'lonely-beditis'--nothing that a good snuggle with a curly-headed cop can't cure." And she ruffled her fingers through his soft, full hair, before pulling him back down to rub her cheek against his rough one. She laughed softly, and pulled back, her eyes shining with amusement as she gazed up into his. "You need a shave."
A huge yawn split his face before he could answer. "What I need is a few good hours sleep--and you're due a few more yourself before ya have to get up. Come on, sweetheart," he said and hauled her to her feet. Wrapping his arms around her, and hugging her to his chest, he half waltzed her backwards into the bedroom.
Holding her tightly against his side, he quickly pushed the blankets out of the way, then effortlessly lifted her in his arms and gently laid her on the bed. The next moment, the bedding was carefully tucked under her chin, and she had the pleasure of watching Detective David Michael Starsky strip down quickly to his skivvies, his form unevenly illuminated by the dim moonlight edging through the blinds.
Free of the snug jeans, he gave a luxurious stretch, more than a little aware of her appraisal, but the effect was ruined when his mouth gaped and emitted the bass roar of an enormous yawn. One hand scrubbed at his face while the other scratched at his belly, then he scrambled carefully over her. By the time he had wriggled under the covers on his side of the bed, she was laughing helplessly, but moved easily into his embrace.
He grinned at her amusement, and leaned down to buss her loudly on the lips, but his expression grew soft as he drew back to read the affection so evident in her eyes. "You all right, Terry?" he asked quietly.
She'd known him long enough now to suspect the true meaning behind his question.... Are we all right, Terry? Is this night-shift rotation going to mess everything up? Can you handle what I do? She smiled gently at the uncertainty in his eyes, and decided that she should reassure him with the truth.
"I do miss you at night, Dave, and I can't wait for this rotation to be over. I've gotten used to knowing I've got a big, strong man in my bed to keep me safe." The mischief in her eyes didn't belie the truth of what she said, and she almost laughed again as she watched him flex his shoulder muscles and wag his eyebrows at her. "You goof!" She rubbed the top of his head as though she were calming an overgrown puppy. "I heard a noise outside and it made me nervous--it just made me more aware that you weren't here--so I got up to check. And afterwards, I just didn't feel like going back to bed by myself."
"What was it?" he asked, snuggling up by her side.
"What was what?"
"Oh, just two strays trying to get in the garbage. One was a big yellow dog, and the other was a curly-coated mutt. I can't say why exactly, but something about 'em seemed...familiar...." She burst out in a giggle as he started to blow a raspberry against her neck, and then laughed when his efforts were interrupted by yet another yawn. Wrapping her arms around him tightly, she dropped a quick kiss between his sleepy eyes. "Oh, go to sleep, you goof."
She was pleasantly surprised when he showed up at the school the next day around lunchtime. Considering that it was only a little before eleven, and he didn't have to be in to the precinct until six that evening, she would have expected him to still be asleep. Instead, there he stood in her doorway, leaning against the door jam, blue eyes shining and his mouth turned up in his most cocksure grin.
He smirked at the surprised look on her face, and the chorus of shouts from the classroom. "Dave, Dave!" the children shouted, and Peter called out excitedly "Sharsky, Sharsky!" Dave winked at the students, then bowed gallantly to their teacher. "May I accompany you to lunch, my lady?"
Flustered for a moment, Terry could only gaze in appreciation at the sight he presented. Dressed in his favorite, faded jeans, ratty old jacket, and bright red t-shirt, he nevertheless was undeniably handsome. "Sure, mister," she sighed dreamily, and then smiled as he put his fingers to his mouth, gave a shrill whistle, and energetically gestured for the children to quickly form a line. She barely noticed the plain wrapped package clamped under his arm as he led the procession to the cafeteria, leaving her to follow behind--to keep up with the stragglers, of course. The pleasure of getting a tail end view of the Starsky Strut was only a side benefit....
By the time the children had all settled at their assigned table and were happily digging into their meals, Dave had returned from the line with a garden salad for her and a generous helping of "mystery meat" for himself. He arranged the salad before her with all the grace of a high-class waiter, and then plopped himself down happily on the bench across from her. He waited for her to take the first bite, before forking a gargantuan portion of his own meal into his mouth. She could only stare incredulously at the blissful expression on his face as he rapidly chewed and swallowed the massive bite. She would never understand how he ate--how he enjoyed eating--the things he did.
He waited until she had eaten another bite of her salad and had taken an appreciative sip of the tea he'd purchased for her--she normally ate the lunch delivered to the table for the children, which, of course, included a small carton of milk--before he placed the package before her. "Gotcha something, honey," he announced warmly, and then smirked at her startled expression.
"Dave, what's this for?" she asked in surprise, but nevertheless began to rapidly unwrap the present.
"Read the card, dummy," he whispered, and grinned smugly at the mock glare she shot his way. His expression softened at the childlike excitement with which she tore at the brown paper and the gleeful expression that lit up her eyes at the present uncovered. She hugged the sturdy white bear happily to her chest, and beamed up at him as though he were Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny all rolled into one.
"Oh, Dave! You goof! A stuffed bear?" She blushed prettily, but tightly clasped the toy, and her eyes seemed overly bright.
Again, quietly, he urged her, "Read the card."
She opened it with one hand, seemingly reluctant to release her grip on the white bear. "Thinking of You" was emblazoned across the top in purple balloon letters, and silly cartoon animals cavorted across the front, but the message inside, though sweet, was far from silly.
I'm sorry I can't be there with you right now when you snuggle up in your bed at night, but I don't want you to feel scared or lonely in that bed by yourself. So I got you a buddy to watch out for you when I'm not there. His name is Ollie and he is a pretty trustworthy, straight up guy. Or should I say Bear. Ha Ha. He'll keep you safe, and I hear he is pretty good at snuggling, and I trust him not to get fresh. Ha Ha.
I love you, baby.
Ollie? she thought, but it didn't matter because he was reaching under the table to squeeze her hand, and the love shining in his eyes was the best present she had ever received.
Ollie continued to be her sole companion on more evenings than she would have preferred, but she found that he did offer some comfort on the lonelier nights. His soft furry presence, aided by a surreptitious splash of Starsky's cologne, was a continual reminder of the warm, constant affection of her beloved, boyish cop. Running her fingers across the bear's grizzled nap brought memories of softer, fuller curls, and she never failed to squeeze his sturdy body without remembering the strength and tenderness of Dave's embrace.
Her relationship with Dave was growing deeper than she'd ever experienced with anyone before. His gentle strength, his wry, unexpected wit, his innate integrity, and simple joy all became readily apparent. What truly delighted her, however, was his capacity to open his heart so fully and so quickly. Even the most withdrawn of her students responded to his ready acceptance and generous kindness.
She realized, not long after their friendship had reached a deeper level, that when Dave Starsky gave his heart, he held nothing back. The vulnerability, the openness of his love moved her deeply, and prompted a like response in her. It also prompted loving respect and a strong sense of responsibility. A heart like that had to be nurtured, had to be protected.... No wonder Ken Hutchinson loved him like he did. No wonder she and Hutch had become such good friends--they shared a commitment to cherish and shelter the Starsky that so few were privileged to know.
When she'd first been introduced to Hutch, not long after she and Dave had started to go out, she'd been a little unsure of how to read the man he claimed as his best friend and "the best partner a guy could have." Her first assessment was "ready charm," followed, as the evening progressed by "coolly competent." He'd been slightly reserved, though he tried to hide it, and his eyes, when he thought she wasn't looking, had been calculating in their appraisal of her. She wondered, with some amusement, how she measured up.
She had little doubt that Hutch's impression of her would have some effect on her relationship with Dave, but it was reassuring to her to note that it seemed important to Dave that she also approve of Hutch. Again and again that evening she heard, "Let me tell ya what Hutch did," and "Do you know Hutch can...." Finally, out of embarrassed self-defense, the blond began to deflect the attention by offering back-handed compliments of his own, "Well, Gordo here's been know to...." From there, the stories just got ridiculous and she found herself adding her own embellishments. By the end of the evening, they'd formed their own "Liar's Club" and were woozy with laughter and a little too much beer.
That was the first of many evenings they spent with Hutch, sometimes on double dates, sometimes just the three of them. More and more she grew to appreciate this man who "watched Starsky's back." It was reassuring to know that someone so competent, so perceptive and loyal was always there to keep her love safe. Behind those cool, calculating ice-blue eyes beat the heart of a warm and generous friend, and she found it a true pleasure to spend time in his company.
The joy Starsky found in their friendship didn't escape the attention of either of his "best-friends"--even when they beat the socks off him in Monopoly.
It was the first Friday night off they'd had in a long time, and Hutch's current fling had been pushing for them all to go see "Eraserhead" at the local theater. Hutch was game, and Terry was willing to give it a shot, but Starsky could barely suppress curling his lip at the thought. From what he could tell, it was one of those "artsy" movies, and certainly not something on which he wished to waste his Friday night.
"Uh, what about seeing 'Saturday Night Fever'?"
"Dave, we've already seen that three times."
"Well, how about 'Star Wars'?"
Vonda only pursed her lips, and turned her head.
"Uh, buddy, Vonda's not really into sci-fi stuff...."
"No, I'm not. It's all a little juvenile, don't you think? And I've really heard great things about Lynch's movie from my book club. I really think it is going to be one of this year's seminal movies!"
"Huh. Well...if it's gonna be all, uh, seminal and all, and if your...book club recommends it, then...I guess we oughta see it...." Starsky figured it was time to surrender gracefully, especially in light of the looks Hutch was firing at him over his date's shoulder.
"Excellent! I've heard the imagery is masterful, and the existential exploration of the human condition is overwhelming! You're going to love it, David, I'm sure!"
Well, he didn't love it. In fact, neither did Terry or Hutch, and Starsky suspected that even Vonda found the film incomprehensible, though she refused to give any sign. She stared grimly at the screen, and nodded occasionally at some particularly bizarre or ill-lighted scene. At one point, she leaned over to Hutch and, gesturing at the screen, whispered meaningfully, "The human condition!" Hutch could only shrug and raise an eyebrow in bewilderment when Starsky nudged him for clarification.
Before too long, bored restlessness drove Starsky to begin the popcorn fight. At first, he limited himself to random kernels flicked up into his partner's face or Terry's lap, but the glare Vonda lasered at him when he dared to aim at her chest quickly eliminated her from the competition. Soon, however, handfuls of kernels and jujubes were flying between the two men, to the increasing annoyance of Hutch's date.
Terry, for the most part, restricted her part in the battle to grinning in amusement at their shenanigans, and to casually picking stray kernels off of Dave's sweater to pop into her mouth. Occasionally, however, when she was sure no one would notice, she'd test her aim by firing a volley over the combatants' heads. As a result, unbeknownst to Vonda, her head had become blanketed by a flurry of miniscule popcorn crumbs.
Terry might have been more embarrassed by their foolishness, if the theater hadn't been almost completely empty of other patrons and if she hadn't found Vonda's sideways glares and scandalized snorts so hilarious. Besides, it was sometimes fun to be in on the mischief, instead of being the one always having to curtail it. She got enough of that in the classroom. Let Dave and Hutch have their fun--they certainly deserved to blow off steam once in a while, considering the grim reality they faced everyday....
Inevitably, the popcorn bucket overturned in Vonda's lap, much to Hutch's chagrin and Starsky's amusement. With an enraged gasp, the redhead shot to her feet, stiffened her spine, and stalked to the front of the auditorium, leaving a popcorn trail behind her.
"Oops, " said Hutch, with an exaggerated grimace, but he nevertheless rose to his feet, squared his shoulders, and went manfully after her.
The other two watched as he sidled up to his enraged date and began what must have been a calculatedly soulful barrage of apology and sweet-talk. It hardly seemed to them that she would be able to resist Hutch at his most persuasive, but after only a few scant moments, she unbent her rigid posture only enough to jab a finger at him and give a dismissive wave towards the back of the theater. Holding up both hands in a placating gesture, Hutch rose and sauntered back up the trail of popcorn.
"She says she's taking a cab. You wanna get out of here?"
"Hell, yeah," whispered Starsky, while Terry gave a sotto voce "oops." Gathering what was left of their dignity, the three made a hasty retreat.
As they exited the theater into the crisp clear night, Starsky couldn't help shooting uneasy glances at Hutch. There was no way to predict how his mercurial partner would react to the outcome of this latest escapade, and he couldn't fault him if he wanted to lay the blame at Starsky's feet. Observing his easy, loose-limbed walk, Hutch didn't seem too upset, but....
Hutch, intercepting his partner's furtive look, could only shake his head in resigned amusement. It wasn't exactly how he had pictured things turning out, but.... Leaning toward his partner, cocking a brow and affecting a slightly comical accent, he intoned, "Another fine mess, Ollie." Starsky only grinned and nodded his head in agreement.
Hmm, thought Terry speculatively, Ollie....
Starsky didn't know how instigating a food fight and losing Hutch a date could earn him that adoring look in Terry's eye, but he decided not to question it. It was enough for him to have her snuggled up under his arm as the three of them strolled their way down to the end of the pier. Hutch was right; the stars did look beautiful shimmering over the water--but not as beautiful as Terry.
In the time it took for Terry to make a final check on her lipstick and scoot over to the driver's side of the Torino, Hutch had already made his way to the sidewalk in front of the small Greek restaurant. The aroma drifting through its open doors gave proof to Dave's promise of "food to die for," despite the building's dilapidated appearance and out of the way location. Terry took an appreciative whiff, and was reaching up to take Dave's hand when a sudden report rang shockingly loud through the narrow side street.
Instantly, Dave moved up close to the Torino, hovering over her, arms spread as though to shield her, his every muscle tense and ready. From under his arm, Terry saw that Hutch had also frozen into a slight crouch, his hand reaching toward his weapon, his eyes narrowed and intently scanning the street. She gaped in astonishment, more startled by the sudden change in her companions than she had been by the unexpected noise. From behind, she again heard a loud bang, and couldn't suppress her gasp of alarm. Hutch's hand was definitely on his weapon.
She had just jerked around to gaze behind her when the source of the alarming noise came into view. From out of a connecting alley wheezed a yellow VW Beetle, sputtering and backfiring as it tried to pick up speed. With one last ear-blasting explosion and a profusion of black smoke from its tailpipe, the little Bug zoomed off into the late afternoon sun, its driver unaware of the sensation he had caused.
"Sonuvabitch," Dave chuffed under his breath in amusement, embarrassed by his over-reaction. He couldn't help but chuckle when Terry turned to stare at him in wide-eyed amazement. "Sorry, honey." He shook his head, "It's been a helluva week." With this understatement, he stepped back and again held out a hand to help her from the car. He smiled gently and deliberately eased his stance, his motions calculated to dispel the tension.
Well aware that she wasn't going to receive any additional explanation for his dramatic behavior, she took his waiting hand and rose smoothly from the car. She couldn't help but notice that Hutch still seemed to be on alert. His hand was no longer on his concealed Magnum, but his posture was still tense, his eyes still scanning the area. Before her eyes, their charming, gentle companion had been replaced by a wary and ruthless stranger.
She'd never seen this side of the usually genial Hutch, and she could only stare in surprised dismay at this poised and dangerous street-soldier. Realizing, however, that his concern was only for their safety, a sudden reference came to her that made Terry see her friend in a new light. His hyper-alert state and battle-ready stance put her in mind of a modern day Ivanhoe, a fair-haired Saxon paladin ready to take on evil and fight against all foes.
She would have laughed at her fanciful notion if the comparison hadn't seemed so apt, and if she hadn't experienced in this new revelation a deeper appreciation for Dave's foremost best friend. She'd seen Hutch's kindness and his courage to stand up for those who had no champion. She'd experienced firsthand his loyalty and his willingness to go to any extreme to do the right thing. No, it wasn't ridiculous at all to picture Hutch as a twentieth century scion of chivalry, a pure and noble knight--with a regrettably rusty steed and a tendency to trip over his own feet. With this thought, the last of her alarm dissipated into amused affection.
Starsky had also noticed Hutch's tense state, and his lips quirked in rueful understanding. Tucking Terry's hand into the crook of his elbow, he led her up to his watchful partner. Tapping the other man on the shoulder, he bowed and gestured toward the open doorway. "After you, Ollie."
After giving the area one last sweeping glance, Hutch exhaled noisily, deliberately shrugged his shoulders to ease off the tension, and smiled tightly at his friends. Bowing his head in turn, and with the affected air of an aristocrat, he turned to regally precede them into the restaurant. Just before crossing the threshold, however, he turned to mug a silly grin at Terry. She burst into laughter, and punched him on the shoulder.
Some proud Defender, she thought, shaking her head, then had a sudden image of the pale-furred stuffed animal sitting on her bed--Ahhh...Ollie!
"All right, all right, I'm coming! I'm coming...." The tone was ill tempered and gruff, but prompted, Terry suspected, more by the attacking virus than by her gentle, only twice repeated knocking.
She could hear feet shuffling across the floor, and a prolonged fumbling at the lock. Another deep, rasping cough rumbled behind the door, and then it slowly and cautiously opened just enough to reveal one under-shadowed and blearily watering eye. She couldn't help but smile as it blinked muzzily at her for several long seconds.
After a moment, and sensing a stall in his cognitive process, Terry finally decided it was time to give him a slight prod. "Hutch? You gonna let me in?"
The eye that had been staring blankly at her all this while widened in sudden comprehension, and then shifted as he quickly moved to further open the door. "Sorry," he murmured sheepishly, and twitched an embarrassed smile.
Terry, still standing in the doorway, made a quick appraisal of her friend's appearance. Beyond a doubt, here was a pitiful, yet poignant sight. His fever bright eyes, red-rimmed and dark circled, stood out starkly blue in an over-pale face, and weariness and sickness weighed down his slumping shoulders. He shook slightly with sudden, small tremors, and unconsciously drew the sleeve of his sweatshirt across a raw and itching nose.
He also presented, though she would never tell him, a rather adorable picture in his plaid flannel pajamas, baggy grey sweatshirt, and his, as usual, white-socked feet. With his rumpled hair sticking out everywhere and his expression forlorn, he put her in mind of an overtired and unhappy little boy. She cocked her head and gave him an understanding smile.
"I'm sorry to get you out of bed, but there was no way I could reach your key, even if I wasn't...oh, thank you," she said as he suddenly reached out to take one of the over burdened bags she'd been juggling. Welcome finally established, she bustled past him into the apartment. "Um, just put that on the table," she threw over her shoulder as she placed the remaining bag on the kitchen counter.
"Uh, I wasn't in bed. W-what's all--? You didn't have to...."
Terry could only smile fondly and shake her head at his befuddlement. Poor guy--so sick he doesn't know if he's coming or going.... Quickly she returned to where he stood beside the open door, and relieved him of the bag he'd taken from her. Pushing the door shut with her foot, she entered the kitchen area once more and set her burden on the table.
Hutch, apparently unable to think of anything else to do, dazedly followed her across the apartment. He watched for a few moments as she unpacked one of the bags, then it seemed to occur to him that he ought to offer to help. He was reaching out to take up a large jar of Vicks VapoRub when a titanic sneeze, followed by a wracking cough, shuddered through him.
At once, Terry turned to him, her expression one of concern. "Why don't you sit down, Hutch? For that matter, why don't you go to bed? Poor baby, you look like you feel awful." Quickly moving to his side and wrapping an arm around his waist, she gave him a gentle squeeze and immediately began to steer him towards the sleeping alcove.
This sudden tenderness apparently overwhelmed the sick man, and he began blinking rapidly at the sudden prickling at the back of his eyes. Ill as he was and, not surprisingly, feeling somewhat sorry for himself, it was difficult for him not to be affected by the compassion and affection inherent in her gesture. Rarely unwell and never comfortable in dealing with his own weaknesses, this bout with the bug had hit him harder than he liked to admit.
His posture stiffened as he manfully tried to gain control of his emotions, but he couldn't prevent the pitiful tone that infused his words, "I'm sick of that bed..."
Instantly Terry paused and glanced up at him. His head hung down rather morosely and his full bottom lip was dangerously close to achieving a classic pout. Oh my, she thought, and hoped his mother had been a strong woman.... Still, she imagined twenty-four hours of sweating and freezing and tossing in now doubtless musty sheets had left him with a strong antipathy for returning to his sick room. The fact that the area was also covered with discarded tissues and other refuse must have further dissuaded him from finding rest there.
With another comforting squeeze, Terry changed their direction back towards the living room. He gratefully returned her hug and, this time, meekly allowed her to direct him toward the couch. There a drift of used tissues, a dented sofa pillow, and a rumpled blanket testified to his recent occupancy. The muted TV and a half-cup of cold tea gave further evidence of his fitful attempts at making himself comfortable. His grumpy mien and overtired manner led Terry to suspect that he had not been successful.
Reaching the couch, Terry left him standing while she plumped up the cushions and shook out the blanket. She knelt down to gather up the used tissues and cup, and wondered what else she could do to make him comfortable. Glancing up into his bleary eyes and sorrowful expression, she gently asked, "You want me to fix you something hot to drink? Something cold? I brought some soup...."
He slumped down on the couch, and mutely shook his head.
Filled with compassion, she reached up with her free hand to cup his flushed cheek. He closed his eyes and leaned into the cool, soft touch, sighing in appreciation. "Aw, Hutch.... Sweetie, why don't you lie down here? I'll put this stuff away and heat up a little soup. You may want it by the time it's finished."
He didn't open his eyes, but with his cheek still cradled in her hand, he nodded his agreement. Giving the side of his face a last comforting pat, she helped him arrange the pillow under his head and then tucked the old blanket securely around his reclining form. With a few last gentle caresses to his forehead, she returned to the kitchen and her task of unpacking the supplies she'd brought.
As Terry set about her self-appointed tasks, a peaceful serenity began to steal across the tiny apartment, not so much hampered by her bustling efficiency as fostered by her warm diligence. Presently, soup was put on to boil, and hot, soapy water and collected dishes filled the sink. Juice, grapes, fresh vegetables and a casserole found their way into the 'fridge, while soft bread, baking potatoes, and Dave's favorite HoHos were placed in a low cabinet. A quick survey of Hutch's plants, only a few of which needed watering, was followed by a crowning touch--a cheerful arrangement of wildflowers to grace the table center.
Hutch seemed to bask in the enveloping calm, disturbing it only occasionally with a sudden barking cough or a loud sniff. He was snuggled down deep under the covers, and even his raspy breathing had begun to take on a rhythmic quality. Terry had just about decided he had fallen asleep when he startled her by speaking.
"Starsk had to go in." His tone was muffled and drowsy, and pronouncedly hoarse. "Dobey called. We got a case coming up, and the DA--" small cough "--was worried 'bout...." His voice trailed off sleepily. Realizing, though, that he wasn't really saying anything, and suddenly conscious that he was letting Terry clean up his mess, he shook his head slightly and started to sit up. "Here, let me--"
"Kenneth Roland Hutchinson, lay right back down there!" The firm tone, and the soapy finger pointed emphatically in his direction halted his movement. "You've been running yourself ragged, trying to do the job of three men, while everyone else has been down with this bug. No wonder it's hit you so hard--you've been so busy taking care of everyone else, including Davy, and taking on extra duty while everyone else has been sick, that you haven't been taking care of yourself. And Dave calls you a health-nut?" She shook her head in mock despair, but one small corner of her mouth quirked up in fond understanding.
Grabbing up a waiting glass of juice and two aspirin, she moved quickly to his side and sat watching patiently as he reluctantly swallowed the pills. Reclaiming the now emptied glass, she rose to her feet and once again expertly tucked him under the blanket. Before moving away, she leaned down to kiss him on the cheek. "Sorry, buddy," she smiled, her tone gently teasing, but nevertheless determined to have her way, "it's your turn to be fussed over." Her eyes narrowed shrewdly at his now truculent expression. Uh oh, wrong approach....
"Hey, do you remember me telling you about that album my Grandfather sent me, the Celtic one? Well, I finally remembered to bring it over. Thought you might like to listen to it." Without waiting for a reply, Terry quickly retrieved the album from the counter and, in a thrice, had the record set and revolving on Hutch's stereo turntable. The slightest rumble accompanied the needle settling into its groove, and then the soft lilting sounds of hammered dulcimer, soprano flute, and keyboard drifted lyrically through the apartment.
Hutch, more familiar with bluegrass than with Celtic music, nevertheless found the melodies evocative and irresistibly compelling. Caught in the flow and eddy of ancient rhythms, he found he was drifting with the music, carried along towards slumber by the gentle, haunting harmonies. The addition of a delicately played harp accompaniment filled his mind with visions of soft green hills fading away into a cool, distant, mist-grey horizon. His soft, even breathing, revealing only a slight tendency to snore, soon filled the apartment with a different kind of music--one that Terry found more than appealing in its own right.
Returning to the kitchen, she finished the last of the dishes, wiped off the counter, and unplugged the sink to let it drain. She decided to turn off the soup--it could wait for Hutch to awake. Besides, it seemed evident that Dave had made sure his partner had eaten before he'd had to report to the station. It must have galled Dave to leave Hutch and his apartment in such a state--hopefully, both men would find Terry a competent stand-in.
After making one last survey of the main living area, and determining it was up to "Starsky Standards," she moved to assess the damage in the sleeping alcove. Quickly and efficiently, she gathered up the refuse, stripped the sheets, and opened the windows shortly to air out the room. As she worked, she kept one ear attentive to the usually fitful sleeper, but Hutch snored on, caught in the soothing spell of the music. In no time, she had the bed remade, the covers smoothed, and a handy box of tissues placed on the nightstand.
Her tasks finished, Terry returned to lean against the back of the couch and gaze down at her sleeping friend. This gentle, driven man was not only important to Dave and to his safety, he was also someone who had grown very dear to herself. She reached down to carefully finger a pale, wayward curl, her face soft with compassion, her eyes dark with loving concern. You've got to take care of yourself, Hutch. What would we ever do without you...?
Starsky was still asleep, although the clock hands showed the time was well past noon. Well, let him sleep, Hutch thought, wishing he himself were not yet awake. His head was pounding and his eyes were bleary, but sleep had fled and showed no signs of returning.
He rubbed a hand across one aching, blood-shot eye, and gingerly unstuck an over-dry tongue from the roof of his mouth. Uhhh...mouth tastes terrible. Did I barf last night? I don't remember barfing.... He did remember helping Starsky to bed, however, and then making his way to the couch. Too damn much to drink, he thought...or maybe not enough....
He stared wearily down at the objects in his hands, the note in the left, the bear in the right. He centered his attention on the stuffed animal. Ollie. Starsky said she called him Ollie. And she used to sleep with him. He raised the bear up to his nose and gently inhaled.
Starsky's cologne overlaid the slightest hint of floral perfume.... His heart gave a small, painful twist.
No. No more tears...not right now. His head couldn't take it...his heart couldn't take it.... He lowered the bear back down to his lap and studied it carefully. Ollie. Ollie. His mind tried the name on for size. Ollie the Bear.
"Hello, Ollie," he said softly, staring into the bright black eyes that seemed to gaze so innocently up at him. "What the hell am I going to do with you?"
He thought he heard a noise from the other room. For several moments he froze, every faculty centered on the adjacent bedroom, but the sound was not repeated. Finally, some innate instinct told him that the sleeper still slept.
Releasing the breath he'd been holding in a long stream through his nostrils, he licked his gummy lips with a wooden tongue. The tension drained from his muscles as weariness and despondency set in once again. All he wanted to do was sleep, but against his will he found his attention turning once again to the furry white bear resting on his lap. Ollie.
With an exhausted sigh, he once again opened her last note to him. Her handwriting seemed no different than it ever had--confident, generous loops and the odd, playful flourish.
To you, I entrust Ollie and Dave. Please love them both, and don't let either of them change.
Don't let either of them change, huh babe? Well, that's a tall order, but I'll sure as hell do my best. He gave the bear in his hand a gentle squeeze and a slight shake. "Well, Ollie, sitting here isn't going to accomplish much. Let's get ourselves cleaned up, in functioning order, and see if we can't be ready to coax Starsk into eating something when he finally wakes up." With those quiet words, Hutch hauled himself off the couch and into the shower.
In the ensuing weeks, he made sure that both he and Starsky got enough to eat and enough sleep to manage, and that neither of them grew too overburdened by grief without turning to the other for a listening ear and a welcoming shoulder. Sometimes he grew frustrated with his efforts, feeling they were inadequate in the face of Starsky's pain, and sometimes he wondered how they would make it through. Whatever his doubt in himself, however, Terry's gift was a constant reminder of her faith in him--a faith he was determined not to fail.
Some might have shaken their heads at the many nights the tall, manly cop fell asleep clutching the small, white bear, but Starsky only smiled fondly at the sight. Terry baby, I miss you.... Thank you for loving us both so much....
It was only after the most frantic of searching that the bear was finally located, buried as it was far back at the bottom of Hutch's closet. He was more than a little shame-faced as he rescued the stuffed animal out from under a pile of outmoded pullovers, last year's scuffed boots, and a pack of music sheets he'd never gotten around to using. Ollie's exile there among the discarded and forgotten brought home to Hutch, more than anything else, just how screwed up things had become.
Carefully brushing off the cobwebs and straightening a crumpled ear, Hutch stared into the dust-dimmed eyes and vowed solemnly, "Ollie, buddy, if we get through this, things are gonna change." He gave the bear an almost desperate squeeze, then tossed it in his bag and hurried out of the apartment.
A short while later, as he stood over the drug-somnolent figure, he listened to the heart monitor's steady, rhythmic beat and Starsky's slow, even breathing. Lovingly he studied the too-pale face, pain lines not quite smoothed away by the heavy medication, and allowed himself one gentle caress down the length of an arm. When he finally spoke, his voice was as low and comforting as he could make it.
"Buddy, I've got to go. Hang in there for me while I'm gone. I'll be back as soon as I can. I gotta make him pay for.... Well. You stay strong, buddy--I know you've got it in you. Just don't think you can.... I mean, just don't get into any trouble while I'm gone, all right? I'll be back soon." With a last brush across the dark, matted curls, he turned abruptly and strode briskly from the room. San Francisco was waiting, and Starsky would have to wait, too. Surely, surely, he would wait....
Long after the last of Hutch's footfalls ceased echoing through the room, Starsky slept on, drifting almost peacefully in the cocooning stillness. As he slept, the delicate scent of flowers ghosted through his dreams, wafting away darker images of pain and fear. Warm, comforting arms embraced him, and at his back, a tall protective figure stood, one strong hand gripping his shoulder securely. Two voices, the ones he most loved to hear, whispered fervent words of encouragement and support, drowning out memories of loss and treachery with the promise that he would never be alone.
Silent in the darkened hospital room, slumber-bound to a pain-wracked bed, David Michael Starsky nevertheless smiled gently in his sleep, while high on the heart monitor perched Ollie, keeping watch in a vigil of love.
Note: Just wanted to confess that I've never actually seen the movie
It's just as likely as not that Starsky and Hutch would have loved the movie, if
they'd been in the right frame of mind. But they just weren't! "g"
Also, all three movies mentioned actually did premiere the same year as
"Starsky's Lady" aired. However, although I did attempt to research
the matter, I found it impossible to discover exactly when each film had it's
initial premiere, so I may have fudged the facts a little that all three could
have been available for viewing at the same time.
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