This story was originally published in the zine Blue Eyes and Blue Jeans, published by The Idiot Triplets Press, 1995. This zine is still in print and available from LCabrillo@aol.com. Thanks go to Eve for typing the story for the web. Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org who will forward them to the author.
"I thought you said you were taking me someplace special for our vacation," Starsky groused as his partner drove. "Looks to me like we're out in the middle of nowhere."
"Starsky, we are out in the middle of nowhere," Hutch said. "What's the point in taking a vacation if you can't get away from the city?"
"But why do we have to go so far to get away?" Starsky asked plaintively. "Drivin' until we're lost in the wilderness..."
"We're not lost. My cousin drew me a very good map. But go ahead, complain all you want, because when we get there you're going to eat crow. I think even you will have to like where we're going."
"Don't count on it," Starsky muttered.
Hutch let Starsky's grumblings pass unheeded; he was too busy enjoying the rural scenery as the Torino purred up the mountain road. California, he reflected, was really quite a scenic state once you left L.A. The snow-capped mountains looked majestic in the distance, and the desert panorama, painted in late-afternoon sunlight, was a variegated display of colors from purple to gold. He took a deliberately-exaggerated deep breath of fresh air, relishing the lack of smog.
"Ah! Smell that air! Isn't this the life?"
"Hrmpf," Starsky rumbled. "Okay for you, maybe. I prefer civilization myself. Hey, how much farther is this place of your cousin's, anyway?"
Hutch glanced at his odometer. "Not too much farther. Gary told me it's about forty miles from the freeway, and we've come almost that far now." He looked back at his partner. "What's your hurry, anyway? Aren't you enjoying the ride?"
Starsky said nothing. Then, after a second or two, he mumbled, "I have to go to the john."
Hutch grinned. "Want me to stop the car?" he offered. "There's nobody around."
Starsky gave him a look. "Just drive a little faster, will ya?"
"Sorry, Starsk, can't do that. Too dangerous on these narrow mountain roads. Guess you'll just have to concentrate on something else. Just try not to think of things like waterfalls and falling rain and running water..."
Starsky was distinctly unamused. "Why is it," he complained in a martyred tone, "that every time you get one of these hare-brained notions, I'm the one who suffers for it?"
"You're not going to suffer at all in the next week. Trust me." In fact, Hutch added silently, he intended to do his damnedest to make this the best vacation either of them had ever had.
They both really needed it, he knew. Their run-in with Vic Bellamy—and the poison that he had given Starsky, the poison that had almost killed him and would have, if they hadn't found the antidote right before the twenty-four hour deadline—still gave Hutch nightmares, even three weeks later, and Starsky, he suspected, had some residual terrors from the experience as well. A week away from the city and the job, with nothing more stressful to do than to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature, would do them both good.
"Hey!" Starsky's voice intruded on Hutch's thoughts. "This it?"
Hutch, looking in the direction of Starsky's pointing finger, saw a small, one-story cabin, half-hidden by some trees. Although he had never been to the cabin, he recognized it immediately from his cousin's description. He hit the brakes.
"Hey!" Starsky complained, bracing both hands on the dashboard. "Be careful of my brakes, will ya? You can wear 'em out, hittin' 'em hard like that."
"Sorry," Hutch apologized. "I was...daydreaming."
Starsky grunted. "Yeah? Me too. I was daydreamin' about a big, thick steak. All this drivin' has given me an appetite." He looked at the cabin critically. "Hey, y'know somethin'?" he asked as he climbed out of the Torino. 'You're right—this ain't so bad."
Hutch climbed out, too, bringing his backpack with him. "Not so bad?" he echoed, affronted. "It's beautiful. A perfect vacation spot—a little rustic, but my cousin says it has all the comforts of home."
"Uh-huh. Speakin' of comforts, how about tellin' me where the bathroom is? I mean, it is indoors, isn't it?"
Hutch put on a blank stare. "You know something? That's one thing I forgot to ask. Sorry."
Starsky, not deigning to respond to Hutch's teasing, snatched the key from him, unlocked the door, and hurried inside. Hutch followed him, stuck, as usual, with carrying their supplies.
Starsky came out of the bathroom just as Hutch, in the tiny kitchenette, was finishing putting away the groceries. Looking around, the curly-headed man asked, "Where're the bedrooms?"
"I'm afraid there aren't any. This is a one-room cabin."
Starsky stared at him. "What? No bedrooms? You mean..." He looked around the room again. "This is it?" He sounded as if he'd been robbed.
"Except for a shed out in front, where my cousin stores firewood, and a deck in back, yes. We're in a log cabin in the mountains, Starsky, not a resort hotel. But we don't need to stay in a forty-room mansion to have a good time, do we?"
"I guess not," Starsky admitted, "but geez, I thought I'd at least have my own bedroom. Does this mean we have to sleep together?" He sounded uncomfortable at the prospect.
"No, there's a nice big couch over in the corner. One of us can sleep on that. Sorry it's so cramped, but if it's any consolation, from what Captain Dobey tells me his fishing cabin at Pine Lake is even smaller than this. By comparison, we're living in the lap of luxury."
"If you say so." As Hutch closed the refrigerator: "Y'need any help puttin' away that stuff?"
"Why do you always ask me if I need any help just as I'm finishing up doing whatever it is I'm doing?"
Starsky shrugged. "Just lucky, I guess," he said blithely, unrepentant. "So when d'you want to have dinner?"
He certainly has a one-track mind. "It's only a little after four now. That's a little early for dinner. How about if we do some exploring first?"
"Okay. Guess it beats lookin' around at these four walls." Starsky glanced around the room again, looking decidedly unenthusiastic as he took in the hardwood floors with no rugs, the one uncurtained window overlooking a view of the mountains, the log-lined walls, the chairs, couch, table, and bed that made up the only furniture, and the small fireplace. "What would you call this decor anyway? Early Nothing?"
"I guess Gary doesn't have much of a fashion sense," Hutch said. Then, as it hit him that maybe Starsky really was disappointed in the vacation spot he'd picked for them: "If you really hate this place, we can go back to L.A., you know."
Starsky's gaze shot back to Hutch, as if he realized only then that his grumbling might have hurt his partner's feelings. Quickly he gave him a reassuring smile. "Nah, I don't hate it at all," he said. "Looks cozy, in fact. Did you say something about exploring?"
Hutch nodded. "Yep. C'mon, let's stretch our legs." Then, as he opened the door: "Ah, Starsky..."
Hutch deliberately lowered his voice to a funereal tone. "If you happen to see any grizzlies or mountain lions or wild boars, stay calm—they won't kill you as long as you stand stock still and don't show fear. Probably the worst that would happen would be you'd lose a couple of fingers or a foot or something like that. So don't worry."
Starsky gave him an ice-cold glare. "Very funny." But Hutch noticed, to his secret amusement, that Starsky gave an extra-cautious look around as he walked outside.
Hutch followed him, whistling. This was going to be a great vacation—he just knew it.
Hutch walked into the cabin, carrying a load of firewood from the shed. It had been getting chilly since the sun had gone down, and a fire would warm the room up. He dropped the firewood into the fireplace, crumpled up some old newspapers that were stacked by the grate, and lit them to kindle the blaze. Within less than a minute a fire was burning steadily.
After enjoying the orange-red flames for a few minutes, he realized he probably should start dinner; Starsky might complain he was trying to starve him to death if he didn't. He walked to the kitchenette, pulled two steaks from the refrigerator, and put them in the broiler. I'll leave it to him to make the salad, he resolved silently. Damned if I'll let myself get stuck with all the chores around here.
Only then did it occur to him that he hadn't seen his friend in awhile. A little concerned about what trouble his city-bred partner might be getting into here in the country, he walked outside to look for him.
He found him in back of the cabin, leaning against the rail that ran along the deck and gazing out at the desert with a pensive look that his blond partner couldn't quite read. Hutch lightly dropped a hand to his shoulder, and Starsky looked up with a start.
"Sorry," Hutch apologized. "I just wanted to tell you I started dinner. I didn't mean to startle you."
Starsky managed a smile. '"S okay," he said. "I was just...thinking."
"Yeah? About what? You look like you're a million miles away."
"Nah, only a couple hundred. And about a million years." He gazed out at the valley again. "I was just remembering something that happened in Nam. When I was a kid."
Hutch was surprised. He knew that Starsky had been in Vietnam, but his dark-haired partner never talked about it—and Hutch never asked him about it either, assuming that Starsky, like many Vietnam vets, wanted to forget the time he'd fought in a war that could not be won.
"There was one time...I was in a foxhole with two other guys. We were being fired on by Cong, and I said we should try to make a run for it. The other two guys agreed with me, but said I should go first since it was my idea. I did, and..." His voice caught a little. "...While we ran both of the other guys were shot. Killed." He let out a slow, unsteady breath. "But I escaped without a scratch."
Hutch squeezed the tense nape of his partner's neck in silent comfort.
"It just makes me wonder what life's all about, y'know? I mean, why didn't I die then? Lots of guys, guys a lot smarter and braver than me, died over there. And now I'm thinkin'—why didn't I die from Bellamy's poison either? By all the odds I should've. The doctors told me that if you'd gotten the antidote an hour later I would've been done for. So why didn't I die?"
Hutch heard himself say, "You didn't die because I wouldn't let you."
Starsky looked at him, as if surprised. Then a faint smile crossed his face. "Yeah," he said quietly, "I know." He reached up and squeezed Hutch's hand, which was still resting on his shoulder. "And I'm damned glad I got you, too. Hutch..." His voice trailed off.
"What?" Hutch said gently.
Starsky looked away. "Nothin'. It's just, like I said, I'm glad you're my partner. Even if you do drag me out into the middle of nowhere when we finally get a week off."
Hutch smiled, sensing a lightening of Starsky's mood. "Just wait until you let this fresh air and peace and quiet work its spell on you," he promised. "You'll feel like a whole new man."
Starsky grunted skeptically. "If you say so, Nature Boy." He reached up and fondly draped an arm around Hutch's shoulder. "Now let's go eat. I'm starved."
After washing up the dinner dishes Starsky announced he was going to bed, pleading exhaustion from the long drive. His words caused Hutch to gaze at him a little worriedly. Starsky did look tired, but more than that, he looked drawn and flushed. Was he feeling some aftereffects from Bellamy's poison?
But he kept his apprehension to himself. The doctors had proclaimed Starsky was completely cured, and they should know. "Okay. Sleep well, buddy," he said. "To show you what a sport I am, you can have the bed."
Starsky flashed him a grin. "Thanks. I was gonna suggest we toss for it, but I'm not gonna argue."
After Starsky had crawled into the one bed, Hutch decided he might as well go to sleep, too. He had brought some reading material with him—Helter Skelter, a book about the Manson case which he'd been looking forward to reading for some time—but leaving the light on might disturb Starsky. Besides, he was tired too. He made up the couch, stripped down to his shorts, and climbed in.
An indeterminate time later something awakened him, and he opened his eyes with a start, trying to orient himself as to where he was. The sound of a muted moan from the bed abruptly restored reality for him, and, yanking on his robe, he hurried to his partner's side.
"Hutch? Hutch, where are you?" Starsky was muttering. "Help...you gotta help me. Please..."
"I'm right here, babe," Hutch said, dropping down on the edge of the bed. "What's wrong, huh? What do you need?"
Starsky caught his breath on another moan. "I feel...Hutch, I feel sick." He reached up and clasped Hutch's arm. "I gotta... Can you help me? I gotta sit up."
Hutch flinched at the body heat radiating from the other man, and a quick hand to Starsky's forehead confirmed his fears—his partner was burning up with some kind of fever. "Easy, Starsk," he soothed, hoping his voice didn't shake as he eased his partner into a sitting position. "Are you nauseous?"
"Yeah. Just a little, though. Sittin' up helps." Starsky grimaced when Hutch turned on the bedside lamp. "D'you have to do that?" he murmured. "Hurts my eyes."
"I want to look at you and see what's wrong, that's all," Hutch assured him. "Try keeping your eyes closed, okay?"
Starsky nodded and obeyed, as always, trusting his partner.
Hutch tried to control his hammering heart as he gazed at his friend in the light. Starsky was not only flushed from fever, his face was dripping perspiration, the same symptoms he'd had when in the grips of Bellamy's poison. And he'd just said he was nauseous, which had been another symptom of that damned stuff.
Is this some kind of spontaneous recurrence of the effects of the poison? Like a flashback from LSD? No, it can't be. It must be some kind of flu or something. But it was April; the flu season had passed months ago.
Starsky squinted his eyes open to look at him. "What's wrong?" he asked. Even though obviously ill, he could still read Hutch's face perfectly.
Hutch shook his head. "Nothing," he lied. "I'll be back in a minute, buddy, okay? You stay right there."
Cursing himself for not coming more prepared for such an emergency, Hutch went into the bathroom to look for a thermometer, suspecting even as he did so that he wasn't apt to find one. Hutch's cousin, a lawyer in Santa Barbara, used the cabin strictly for brief vacations and didn't keep it stocked with extras. "If you need something, bring it," Gary had told him on the phone. "Because anything you want probably won't be there. I never keep anything of any value just in case the place gets vandalized."
As Hutch had feared, there was no thermometer in the medicine cabinet—or anything else. Remembering suddenly that there was a first-aid kit in the Torino's glove compartment, however, he went outside to the car. The kit hadn't come equipped with a thermometer, but it did hold a bottle of aspirin. Gratefully he grabbed it and hurried back inside.
He remembered one time, when he'd worked as a paramedic the summer between his junior and senior years in college, one of the other paramedics had told him he'd heard of a woman who'd run a high fever when stuck in some isolated place, and her husband had managed to bring down her high temperature with nothing but massive doses of aspirin. Hutch didn't know if aspirin would help in this case, but at least it was better than nothing.
Starsky was still lying in bed, eyes closed, when Hutch re-entered the room, and the blond wondered if he had fallen back asleep. Then the cobalt-blue eyes opened. "Where you been? You get lost, out there in the wilderness?" His voice was weak.
"Nope. I took my compass with me." Hutch poured a glass of water from the sink, then shook out three aspirins and sat down next to his friend again. "Here. Swallow these."
Starsky somehow managed to swallow the pills, but Hutch felt a renewed jolt of fear when he saw how difficult it was for him. God, he's really sick. Could any virus affect him this much, this fast?
He looked at Starsky's watch, lying on the stand next to the bed. It was early yet, barely past midnight, and the night seemed to stretch ahead into infinity.
Inwardly he debated what to do. There was no telephone to call for help. He would have to drive Starsky to the nearest hospital, and in the dark the unfamiliar mountain road, narrow and unlit, could be treacherous. Besides that, Hutch had no idea where the nearest hospital was. He would have to drive to the freeway and then get off at the nearest exit to find a phone. But that could mean hours, and it might be dangerous to take Starsky, in his weakened condition, on such a prolonged ride.
He went back to the kitchenette, filled a dishpan with cool water, then carried it, along with a soft rag, back to the bed. Dousing the rag in the water, he ran it over Starsky's fiery face.
"What're you doin'?" Starsky murmured.
"Just trying to bring down a little of your fever," Hutch said. He moved the rag down Starsky's neck and chest, his anxiety deepening as he noticed, once again, how hot his skin was.
And he made his decision. Going out right then would be too risky. He would keep Starsky cool and quiet and give him mega-doses of aspirin until the morning; maybe he could bring down his fever at least a little. Then, as soon as it was light out and he could drive on the narrow mountain road without breaking both their necks, he would take him to a hospital.
He was about to tell Starsky this when he noticed that his partner had fallen back into a fitful half-sleep. Hutch decided not to disturb him; sleep would probably do him more good than anything else.
For what seemed an interminable time he sat there, cooling Starsky off with the wet cloth and periodically feeling his partner's forehead, trying to ascertain if his fever was getting better or worse. When he saw that two hours had passed, he pulled Starsky up—he felt like a dead weight—and forced him to swallow three more aspirin. Even in his semi-conscious state, Starsky made a face.
"Shit, those pills taste terrible."
"Sorry, buddy," Hutch said. "Here, try to wash them down with some more water. You don't want to get dehydrated."
Starsky let out a weak chuckle. "Water tastes terrible too."
Hutch hoped Starsky was too out of it to hear the quaver in his voice. "How you feeling?"
"Tired," Starsky mumbled. "Lemme...go to sleep, Hutch."
Hutch tried to smile, easing him back down on the bed. "Okay," he said softly. "Go back to sleep."
Starsky's eyes closed and he seemed to drift off again. Hutch, touching his forehead, wondered once more if his partner's fever was going down at all. Even though he wanted to believe that the aspirin was working, he honestly couldn't feel any change.
Damn you, Bellamy! And Jennings too. You bastards! Doing this to a man who never intentionally hurt anyone, whose only crime was trying to do his job the best he could...
Hutch gave Starsky three more aspirin at four AM. Each hour, as it crept by, felt like a century. Several times he went back to the kitchen sink to get fresh water to bathe his companion, wondering each time he did so how long Starsky could run such a high fever and still be all right. He knew that high temperatures could lead to brain damage, but without a thermometer there was no way he could tell how high—or how dangerous—his partner's fever was.
He felt an inward rage at his own helplessness. Somehow, this seemed even worse than right after Starsky had been injected with the poison. Then, at least, they had been busy looking for the antidote. He hadn't been forced to just sit by and watch him suffer.
That's what you get for taking vacations in the middle of nowhere. Damn it, why didn't we go to Pine Lake instead? Dobey offered his place to us—but no, I wanted to get completely away from it all, someplace with no phone and at least sixty miles from anywhere...
He cut off his thoughts. Wallowing in guilt wouldn't do his partner any good.
It was about four-thirty when he noticed that Starsky appeared to be a little better; at least the uncontrollable perspiration seemed to have stopped, and he seemed to be sleeping easier too. He touched the familiar face to see if his temperature had gone down, and Starsky stirred.
"Whatcha doin'?" he murmured indistinctly.
"Sorry I woke you," Hutch said softly. "Are you feeling better?"
"Fine, fine. In the pink," Starsky mumbled. "Go back to bed, Hutch. I'll be okay."
Hutch had no intention of going back to bed—or to the couch. But realizing that he might be disturbing Starsky's rest by sitting on the bed when his partner was trying to sleep, he pulled up a chair beside him and sat down. A few minutes later, his eyes inadvertently closed.
The sound of a voice startled him. He opened his eyes, and saw Starsky, lying on his side, mumbling in his sleep. "Can't have you," he muttered. "Want you. So bad." Restlessly he turned his head into the pillow. "Hutch," he moaned. "Can't make it without you."
Is he delirious? Or just having a bad dream? "Starsky?" he whispered. "Everything's okay, babe." He sat on the bed and washed the flushed face with the wet rag again. "You're gonna be fine, pal. I'm right here." His heart ached as Starsky tossed his head, as if resisting his touch. Then, the next moment, his eyes opened and stared, fever-bright, up at Hutch.
"'M hot," he whimpered. "Why is it so hot? 'M burnin' up. Why don't you put out the fire?"
"The fire went out a long time ago, Starsky. You feel hot because you have a fever, that's all." Hutch bathed his neck and chest with the cool water. "How's that? Any better?"
"A little." Seeing Starsky biting his lip in an obvious attempt to control his pain made Hutch's heart ache even more. "Hutch? Y'know somethin'? I don't... I don't feel so good."
"I know, buddy. I know." Hutch laid his hand against Starsky's whisker-rough cheek and stroked it. "I'm sorry I can't do more. I'd take you to a hospital, but it's too risky driving down the mountain road in the dark."
'"S okay," Starsky muttered weakly. "I don't wanna go to a hospital anyway. All those needles, lousy food, doctors pokin' you every two seconds, crazy nurses shovin' bedpans at you..."
"I thought you loved being fussed over by pretty nurses," Hutch tried to tease.
"Pretty ones, yeah. But the only ones I ever get are dogs."
Hutch looked at Starsky's watch again. "Time for some more aspirin," he said.
"Ah, shit, not again," Starsky complained.
"Sorry, babe. But it might help your fever." Hutch pulled Starsky up so that his partner could lean against him; then, sliding one arm around the broad shoulders, he once again helped him swallow the pills and water. After he finished gulping them down, Starsky collapsed against Hutch, panting and shaking. Hutch put the glass aside, then stroked his neck and shoulders soothingly.
"Easy, buddy. Easy. It's okay; I've got you. Just relax."
"Relax?" Starsky half-snorted, half-moaned. "How can I relax? Looks like...Bellamy got me after all."
"Hey, c'mon, don't be ridiculous," Hutch said, even as his heart accelerated at hearing his own thoughts spoken aloud. "This is probably just some bug or something. Or maybe a mild case of food poisoning. With the junk you eat that wouldn't be surprising."
Starsky didn't smile at Hutch's attempt at humor. "No, it's the Professor's stuff. And's no good, Hutch," he whispered, then let out a sigh, feebly turning his face away. "I guess it's just as well."
Though Hutch suspected it was primarily the fever talking, he also sensed there was more to Starsky's words than appeared on the surface. "What do you mean, it's just as well?" he demanded. "That's crazy talk."
Starsky shook his head. "No, 's not," he murmured. "If you leave me, what'd be the point of...going on living?"
"I'd never leave you, Starsky."
'You would if you knew..." Starsky's voice trailed off.
"If I knew what?"
"Nothin'." Starsky, still clinging to Hutch, shivered. "Oh, God, Hutch, please. It hurts so bad...please help me..."
"Anything, buddy. Just tell me what to do. Where's the pain, Starsk? What hurts?"
"Stomach," he moaned. "Just like—before."
A chill raced down Hutch's spine as he remembered that time when Starsky, in the grips of Bellamy's poison, had collapsed hi his arms, shaking with pain but still trying to make a joke: "My stomach hasn't hurt this bad since my Aunt Rosie sent me her special chicken soup... She never could get the hang of it... She made great WonTon, though..."
"It'll pass, Starsk," he managed to say. "Just hang onto me till it does. I'm here for you, babe. Right here. Just hang on." Recalling how his massages often helped other pains Starsky had suffered, he moved one hand to his partner's belly and, careful not to press down, gently rubbed his abdomen.
Some of the pain seemed to leave Starsky's face at the stroking, so Hutch, encouraged, continued, moving his hand farther down, under the waistband of his partner's pajama bottoms.
As he did, he felt the last thing he expected to feel—a rigid erection, brushing against his wandering hand. Stunned, he looked up into Starsky's face, and was even more stunned to see not just embarrassment there but terror. Pure, stark terror.
Then, as if realizing what his face was revealing, Starsky looked away again.
Abruptly Hutch remembered Starsky's earlier words. "Can't have you. Want you. So bad." He had assumed that Starsky had either been delirious or dreaming, that in any case he had just been speaking nonsense as a result of the fever. But now...
Everything seemed to fall into place. Starsky's discomfort when he'd found there was only one bed in the cabin. Starsky's almost saying something to him when they'd been talking out on the deck, then changing his mind. Starsky's stated fear that Hutch would leave him "if you knew."
Starsky loved him. Not just as a partner or just as a friend, but as something much, much more.
But was that all that surprising? Hutch remembered, with sharp clarity, when Starsky had shot Vic Bellamy, even though he was the only man who could lead them to the poison's antidote, because Bellamy had been about to kill Hutch. When Hutch had later asked him why, Starsky had only shrugged and said, "Seemed like a good idea at the time." Just that casually he'd signed his own death warrant—because Hutch's life meant more to him than his own.
No. Now that he thought about it, Hutch realized it wasn't surprising at all.
Starsky let out a ragged sob, quickly returning Hutch's thoughts to the present. "Starsk, don't," he pleaded, touching the dark hair comfortingly. "It's okay."
Starsky shook his head. "'S not okay," he said, his voice a moan. "You hate me. I might as well die now."
Hutch hugged him tight. "You're not going to die," he said firmly. "And I don't hate you, you idiot. I..." He hesitated only a split second over the words, a little surprised, even as he spoke them, how easily they came to his lips. "I want the same thing you do," he said, softly now. "Just as much and maybe more."
Starsky stared at him. "What's goin' on?" he muttered. "I must be...dreaming or something. I can't...you don't...this can't be happening."
"Oh, it's happening, all right," Hutch assured him. "And when you're well enough, I intend to make a lot more happen than is happening right now. But for now you have to rest, partner. Get over whatever this is. Then we can start this vacation all over—and next time we'll do it right."
For a second or two Starsky continued staring at him. Then, as it obviously hit him what he was hearing, he buried his face in Hutch's shoulder. Hutch felt the wetness of Starsky's tears on his skin as he held his partner close.
Finally Starsky drifted into an exhausted sleep and, after gently laying the limp form back down on the bed, Hutch sat and watched him for a long, long time.
When did I start loving you? he wondered silently. Or when did I fall in love with you? He'd known for years that he loved his partner, but this desire for intimacy felt brand new. Was it when I almost lost you to Bellamy's poison? When that doctor told me you were going to die in twenty-four hours? Or maybe when you told me in the alley how much it hurt, and I held you and realized I never wanted to let go?
He pushed his thoughts aside. All that mattered right now was Starsky getting better. Later on, when Starsky got over this, then there would be time for them to talk about how they both felt about each other. And the future as well.
Hutch opened his eyes groggily. Morning sunlight was pouring through the one window. He squinted at Starsky's watch and saw to his surprise that it was almost nine o'clock. Had he really slept all that time?
He looked at Starsky, who was still sleeping peacefully. Careful not to wake him, Hutch touched his forehead, and found the fever almost gone. Starsky looked much better, too—no longer flushed, no longer perspiring, just sleeping contentedly with his lips curved in a mischievous half-smile as if he were dreaming a pleasant dream. The crisis, whatever the cause, had apparently passed. Hutch felt almost limp with relief.
He got up, trying to ignore his protesting neck and back muscles, which were stiff and sore from his sleeping in a straight-backed chair most of the night, and went into the bathroom. When he came out into the main room minutes later, he saw that Starsky was awake.
"Hey, buddy," he said, sitting down on the bed. "It's great to see those baby blues open again. How do you feel?"
"Still alive. I guess." Despite a pronounced wince, Starsky managed a grin as he weakly sat up. "You okay?"
"I'm not sure," Hutch admitted, ruefully rubbing the back of his neck. "I fell asleep in the chair, and my spine feels like a damned pretzel."
Starsky's eyes reflected his sympathy. "Didn't anybody ever tell you it ain't healthy to go around sleepin' in chairs?"
"Several people. Guess I'm a masochist. You really feel okay now?" Hutch couldn't believe Starsky's miraculous improvement in such a few hours time.
"Great," Starsky said cheerfully, if not entirely convincingly. "Just kinda...weak, I guess. But lots better."
"Do you feel well enough to get dressed?" Hutch asked. "Or do you want to go to the hospital the way you are?"
"What? What hospital?" Starsky demanded.
"Now that it's daylight I'm taking you to a hospital," Hutch replied patiently. "We should be able to find one once we get on the freeway."
"C'mon, Hutch. I'm not goin' to any hospital," Starsky said firmly. "I told you, I'm fine. Besides, since I was sick from the Professor's stuff, there's nothing any local doctors could do anyway."
Hutch was exasperated by his partner's stubbornness. "Starsky, even if you feel fine now, there might be some aftereffects of the fever. It went pretty high. And what you went through last night might not have been due to Bellamy's poison; it could be some kind of virus instead."
Starsky shook his head. "No, it was Bellamy's poison. Dr. Franklin told me..." His voice trailed off.
"Told you what?" Hutch demanded, his suspicions aroused.
Starsky looked sheepish. "He told me I might have some aftereffects of the poison for a month or so," he admitted. "Residual symptoms, he called it. But he said he was sure they wouldn't last long and wouldn't be fatal, just uncomfortable. Yknow, like when you were getting over that shit Forest shot you up with. Remember, even after the withdrawal symptoms were over, you had some mild symptoms for a month or so afterward? It's kinda like that."
Hutch flushed a little; he never liked thinking about that time. "Why didn't you tell me this before?" he asked sharply.
Starsky shrugged. "It didn't seem like that big of a deal. Dr. Franklin didn't even know if it'd happen; he just wanted to tell me not to worry if it did. And when it first happened, a couple weeks ago..."
"This happened before?" Hutch interrupted. He didn't know whether to worry about Starsky's precarious health or to shake him for not telling him all this before.
"Only one time," Starsky said quickly. "It was just like now—a bad fever, sweatin', stomach pains—but it was all gone over night. And it was only that one time, Hutch, I swear. If it'd been more than that I would've told you. And I really didn't think it'd happen again. Dr. Franklin said I'd probably have problems for only a month or so."
Hutch sighed. But at least hearing that the episode of the night before had been more or less expected by Starsky's doctors lessened some of his anxiety. "You sure you're okay now?"
"Hey, sure I'm sure. Don't I look as great as ever?"
Hutch tried to smile. "I think I'll pass on that one. You don't look like you're still feverish, anyway." Then, teasingly: "I guess this means you don't want me to rub your stomach again, huh?"
Starsky frowned. "Again?"
"You don't remember my rubbing your stomach last night?" Hutch asked.
Starsky shook his head. "Nope. In fact I don't remember much of last night at all. Guess I was kinda out of it."
"Well, you had a pretty rough time," Hutch said, struggling to keep his tone expressionless. "Maybe it's good you've forgotten it." He swallowed hard. Starsky didn't remember. Did that mean that he was so sick he hadn't even known what he was saying? Hutch looked into his partner's face for some sign, some clue of what Hutch had thought was so clear the night before, but saw nothing at all.
"I need a shower. I'm all sweaty." Starsky pulled himself out of bed. "I'm starvin' too. Let me take a shower and then we can have some breakfast, huh?"
"Okay. But you stay in bed. I'll go heat you up some soup."
"Soup!" Starsky was indignant. "I said breakfast, not lunch." He pulled on his bathrobe. "An' I'm not stayin' in bed on my vacation either. Be out in no time flat."
Hutch watched him disappear into the bathroom, then pulled him self up to go make coffee. But as his hands moved to measure the grounds into the percolator, he felt his throat tighten until he could scarcely breathe.
Starsky didn't remember what he'd said the night before. And now Hutch was wondering if he'd even meant it; after all, he had been delirious. His excitement when Hutch had touched him could have been merely a physiological reflex, his whispered, "I want you," not some deeply-hidden truth but only fever-induced gibberish.
And Hutch would never ask him. He couldn't risk their friendship on the chance that he might be wrong. Better to just go on the way they had been. The earlier breakthrough had torn all his defenses down, and to realize now that he and Starsky would now have to go back to being mere friends again was almost more than he could bear.
"Hutch? Hey, you okay?" Starsky approached quietly from behind as Hutch stood at the stove. "Hutch?"
"Uh, yeah. Sure. Fine." Hutch moved away before his partner could see his face. His pretense of fumbling with the coffee can couldn't have fooled a stranger, much less a man who knew him as well as Starsky. Hutch stiffened, but was not really surprised when a gentle hand came to rest on his arm.
"Hey, Blondie, turn around here and look at me, will you?" Starsky turned Hutch's head with two fingers beneath his chin. "I have a feelin' somethin's got you upset, somethin' other than my being' sick. What is it?"
"Forget it, Starsk. It's nothing." Hutch lowered his head, moving away from Starsky's touch. "It's probably better you don't remember. It would just... Never mind."
"But I want to mind," Starsky said, and something in his tone prompted Hutch's eyes to rise. "When I was in the shower I remembered a dream I had last night, a dream where I told you something. And I remember, in my dream, your sayin' something back to me, something like: 'I want the same thing you do.' But it wasn't a dream, was it?"
Hutch shook his head. "No," he whispered. "It wasn't. You...you said you...wanted me. And I told you I...wanted you too."
Starsky's cobalt eyes seemed to melt then, hot need radiating from their depths, and it was all Hutch could do not to drown in their fiery pools. He felt his breath catch in his throat as Starsky slowly extended a hand toward his face, then touched his cheek.
"Hutch? Hold me?" Starsky whispered. "I need...I need to be close to you right now."
Willingly, silently, Hutch pulled him close. Starsky's warm breath brushed his ear.
"Yeah. Oh, yeah, now this is more like it," his curly-headed partner murmured. "This is part of what I remember. You holdin' me, touchin' me... Was there more?"
"No." Hutch heard himself speak the words from far away. "But there can be if you want."
Starsky pulled back to look at him. "How about right now?"
Hutch felt as if he'd yearned to hear that question forever. Time stopped as he lowered his head. Though the solidity of Starsky's lips against his felt foreign at first, they quickly melded together as if they'd kissed a thousand times. Hutch all but stopped breathing as Starsky's tongue timidly probed at his lips, requesting entry, permission he granted eagerly. They were both gasping in lieu of breathing when the kiss ended at last.
"I think I need to go back to bed for awhile." There was no mistaking the intent in Starsky's husky tone. "Any chance you might care to turn that coffee off for now and join me? Huh?"
"Oh, I think I might be able to arrange that," Hutch said with a trembly smile, turning the stove burner off and setting the percolator aside. "Lead the way."
Hutch felt sure he was living a dream, though he didn't fear a premature waking this time. And he knew that Starsky, unlike the night before, was fully aware of both his words and actions.
Their movements were timid at first, shy and reticent. But as they clung together in the small bed their kisses became harder and harder, more and more eager with every passing breath. As Starsky nuzzled Hutch's neck, then tantalizingly licked behind his ear, the blond laughed and squirmed.
"What's the matter, am I gettin' to you?" Starsky teased, not letting up at all. "I've read that's supposed to be a real sexy spot. Behind the ear."
"Well, for a change you must be reading the right books, because it definitely does have an effect," Hutch said, his words coming out breathless. "Although I'm not going to say what kind."
"Ah, c'mon. Tell me what kind. C'mon."
Hutch grinned. "I'll do better than tell you; I'll show you."
He licked Starsky in the same spot, and was delighted when Starsky's response mirrored his own, accompanied by a sudden hardness pressing urgently against Hutch's thigh. Pushing forward against Starsky's erection, Hutch felt the ache in his body increase to a delicious torture that mounted with every moment that passed.
"Starsk," he whispered. His hands moved down Starsky's body to his butt. Then, too frustrated to wait any longer, he pulled the other man on top of him, wrapping his legs around him to lock their bodies in a tight embrace.
"Hutch," Starsky breathed, as their erections thrust against each other. "Oh, God, babe." The bright blue eyes were open wider than Hutch had ever seen them, wide and filled with awe. It was a sight that made Hutch's heartache with love for him.
"You're so beautiful," Hutch whispered.
"So're you." Starsky stroked his hair. "God, Hutch, your hair's so gold in this light... And... Oh God!"
Then, abruptly, his words cut off as a violent tremor shot through his body, and Hutch felt hot semen spurt on his chest as his partner reached orgasm unexpectedly soon. The sensation ignited his own overflowing passion, and his eyes closed as he too approached the inevitable brink. With one final upward thrust and a moan, he cried out in an intense, shattering climax.
Though the experience was not quite what he would have envisioned, he knew their needs had been too great to wait for romance this first time. Later there would be time for proper lovemaking, but right now, it was enough that they were simply together.
After a brief time of recuperation, Starsky rolled onto his side and pulled Hutch against him, one arm draped over the blond's chest as their breathing slowly calmed. Neither spoke for several long moments, both reluctant to break the almost-magical spell. At last, Hutch released a lengthy sigh.
"You okay, Starsk?" he asked, idly stroking the dark curls. "I hope so, because I sure am."
"Never better." He lifted his head to look at Hutch. "How long has this been goin' on for you?"
"You mean my feelings?" Hutch smiled, a little wryly. "It seems like forever. Although I don't think I really realized how I felt until you were poisoned."
"Yeah, I know. That's when I knew, too." Starsky's expression was somber as he searched Hutch's face. "But now what?" he asked, sounding almost frightened. "Where do we go from here?"
"Wherever we want." Hutch smiled again, caressing Starsky's face lightly. "As long as we go together, you know we can't go wrong."
"Yeah, I know, but..." He stopped when Hutch reached up to lay a finger across his lips.
"One step at a time, Starsk," he said gently. "Let's not spoil this week worrying about the problems we'll face when we get back to the city. We can take all the time in the world to work this through after we have to go home. For this week all I want to do is love you and be with you. Is that all right?"
Judging from the enthusiastic, tight embrace Starsky gave him in lieu of an answer, Hutch presumed his suggestion had met with approval. As he lovingly caressed his partner, Hutch suspected that he had been right in his previous thinking, that this was going to be the best vacation of their lives. With infinite care he began to explore the uncharted wilderness of Starsky's body, and their brand-new love.