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Disclaimer: This story was written for entertainment purposes only.  No profit is being made from it.  No infringement on anyone’s copyright is intended.

 

A big thank you to Keri, who pinch edited for us.

 

Dedication:

 

This story was won at auction as a benefit for Paula Wilshe's family.  Thank you to the winning bidder for having the confidence in us to know we wouldn't let her down, even if it took a while!  :-)  We dedicate this story to our dear friend's memory.  Paula, we miss you. You were one in a million!

 

Love always,

 

Sue and Valerie

 

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

By Sue David and Valerie Wells

 

Hiking through the Southern California mountains wasn’t David Starsky’s idea of a good time. City born and raised, he'd never learned to love the outdoors like his Minnesota-born partner. The few times they’d hiked or camped together, could be described on a scale that ran the gamut from disappointing adventure at the best to unmitigated disaster at the worst. When Hutch asked him to participate in a contest that involved hiking, sleeping under the stars, and finding their way to a designated point with nothing but a map and a compass, he balked.

 

“No.”

 

“You don’t even want to think about it?”

 

“No.”

 

“Starsk, it’ll be fun.”

 

“No.”

 

“Ah, come on. You don’t want those guys in Search and Rescue to say the detectives are a bunch of wimps, do you?”

 

“No.”

 

“No, you don’t, or no, you won’t?”

 

Starsky scowled at him. “Just no. No way. No way in hell. I’ve done all the camping, hiking, and communing with nature I care to with you, thankyouverymuch. Go by yourself.”

 

Hutch sighed. He needed a partner for this contest and he wanted it to be Starsky. More than the idea of winning, he wanted to show Starsky that camping and hiking could be fun. Maybe he could convince him to go again, if everything went well. Why shouldn’t it? He decided to try a different tack.

 

“You remember Rutherford? From our rookie year?”

 

Starsky did. He also knew just where Hutch was going and he had no interest in being led there.

 

“You’re wasting your time.”

 

Sal Rutherford decided after his time as a rookie that he had no gift for the streets. He did have a gift for working with dogs and he had an uncanny ability to orient himself in unfamiliar settings. Sal applied for and was accepted by Search and Rescue. Now, years later, he and some of his coworkers had decided to hold a contest. They were looking to refresh the training local area officers received by offering them a chance to gain some field experience. A recent increase in the number of people enjoying the local mountains for recreational hiking had created a related increase in the number of adults and children lost and in need of rescue. The contest seemed like an excellent idea to coax peace officers into learning new skills that would help them pitch in when needed.

 

Rutherford and Hutch were competitive but friendly adversaries throughout their academy days. When he approached Hutch about the contest, he had teased him relentlessly about being rusty and unable to find his way “out of a paper bag” if he wasn’t in the city.

 

“Sal said we were soft, partner.”

 

Starsky considered that for a moment. “He did, huh?”

 

“Yep. Especially you.”

 

“Me? I’ll bet.”

 

“No, he really did. Said I was just as soft as you’d always been.”

 

Hutch tried not to smile. He could see he was making headway. Starsky’s competitive nature wasn’t going to allow him to sit still for being called soft. Gotcha.

 

“What if we get lost?”

 

“We won’t. Come on, I need a partner. You’re my partner. We won’t get lost. We both can read a compass and a map.”

 

“What if something goes wrong?”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Is that a rhetorical question?”

 

Hutch chuckled. “Okay, I get your drift. Nothing will go wrong. I promise.”

 

“If it does, we won’t just lose. We’ll embarrass ourselves in front of the rest of the guys. You know my track record with this kind of thing isn’t great.”

 

Hutch nodded. After a few moments of thought, he snapped his fingers and said, “I’ve got an idea. We can practice. We have a couple of days off at the end of the week. What if we go up to the mountains and do a dry run? We have no way of knowing the route for the contest, but we can at least make sure we can do this before we sign up next week.”

 

“I don’t know--”

 

“Please? Come on. I already asked Dobey about it. Since the department is cosponsoring it, they won’t even charge us for the time off to compete. It’s like getting two free vacation days.”

 

That was appealing, but Starsky still didn’t like it. “That sounds nice, but you know what I always say about that little voice.”

 

“I’ll get you some aluminum foil to line your hat with so you won’t hear the voices while we’re out there.”

 

“Smart ass.” Starsky laughed. Hutch was looking at him like a ten-year-old begging for a new bike for his birthday. The last few times they’d gone somewhere for a weekend, Starsky had chosen the locales. Saying no to his partner when he looked so hopeful was something Starsky had never been good at. This would be no exception.

 

“I guess we could do the trial run thing.”

 

Hutch smiled. “Thanks! You won’t regret it.”

 

”You’d better hope I don’t. I’m only doing this if you promise we won’t do the contest if the test is as big a disaster as most of our 'roughing-it' weekends. Agreed?”

 

“Fair enough. Thanks, buddy.”

 

That was Monday. This was Thursday. Things change. Hutch was determined to go on the test hike, despite the fact that he was sicker than he’d been in a long time. Hiding that from Starsky had not been easy. After work, he took a short nap and then drove down to Huggy’s to make his final trip arrangements.

 

“You look awful,” Huggy said.

 

“Thanks, good to see you, too.”

 

“You canceling?”

 

“No way. We’re going.”

 

“Mm, mm, mm. He know you’re this sick?”

 

“Amazingly, no. We were pretty slammed this week. He was too busy bagging bad guys to notice.”

 

“That don’t sound like Curly. You been hidin’ it, haven’t you?”

 

Huggy was a good friend. He knew Starsky should have noticed Hutch getting sick. The only answer was that Hutch had been using all of his limited energy to seem fine.

 

“It’s just a cold. I’ll feel better as soon as I get out in the open air.”

 

That seemed unlikely to Huggy, but he wasn’t going to interfere. He and Hutch discussed how they would handle the following day. Huggy would drive out with them, then he would drive Hutch’s car around to the other side of the mountain and park it at the end of the route they would be taking. His friend, Ernie, would pick him up there and give him a ride home. They’d look for their friends to show up at The Pits for a late dinner on Saturday night.

 

Hutch went home with Huggy’s advice to postpone this trip still echoing in his head. He knew he was too sick to go, but he wasn’t willing to put it off for fear Starsky wouldn’t give it another chance. The deadline to sign up for the contest was the following Friday and they would not have another opportunity to do a dry run. The phone was ringing when he walked in the door.

 

“Talk to me,” he said as he cradled the receiver between his ear and shoulder.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hey, yourself.”

 

“Everything okay with Huggy?”

 

“All set.”

 

“You okay? You sound… I don’t know, kind of tired.”

 

Hutch laughed. “It’s oh-dark-thirty. Of course I’m tired. I’m fine.”

 

“Okay. Just wanted to let you know I stopped at that hiking store and picked up the rest of the stuff on your list.”

 

“Great, thanks.”

 

“See you around 5:30?”

 

Hutch groaned quietly. All he really wanted to do was sleep. “Yeah. Huggy’s not thrilled about the timing, but he said he’d be ready. I’ll see you then. Night.”

 

“Get some rest. You’re going to need it to make sure I don’t have a bad time.”

 

“Ha-ha. Night.”

 

Hutch hung up the phone and was in bed within five minutes. When he woke up at 4:30, he could tell he had a fever. He was shivering and sweaty at the same time. His head was pounding and he could barely breathe through his nose. A quick temperature check showed 101 degrees and he knew that was bad so early in the morning. If he had a cough, he would never be able to hide it from his partner. He didn’t, though. His throat was a little sore, but it was his ears that were the big problem. Hutch had an ear infection. Rather than call the hike off, he downed four aspirin, packed some more in his backpack, and got ready to leave. When he got to Starsky’s place, he was grateful to see his partner waiting for him outside so he didn’t have to climb up to the apartment.

 

“Morning,” Starsky muttered through the open window.

 

“Good morning,” Hutch answered. He climbed out of the car to open the trunk for Starsky, trying as hard as he could to not look stiff.

 

“You sure you’re okay?” Starsky asked him.

 

“Just anxious to hit the road.”

 

Starsky could tell he wasn’t feeling well, but his hand-to-forehead inspection didn’t detect a fever.

 

Hutch batted at his hand. “What?”

 

“Something’s just not right with you.”

 

“You mean other than my mental illness from being associated with you for all these years?”

 

“Nice. No, really. You just seem like you’re a little on tilt.”

 

“Brother,” Hutch groused, slamming the trunk shut and walking away from Starsky shaking his head.

 

Hutch insisted he was up to the hike and they pushed on to Huggy’s. By the time it was really light enough for Starsky to see his eyes, they were ready to start off on the trail and Huggy was itching to take off with the car.

 

“You sure you want to do this? You don’t look good.”

 

Hutch decided in an instant that angry was the right approach. “I’m fine! Dammit, Starsky, if you don’t want to do this, just say so.” Deflection. Hutch hoped it would work.

 

“Fine! If you want to go out on a hike when you obviously feel like shit, go ahead. I can be just as stubborn as you can.”

 

Huggy laughed.  “At least you’re all set,” he said.  “You have enough food and equipment to make it… assuming you don’t kill each other.”  He pulled away from them laughing about how things would probably go over the next two days.

 

The two men consulted the map and their compasses. When they were satisfied they’d figured out the best direction to begin their trip, they started. Hutch had selected a route that would take them uphill for a while, but downhill most of the way. The day was beautiful and they both soon forgot their irritation with each other. By their midday rest and food stop, Starsky had to concede things were looking good.

 

“I can’t complain, Blondie. This is going pretty well.”

 

Hutch really was feeling terrible. He was trying to figure out how to take more aspirin without being discovered when Starsky gave him the perfect opportunity. He announced that he needed to “see a man about a horse.” They started off again and followed their map for another three hours. By three o’clock, the aspirins were wearing off and Hutch was looking worse. They found their way out of a stand of trees and to the top of a ravine at about that time.

 

They stood looking down for a moment, Starsky much farther back from the edge than his partner.

 

“Looks like a long way down there, Hutch.”

 

Starsky was right. The ravine was deep. A creek raced through the bottom and the fissure in the land ran as far as they could see in either direction. They decided to head north for a bit, hoping to find a break, but they knew there would be none within half an hour. That’s when Hutch spotted the log across the ravine.

 

“That’s luck,” he said. “All we have to do is cross that and we can get on about our business.”

 

“You have GOT to be kidding,” Starsky said. He wasn’t keen on heights and the idea of striking out across a deep ditch on the top of a dead tree didn’t appeal to him at all. Hutch knew that about him, but he also knew they could hike for hours out of their way if they didn’t take advantage of it. He was in no mood to dicker with his partner.

 

“It won’t be hard. We have to, or we’ll go miles off course.”

 

“How come this thing didn’t show up on the map?”

 

“I don’t know, but we have to deal with it. Look, I’ll go first. You follow. You’ll be just fine.”

 

“Oh, boy. Okay, you go first.”

 

Hutch shook his head in amusement and immediately regretted it. The world spun a little. He realized he must have an ear infection, but he had no choice but to move forward. Hutch started off across the log and didn’t look back until he was in the middle. What he saw caused him to laugh a little, despite his concern. Starsky was inching toward him on his hands and knees. His fear of heights was not about to allow him to just walk across like Hutch was doing.

 

“You okay back there?” Hutch called out to him.

 

“Terrific. Don’t talk to me.”

 

Hutch laughed quietly, then turned back to his task.  The combination of the turning of his head and movement from the log due to the weight of two grown men caused the tree to move just a little. The motion was enough to cause Hutch’s already precarious balance to disappear completely. Starsky looked up just in time to see him start to fall. For Hutch, the world spun again, this time violently. He suddenly had the sensation of an ice pick being driven into his left ear. He put his hand up to it and closed his eyes, but it was too late to stop what was bound to happen. Thankfully, the world went dark around him before he fell. He never knew what hit him.

 

“Huuuuutch!” Starsky cried. He reached out, but wasn’t able to help at all. In horror, he watched as Hutch gasped, put a hand to his ear, and toppled sideways like he’d been struck by a wrecking ball. His backpack snagged on some tree limbs and was ripped off, then open, the contents flying out and down right after their owner. Starsky over-rotated and wound up clinging to the log by his arms, feet dangling over the ravine. His backpack fell off and into the creek below as he tried to right himself.

 

A soft thud and slight splash signaled the end of Hutch’s tumble. Starsky looked down briefly and he didn’t like what he saw. The height scared him, but the sight of Hutch lying below, not moving, with his face at least partly in the creek was much worse.

 

“Hutch!” Starsky shouted. “Can you hear me?” He didn’t get an answer and his friend wasn’t moving at all. Starsky was terrified that his entire face might be in the water, but he couldn’t see it because Hutch had fallen with his back to Starsky.

 

Knowing he had to put aside his fears and move quickly, Starsky turned his attention to his predicament. He did his best to get a firm grip and managed to pull himself back up to the top of the log. He shimmied along it until he got to a place where he could reach the ravine’s side walls. Then, he swung out and grabbed some slippery roots sticking out through the dirt, using them to help him descend. A little over half way there, he ran out of things to grasp and lost his footing, sliding down the rest of the way. When he reached the bottom, he was scraped and muddy, but uninjured.

 

He was relieved to find that Hutch’s face was not completely submerged. He was out cold, but his arms and legs seemed all right. His left wrist was trapped beneath him. Starsky carefully moved him out of and away from the water. He was terrified of hurting him more, but he was more worried about Hutch drowning if the water level changed an inch.

 

“Hutch, please wake up,” he encouraged.

 

The ravine was damp and already as dark as dusk. The stream water was cold and Hutch was now soaked with it all along one side. Starsky wet a bandana in the frigid water and tried to use it to revive his friend. He was excited when he got a moan in return.

 

“That’s it, buddy. Come on, now,” he wheedled. Hutch’s eyes opened and he tried to focus.

 

“Starsk?”

 

“I’m right here. Are you all right?”

 

Hutch moved each of his limbs a little and turned his head toward Starsky’s voice. When he did that, Starsky saw it. Blood, draining from his ear. Shit. That can’t be good.

 

“Don’t move too much, partner.”

 

“I’m all right.” Hutch swatted at Starsky’s hand to get him to let him be.

 

Starsky didn’t want to scare him, but he needed Hutch to cooperate, so he decided he’d better tell him what was happening.

 

“You have blood coming from your ear. I’m not sure what that could mean, but it ain’t good. Gimme a minute to think.”

 

Shaking his head, Hutch said, “It’s okay. My ear hurts.” He knew his ear was infected and was sure the blood was related.

 

Unconvinced, Starsky held up three fingers. “How many fingers?”

 

Hutch waited a little too long to answer, blinking hard several times.

 

“If you’re trying to decide which one of me to look at, I think we have enough of an answer.”

 

Hutch smiled briefly, then closed his eyes and turned toward his side. He retched and vomited, then rolled over to his back. Starsky eased his head onto his lap and brushed the wet hair away from his forehead. That’s when he noticed the fever.

 

“Dammit, Hutch, you ARE sick. Why’d you come out here?”

 

“Didn’t want you to back out. Sorry.”

 

“Terrific. You’re sick and now you have a concussion.”

 

Hutch shivered violently and his eyes started to lose focus as he repeated, “I’m sorry.”

 

“No!” Starsky shouted, trying to get his attention. “Stay with me.”

 

“Can’t. So tired,” Hutch replied in a voice that was getting softer by the second. His ears were ringing and spots of light were flashing in his field of vision. The last thing he saw before he slipped under again was Starsky’s worried face.

 

“Dammit!” Starsky tried to bring him around again, but he wasn’t reacting.

 

At least Starsky felt better about moving him to a drier place now that he’d seen him move and heard him speak. The ground was covered with damp, decaying leaves and other woodsy detritus. Starsky didn’t want to drag him through it. As he bent to pick his friend up, he noticed how swollen his left hand and wrist were. That would need a splint, just in case. Starsky hoisted his partner into his arms and carried him away from the water and the dampness to a dry spot near the cliff’s base.

 

The first order of business was to get Hutch dry and warm. He didn't need a chill on top of everything else. Starsky scurried around collecting and salvaging as much as he could of the contents of their backpacks, but it wasn't much. A couple of tins of Vienna sausages -- Hutch hated them, but they were easy to pack and difficult to damage and Starsky was glad now that he'd ignored Hutch's tastes and followed his own. An extra sweatshirt of Hutch's -- it was covered with leaves and dirty and one sleeve was damp, but the rest was dry and it would help keep Hutch warm. He scrabbled through the leaves and dirt and finally found the first-aid kit. It had come open in the fall, but most of the items had landed near the box Hutch had packed them in, and among those items was -- Starsky uttered a brief prayer of thanks -- the aspirin.

 

He'd hung onto his canteen somehow, though Hutch's was lost, and he ran back to Hutch and managed to get a couple of the aspirin down him.

 

There was nothing to use for a splint for Hutch's injured wrist, so after Starsky got the sweatshirt on his partner, he searched for a couple of sticks or something to make do. He finally found two that were roughly the same size and length, and he pulled the string out of the hood of his own sweatshirt to attach them to Hutch's wrist. Even as out of it as he was, Hutch moaned a little when Starsky moved the wrist to straighten it.

 

"Sorry, buddy," Starsky said. "Can't be helped."

 

It was more than a little chilly in the ravine, and Starsky shivered. They needed a fire and they needed it now. He found some fuel and some small sticks and leaves for kindling, gathered it all together, and realized he didn't have any matches.

 

"Shit."

 

He had no idea how to make a fire without matches, though he supposed there must be a way.

 

"Cavemen didn't have matches," he muttered to himself. "How the hell did they do it?" He finally had to try to rouse Hutch again to ask for help.

 

Hutch blinked at him blearily. "Huh?"

 

"I need to start a fire, Hutch," Starsky said. "It's cold and you're sick and I don't know what happened to the matches. How do you start a fire without matches?"

 

Hutch batted his eyes, confused, and said, "Use matches."

 

"Hutch, come on. Work with me here. We don't have any."

 

Hutch swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand as if trying to clear his vision and said, "You can't. Takes too much work. Two people."

 

"Shit."

 

Hutch pawed at his left jeans pocket, but that was the hand in the splint, and he grimaced with pain. He weakly gestured at it. Starsky took the hint and reached into the pocket and was stunned to find a Bic lighter in there.

 

"I'll be goddamned. What possessed you to bring this?"

 

Hutch gave a fuzzy grin. "Thought we might need it to start a fire."

 

"I'll never give you shit about anything again," Starsky said, taking the lighter and going to work on his pile of leaves and twigs. It took some doing without newspaper and because the fuel was damp, and at one point, Starsky got a lungful of smoke when he was blowing on his tiny flame trying to make it into a big flame, but finally he had a nice campfire started. While he was working, Hutch had faded out again, but at least he was warm. Starsky scooted him a little closer to the fire and sat down to rest for a moment and try to figure out a way out of the mess they were in.

 

If Hutch really did have a concussion -- and he showed signs of it -- Starsky had to keep waking him up. And he had to get them both out of here and home or at least to a phone to call Huggy or their favorite doctor, Trevor Kelly for help.  Trevor was a long time friend who doubled as their doctor.  They trusted him and he had been there to help them through many injuries.  He didn't expect to find a phone anywhere out here in the hind side of nowhere, so that left it up to him to get them out.

 

It was still light, though it was shadowy in the ravine, and Starsky used what time he had to explore, always keeping Hutch in sight. It wasn't going to be easy to get out of here, even for him, uninjured and not sick. Getting Hutch out was going to be a nightmare, but there was no way in hell, Starsky told himself, that he was going to leave without Hutch, even just to look for help.

 

"Why the hell did we have to lose the flashlight?" Starsky muttered aloud, peering through the gloom created by the trees overhead as he tried to find an easier way out. It took over an hour before he found an incline that looked less steep than where they'd landed, and glory be, there was a tree growing in it, angled so that they could possibly use it for leverage to climb up. With another glance toward his partner, still motionless next to the fire, Starsky gave it a try. He scraped his hands and skinned his knee slightly as he scrambled up, but he could do it, and within minutes was standing at the top of the ravine.

 

The question was, could Hutch do it?

 

Sighing with frustration and worry, Starsky scrambled back down and swore to himself he was never, ever going on an expedition like this again. He hurried back to Hutch and roused him. He knew from experience that you had to wake a concussion victim, at a minimum, every two hours, and it had been almost that long since he'd awakened Hutch the last time. Thankfully, Hutch woke up without much difficulty, though he was groggy and still feverish.

 

"How many fingers?" Starsky asked, holding up two in front of Hutch's glazed eyes.

 

"Twenty-two," Hutch grumbled.

 

Starsky grinned. "What's my middle name?"

 

"Mud."

 

"No, that's your name, bright eyes," Starsky said. "When we get home and you get well, we're gonna box, buddy, over this stupid idea of yours. But for now, I'll be nice. Hungry?"

 

Hutch shook his head and winced. "No. Definitely, no."

 

"Okay. We ain't got much to eat, but when you want some, let me know."

 

Hutch muttered something and closed his eyes. Starsky glanced at his watch so he'd know when to wake him again, and opened one of the tins of Vienna sausage. He'd also found the bread as he was exploring earlier and though it was a bit smashed from the fall, it was plenty edible. Not what he'd call a meal, but it would quell his hunger for a while and it was all they had.

 

He gathered some more wood for the fire -- at least that was plentiful -- and settled down to stand watch.

 

Spending a night in the woods with all of the associated noises and unfamiliar things was never on Starsky’s list of fun things to do. Spending it worried over an injured partner was even worse. Still, he had to find the irony and some humor in the situation. He chuckled to himself.

 

“What’s so funny?” Hutch asked.

 

“Thought you were out again. Oh, nothing much. Just us, this, the sick sense of humor of the universe.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“I’ll forgive you for being so clueless because you’ve been clonked on that hard noggin of yours. When you’re more with it, I’m sure you’ll see the irony in this situation.”

 

“I can figure you out even with a little bump on the head.”

 

Starsky laughed at that. “Oh, yeah?”

 

“Any day,” Hutch replied.

 

Glad his partner was awake and talking, Starsky kept the banter going. “And twice on Sunday, no doubt.”

 

“Damn straight.” Hutch’s eyes appeared to be in and out of focus a bit, but he seemed to be a little better. Just as Starsky was thinking that, Hutch winced and began to shiver.

 

“Hey, let me move you a little closer to the fire,” Starsky offered. Hutch nodded and together they got him moved. Starsky put another branch on the flames. Then, he settled against a rock he’d pushed near the fire and he pulled Hutch’s head onto his lap. He pulled his jacket off and spread that over his still shivering partner.

 

“You’re gonna need that,” Hutch protested.

 

“Just till you’re warmer, buddy. When you stop shivering, I’ll take it back if I need it.”

 

Hutch looked up at him, grateful for the jacket and the comforting warmth of feeling Starsky close to him.

 

“How many fingers do I have up?” Starsky asked again, holding up three fingers.

 

“Not sure,” Hutch replied. “All those cartoon birds zipping around my head keep flying in the way.”

 

Starsky patted him on the arm and smiled down at him. “That’ll do. I think you’ll live.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“At least ‘til you’re well enough for me to kick your nature-loving ass.”

 

“Thought we were gonna box.”

 

“Maybe not. You did that in college didn’t you?” Starsky knew he didn’t, but he wanted to keep Hutch awake.

 

“That was wrestling.”

 

“Oh, wrestling. That’s right. Doesn’t matter. I can still take you.”

 

Hutch laughed at that. “You think so?”

 

“I know so. I’m meaner.”

 

“You’re crazier.”

 

They continued that way, ignoring everything else. Starsky was worried and Hutch knew it. He got his proof when Starsky jumped at a sound in the too-close-for-comfort distance.

 

“What the hell was that?” Starsky asked.

 

Deciding the truth was probably best, Hutch answered. “Might be a mountain lion.”

 

“Terrific. You think the fire will keep it from getting closer?”

 

“Probably.”

 

An owl hooted and Starsky jumped again. “That was just an owl, buddy.”

 

“I know that,” Starsky said, irritation evident in his voice. “Just surprised me is all.”

 

“Try not to worry.”

 

“Right. I’m on it.”

 

Hutch had stopped shivering. “You okay?” he asked.

 

“I’m fine. Just worried about how we’re going to get out of here.”

 

“You could go for--”

 

“No way, partner. I’m not leaving you alone and you know it.”

 

“Just thought I’d try.”

 

“I think I found a good spot to climb out of here in the morning, but it’s not going to be easy. You’re going to have to use your hands and your left one is pretty much useless at this point.”

 

“Great.”

 

Hutch pulled his left arm out from under Starsky’s jacket and held it up to look at it in the firelight. His fingers were swollen and the wrist was darkened with bruises. He put his tongue between his teeth, took a deep breath, and moved his fingers as much as he could. Starsky caught it when he lost the energy to hold it up anymore and he gently put it back under the jacket.

 

“Take it easy, huh?”

 

“It’s not broken,” Hutch assured him, “but it hurts almost that bad.”

 

“No doubt. Rest. Even after we get you out of here, we have a long way to go to get to the car.”

 

“Not too bad, Starsk. A few hours and it’s mostly downhill.”

 

“You think you’ll be able to keep up any kind of pace? And it’s not a few hours. More like eight hours. We weren’t supposed to be back at the car ‘til around sundown tomorrow and we lost two hours on our time today.”

 

“We’ll be okay. I might’ve lied a little about how long it would take tomorrow.”

 

“You what?”

 

“I… I… stretched the truth a little.”

 

Starsky tensed. “How much is a little and why would you lie to me?”

 

“I’d say it’ll really take about four to six hours and I lied to you because I thought if we got back earlier you’d feel good about it.”

 

“Oh.” He hated to admit that was a good plan, but it was. That didn’t mean he needed to let Hutch know it worked so well. “Best laid plans, huh?”

 

“Sad.”

 

Hutch closed his eyes, just for a minute. He was sleeping again in seconds. Starsky was relieved to hear they could potentially be back at the car by the mid afternoon if he could just get his best friend out of their current predicament. Hutch’s tired but lucid state also eased his mind some. He moved his hand up to feel the back of Hutch’s neck for a check on his fever. Still there. At least Hutch wasn’t shivering anymore. He had bundled Hutch into the dry sleeping bag and spread the wet one out to dry near the fire. Starsky couldn’t reach it, but he could see it was still damp. Unwilling to disturb Hutch, he poked the fire a little and settled back, rather than moving to get it. He was afraid to get too cozy, with a mountain lion nearby and Hutch incapacitated. Better to stay a little chilly to help him maintain his vigil. Long hours on watch during stakeouts would serve him well staying awake.

 

Since Hutch seemed to be doing well, Starsky waited a few hours before waking him again.

 

“Hey, Blondie, wake up for me a minute.”

 

Hutch responded after a few tries and a gentle shake of his arm. He opened one eye and said, “What time is it?”

 

“Middle of the night. Around three. How you doing?”

 

His friend hadn’t moved while he slept, and he was stiff from lying on the ground. He groaned a little as he stretched his limbs. “Sore, but okay.”

 

“How’s your head?”

 

“Hurts. You doing okay?”

 

“I’m a little tired, but not bad.”

 

Hutch squirmed a little. “I need to take a leak, let me up.”

 

Starsky helped sit Hutch up and stood to offer him a hand. “Take it easy. Your head probably still has a drum and bugle corps going on inside it.”

 

Hutch gave him his right hand and let Starsky pull him to his feet. Even in the firelight, Starsky could see the color disappear from Hutch’s face. He started to sink, but Starsky was on it.

 

“Like I said…” he admonished. “Just lean on me. You awake in there?”

 

Hutch’s full weight was leaning on him and his chin was dropped, but he answered. “Uh-huh.”

 

“Just give it a minute.”

 

Hutch felt warmer than he had when he fell asleep. Starsky decided to try to get some more aspirin and water into him before he let him rest again. He was thinking that when Hutch took most of his weight back and started walking toward some brush to take care of things. Starsky had his arm around Hutch’s waist, and the injured left arm was draped over Starsky’s shoulders. When they reached their destination, Hutch started to laugh.

 

“I don’t see much that’s funny in this situation, pal,” Starsky teased.

 

“Oh, no? How about I don’t know how I’m going to get my pants unzipped and zipped back up again with one hand and without falling over.”

 

They both started laughing this time.

 

“True, that’s a problem, but you’re just going to have to let me help.”

 

“Great. Glad Dobey isn’t here to see this.”

 

Starsky helped him take care of business and tried not to laugh. “Don’t laugh, buddy, you’ll whiz on your boots.”

 

“That’s a big help,” Hutch said.

 

When they were done and their laughter was subsiding, Starsky asked, “You think you can stand by yourself for a sec while I do the same?”

 

“Yeah, go ahead.”

 

Hutch took a few tentative steps away from Starsky and looked back toward the fire. He wasn’t looking when Starsky heard some rustling in the scrub near them. Fortunately, Starsky had finished and was zipping his pants when he saw the two beady eyes staring at them.

 

“Holy shit!” he exclaimed, jumping back a few feet.

 

Hutch turned back toward him, immediately causing his world to spin again. He sank to his knees and began to heave. He had little to vomit, but it was still unpleasant. Starsky knelt next to him and rubbed his back, pushing down his fear, but keeping one eye on the bushes.

 

“Easy, buddy, easy. You’re gonna be okay.”

 

Hutch’s heaving subsided and he dropped sideways to sit on the ground. “Damn,” he muttered. “What was that?”

 

Starsky soothed. “Sorry. I just saw some eyes looking at us and I wasn’t expecting it. Just a cat, nothing to worry about.”

 

“A cat?” Hutch questioned. “What color cat?”

 

“Black, naturally. What other color of cat would we run into out here? All we need is a nice ladder to walk under and a couple of mirrors to break.”

 

Hutch wiped his right hand across his mouth and said, “This cat wouldn’t have a white stripe down its back, would it?”

 

Starsky didn’t get it. “I don’t know; what difference does it make? I only saw the front part and it’s just a cat.”

 

Hutch couldn’t help but laugh at him. “Probably not, Starsk. Not way out here. Probably a skunk. We’d better back out of here slowly,”

 

Starsky helped him up again and they did just that. The startled skunk still sprayed, but it missed them. The area smelled horrible and it made their eyes water, but at least it wasn’t on their skin and clothing.

 

Hutch accepted the aspirin and some water from the canteen before he got back into the sleeping bag. Starsky was so cold he agreed with Hutch that he needed to put on his jacket. The flannel shirt he was wearing just didn’t cut the cold. Thankfully, the breeze was limited down where they were.

 

After Starsky built the fire some more, Hutch settled again with his head in his lap. The fact that he didn’t offer any protest told Starsky exactly how bad he was feeling.

 

Hutch lay looking up at the clear night sky. Up in the mountains, without the light pollution they had in the city, the stars seemed brighter and more numerous.

 

“My vision’s a lot better,” he said, hoping it would help ease his partner’s mind a little. After he threw up, he knew there was little doubt he had a concussion.

 

“Oh, yeah?” He followed Hutch’s gaze up to the sky. “You ever think there might be life on other planets?”

 

“I guess so.”

 

“I mean, maybe on some planet up there some alien is stuck in the woods with a wounded partner and they’re looking up at the sky, too. Maybe they’re wondering if there’s any life out here.”

 

“Maybe. Remember Polly? He thought he was going off to live on one of those planets.”

 

“Yeah, the poor bastard. Not to mention Wrightwood.” He thought about that case for a moment. James March Wrightwood had murdered one of Starsky’s old girlfriends. That was a sad time, but he and Hutch had tried to save the man. He had climbed up a radio tower and fallen to his death right in front of them.

 

“Guess that aluminum foil he had around his ankles really didn’t keep out the radio waves. Poor Helen.”

 

“Sorry, buddy. I didn’t mean to dredge up a bad memory.”

 

“It’s okay. Still hurts, but not as bad as it used to.” Regardless, Starsky wanted to change the subject. “What time does the sun come up?”

 

“Only a couple of hours.”

 

“Good, why don’t you try to sleep.”

 

Hutch smiled. “You trying to kill me? Don’t you know a man with a concussion shouldn’t sleep?”

 

The look on Starsky’s face was enough to convince him what he’d just said wasn’t funny.

 

“I’m just kidding, Starsk. Sorry. I’m really okay.”

 

“You’re about as okay as I am right-handed, Hutch. That wasn’t funny.”

 

“I meant it to be funny.”

 

“I know you did, but it wasn’t. Just rest.”

 

Hutch smiled at him. “Everything is going to be fine, Starsk. I’m feeling better. In the morning, we’ll get out of here and go home.”

 

“In the morning, we’ll get out of here and go to the emergency room.”

 

“I won’t need that. Really, it’s just a cold and a little bump on the head.”

 

“I think it’s more like a concussion, a possibly broken wrist, a seriously infected ear, and at least a trip to see Trevor.”

 

“He doesn’t work at night on Saturdays.”

 

“He’ll make an exception. Now, shut up and do like you’re told. You’re going to need all the rest you can get to haul your ass out of here. You’re going to climb out of here on your own steam with my help, or we’ll just sit here and wait for the Boy Scouts to find us. Now, wouldn’t that be embarrassing?”

 

“Humiliating. Okay. You wake me up if you need anything.”

 

“You’ll be the second one to know.”

 

Starsky settled as close to the fire as he could without blocking Hutch's heat and tried to relax. He was going to need to be rested, too, because he was pretty sure he'd have to do most of the work of getting them out of there and back to civilization.

 

He finally dozed off and was awakened soon after dawn by a raccoon who'd found the bread and was helping himself.

 

"Hey, you little bastard!" Starsky made shooing movements at the little creature, who batted its shoe-button eyes at him and didn't move.

 

Hutch opened one eye at the commotion and chuckled. "Starsk, give it up. There's a reason they call them 'bandits.'"

 

"I thought wild critters were afraid of humans."

 

"Not raccoons," Hutch said. He rubbed his eyes with his uninjured hand and yawned.

 

"How ya feel?"

 

"Lousy, but operational," Hutch said. "Help me up and we'll see if I can navigate."

 

Starsky scrambled to his feet and helped Hutch stand. Hutch swayed a little and he was too pale, but he managed to stagger over to the edge of the ravine and do his morning business unassisted.

 

"I wish you wouldn't watch me piss," Hutch grumbled good-naturedly.

 

"Just making sure you don't fall in it, buddy," Starsky said with a grin.

 

"Very funny. Did you find a way out?"

 

Starsky nodded. "It ain't easy, though."

 

Hutch sighed. "I didn't think it would be. We might as well get started. I have a sinking feeling we've got a long day ahead of us."

 

Starsky put out the fire, following directions from Hutch, who wouldn't leave the campsite until every last ember was extinguished. They left the rest of the bread for the raccoon and his friends, gathered up what few possessions they still had, and started off.

 

It was slow going. Hutch refused much help, but that didn't mean he could walk very far or very fast without having to stop and rest often. But finally they reached the spot Starsky had found the previous afternoon.

 

Breathing hard, sweat dampening his hair and making it stick to his face and forehead, Hutch stopped and looked up at the tree. "Looks like a mountain."

 

"Bet it does," Starsky said. "But it's the easiest way out I could find, buddy."

 

Hutch bent at the waist, hands on his knees, and tried to catch his breath.

 

"We can take a break," Starsky said anxiously.

 

"Just for a minute," Hutch said. He sank to his knees and sat back on his heels. "Any water left?"

 

"A little." Starsky handed him the canteen. Hutch tipped it back and took a couple of swallows. When he tried to give it back, Starsky shook his head. "Drink some more." He thought briefly about refilling the canteen from the creek, but decided not to risk it.

 

"No. It's almost gone and we might need it worse later."

 

"Okay, okay. Damn, you're stubborn."

 

Hutch grinned and wiped his sleeve across his forehead. "Come on. Let's go."

 

Starsky had thought this out and figured it would be safest for Hutch to go first, with Starsky below, in case he lost his balance. In good health, Hutch could scramble up this tree without any trouble, but today ... well, it was going to be chancy. Hutch agreed, reluctantly, and started up. The first several yards were a gentle enough incline to simply climb the hill, but the ravine was washed out about halfway up and took a sharp outward angle. It was at that point that they were going to have to switch to the tree.

 

Hutch moved slowly but steadily until the point where he had to take hold of the tree. Then he stopped, shook his head, and didn't move on.

 

"What's wrong?"

 

"I just want to rest a minute."

 

Starsky was at a bad angle for stopping; he wasn't high enough to hang onto the tree as Hutch was doing, and the slope of the side of the ravine was so sharp he almost had to bend double to stand still. He didn't want to say anything, though. Hutch's color was so washed out and he was sweating even more than he had been earlier. His legs ached with the effort it took to keep from sliding backwards, and just when he thought he couldn't stand another minute, Hutch took a deep breath and moved on. Starsky let him get a few feet ahead of him before following.

 

Hutch reached the top of the ravine and pulled himself over the edge. He sank down again, trying not to lose his balance, and sat there panting while he waited for Starsky.

 

Starsky was doing pretty well and wasn't even as tired as he'd expected to be, when he took hold of a short branch for the last pull over the edge. He let his whole weight hang from his hand for a moment while he searched for a purchase with his feet and it chose that moment to break off in his hand. With a surprised bellow of fear, Starsky tumbled head over heels down the side of the ravine, completely out of control, and landed with a hard thump at the bottom.

 

Hutch scrambled to his feet when he heard Starsky yell. "Starsky! Oh, shit!"

 

Starsky was lying in a heap, his back toward Hutch. His clothes were torn and covered with dirt.

 

"Starsky!"

 

Starsky rolled onto his back and looked up forlornly at the sky.

 

"Say something, goddammit!"

 

Starsky sighed. "I'm okay, don't worry."

 

"Then why are you just lying there? Where are you hurt?" Hutch reached out for the tree to come back down.

 

"No!" Starsky yelled, sitting up in a hurry. "You keep your blond ass right where it is. I'm fine, I told you. Nothin' hurt but my pride. And a couple of skinned knees. I'll live. Just wait there and I'll climb up. Again." He got to his feet and tried vainly to brush off some of the dirt, and in the process, found a spider crawling up his shirt front. He yelped and batted it away.

 

"What?"

 

"A spider," Starsky said, shuddering. "Yuck."

 

Hutch grinned. "The wildlife's giving you a hard time, aren't they?"

 

"Very funny," Starsky said sourly, heading back up. "When you're all better, buddy, I'm gonna beat the living shit outta ya."

 

"Promises, promises." Hutch watched as Starsky climbed up the hill and was relieved to see that he really didn't seem to be hurt other than a few scratches and maybe a couple of bruises. He was going to be sore tomorrow, but that was all.

 

Starsky reached the crest and Hutch reached out a hand to help him over the edge. Both of them welcomed a break at that point.

 

"We've probably got a good four or five hours' hiking to get out of here," Hutch said.

 

"Terrific."

 

"At least it's all on level ground. More or less."

 

"Gee, that makes me feel better." Starsky stood up and held out his hand to help Hutch up. "Gotta get it started or we'll never get it done."

 

Hutch snorted a laugh.

 

Starsky soon discovered that “level ground” was a stretch. “Level, huh?

 

“At least… it’s mostly downhill.”

 

Hutch was out of breath and Starsky thought it was time for him to rest. “Why don’t we stop for a few? Catch our breath.”

 

“Catch mine, you mean. Okay.”

 

When they were seated as comfortably as possible, Starsky asked, “How you doing?”

 

“Doing okay. You?” He was already breathing better.

 

“I’m perfect, other than worrying about my woozy partner. You’re not fooling me.”

 

“No? And here I thought I was doing so well.”

 

“Compared to what? You do look a little better.” Starsky reached out and felt Hutch’s forehead. “But you’re still running a fever. Ears still hurt?”

 

“Define hurt.”

 

“Cute. Do they still feel like someone’s poking them with an ice pick?”

 

“Nah. More like a butter knife.”

 

“And that’s an improvement?”

 

Starsky guessed they had about two hours of hiking to do before they reached the car and help. He wasn’t sure if the radio would work up in the mountains, but he could at least drive them to the nearest hospital, assuming the car started. Starsky devoted a moment to the fear that Hutch’s “bucket” would fail them when they needed it, but he quickly decided it would be best not to think that way. He was pondering which hospital might be closest when he realized he’d been thinking about what to do for so long, Hutch was staring at him and he seemed to know what was on his friend’s mind. The determined look forming on his face confirmed it.

 

“No.”

 

“No, what?”

 

“No hospital.”

 

Starsky laughed at him. “You’re joking.”

 

“I’m not. I’m fine.”

 

“For an eighty-year-old man, you are. But for Hutch? Nope. You’re going and that’s it.”

 

“Starsky, I don’t need to go. I’m awake and lucid.” Starsky was ready with a sarcastic reply to that, but Hutch put his finger in the air to warn him to keep it to himself. “I’m just a little banged up and I need a hot bath and my own bed.”

 

“Are you done?” Hutch nodded. “You need antibiotics. You’re sick.”

 

“I’m fine,” Hutch insisted.

 

Starsky stood up and said, “Fine, let’s go, then.”

 

When Hutch tried to stand, Starsky leaned down and put his hands on Hutch’s shoulders.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Show me how fine you are. I said let’s go.”

 

Now, Hutch was getting mad. He tried to push Starsky off, but he couldn’t. He struggled to get to his feet, but he couldn’t. His wrist hurt so bad, he could only use one hand to push, and he felt like he had no strength.

 

“Knock it off!”

 

“Make me.”

 

Starsky took a hand off one of Hutch’s shoulders. When Hutch still couldn’t push him off, he stopped struggling and dropped his head to look at the ground. His head was pounding and he felt terrible.

 

“Zip-a-dee-doo-dah?” Starsky teased, referring to the cartoon birds Hutch had described.

 

“Blue jays. Definitely.” Hutch sighed. He knew he’d been had.

 

Starsky squatted next to him and patted him on the shoulder. “Sorry, buddy. When you’re fine, you can set my clock any day of the week. You can’t even shoo me off of you long enough to stand. Hospital.”

 

Hutch looked up at him with a hopeful expression. “Trevor?”

 

“He doesn’t work every Saturday.”

 

“You could call him. He’ll come in for me.”

 

“You think he likes you that much?”

 

“No, but I think he enjoys brow-beating me.”

 

“Nah, Trev? He just likes reminding both of us what a couple of dumb asses we are every chance he gets. You sure you want to give him a chance to gloat?”

 

“Better than the hospital… which I’m still refusing to go to. Look, I know you’re worried, but it’s just an ear infection and a bump on the head.” Starsky raised an eyebrow at him. “And a sprained wrist, all right? Still, nothing life threatening. Trevor or nothing. I may not be on my game, but you still can’t carry me farther than twenty-five feet. I’m NOT going to the hospital.”

 

Hutch was right. No matter how worried Starsky was about him, he didn’t seem to be in any real danger. He was an adult, no matter how childish Starsky thought he was being about it.

 

“Okay. If Trevor’s not around, though, will you please consider it?”

 

“We’ll see.”

 

“Oh, we’ll see. The universal thinly disguised substitute for a simple, ‘no’, huh?”

 

“That’s about the size of it.”

 

Starsky nodded and extended his hand to help Hutch to his feet again. Hutch held on long enough to re-establish his equilibrium. “Thanks. I really think the spins are an ear thing, buddy. Not a head injury thing.”

 

That seemed possible. “Maybe. Nothing a little antibiotic can’t take care of, I’m sure.”

 

They started off again, with both of them shaking their heads at each other. “Damn, you’re stubborn.”

 

“I learned that from you.”

 

“Yeah, sure you did. Maybe I’ll just call your mother and ask if you were a stubborn kid. No, wait, I don’t have to. She already told me all about your childhood. You should be ashamed.”

 

“I’m not.”

 

The rest of the hike was uneventful. Hutch had to rest several times, but they finally made it to the bottom of the trail. They came out farther north than they’d planned, and it took an extra half hour to reach the car. Both men were relieved when they came around a curve in the road and saw the car parked at the bottom of the trail where they originally planned.

 

“Thank God,” Starsky said.

 

They were grateful to Huggy when they peeked in the trunk and discovered he’d packed a small cooler for them with sandwiches and some drinks. While Starsky tried the radio, Hutch got them both a can of soda and a sandwich. He wasn’t hungry, but he was thirsty.

 

After a few minutes of frustration, Starsky put the mike down and said, “No good. We’ll have to drive closer for it to work." He took the food Hutch held out to him. "God, Huggy’s good,” Starsky said between bites of a chicken salad sandwich. “He even put hot sauce and pickles on here.”

 

“Mmmm,” Hutch muttered sarcastically.

 

Saying a silent prayer as he put the key in and turned it, Starsky sighed with relief when the car started up with a satisfying rumble.

 

“Oh, ye of little faith,” Hutch teased.

 

“Oh, me of been burned a lot by this heap,” Starsky replied. He put the car in gear and took off for home and an end to the nightmare of the past twenty-four hours. “Why don’t you try to catch some z’s?”

 

“Okay, but no hospital. Remember?”

 

“I remember. Shut up and sleep.”

 

Hutch leaned back on the seat and closed his eyes, glad to be inside where he stood a chance of getting warm.  

 

Starsky glanced over at him.  He knew how cold Hutch must be. The one thing he liked about Hutch’s car was that the heater worked almost right away, even when the car was left overnight in a cold spot. He turned it on and pointed the vent toward his partner.

 

A few miles from where they started, Starsky spotted a diner with a pay phone outside. He pulled the car over and parked, but didn’t bother to tell Hutch where he was going. Hutch didn’t wake up or even move when Starsky shut the car door.

 

By the time they reached the phone, Trevor’s office was closed. Starsky scrounged for change only to reach the answering service. Trevor had recently bought a new house and the partners had helped him move into it just the previous weekend. Starsky didn’t know the new number by heart and he only had enough change to make one phone call, so he’d dialed the office.

 

“I’m sorry, but Dr. Kelly is not on call this weekend, sir,” the crisp-voiced answering service woman said. “I can page his partner, Dr. Soledad.”

 

“No,” Starsky replied. “I need to talk to Trevor. I’m a friend and I have a medical emergency. I need him to meet me at his office.”

 

“I’m sorry, sir, Dr. Kelly is unavailable.”

 

“Can you at least get a message to him? He’ll see me. I know he will.”

 

A heavy sigh reached Starsky’s ear. He couldn’t decide whether it would be better to push her or to sweet talk her. “You’re really a friend?”

 

“Yes, ma’am. David Starsky. Please? Tell him Hutch needs him. He’ll understand.”

 

“One moment, please.”

 

She put him on hold for so long, Starsky was afraid he would need to put more money in the phone and he didn’t have any more coins. Finally, she came back and said, “He says I should ask you what time you’ll be there.”

 

Starsky looked at his watch and did a little travel math in his head. “An hour or so.”

 

“I’ll let him know.”

 

Before he returned to the car, Starsky went in and bought some soup for Hutch and some coffee for himself. Hutch had barely touched his sandwich and Starsky thought it would be a good idea to get some food into him.

 

Hutch was still out cold when Starsky got back to the car, but he roused easily enough when Starsky nudged him and waved the soup container under his nose.

 

"What's that?"

 

"Food, stupid. You need to eat and you're gonna eat or I'm gonna know the reason why."

 

Hutch chuckled. "No need to get imperious, big guy. I'll eat it without violence."

 

Starsky grinned in return and pulled the plastic spoon wrapped in a paper napkin out of his shirt pocket. "Good. I'd hate to have to hurt ya."

 

"That's all I need," Hutch said. He opened the container and was agreeably surprised at the contents. "Chicken and dumplings. Homemade dumplings!"

 

"Just like Mom's," Starsky said, sipping his coffee and starting the car.

 

"Not my mom," Hutch said with a laugh.

 

"Okay. MY mom, then," Starsky said. "Shut up and eat. We're almost there."

 

Hutch ate so ravenously that Starsky was encouraged. If his appetite was that good, he must be feeling better.

 

It didn't take as long as Starsky had feared to get back to the city and to Trevor's office, and both men were relieved to see Trevor's old green Maverick sitting out front.

 

"No wonder you and Trev get along so well," Starsky remarked. "You both drive bombs."

 

"I've got an excuse," Hutch said. "But Trevor's actually got an income. I guess he just likes that car."

 

"No power steering, no power brakes," Starsky grumbled. "The man's insane."

 

"I heard that!" Trevor called. He was waiting at the door, arms crossed, glaring at both of them impartially. "Want to tell me what stupidity you've been up to this time?" He narrowed his eyes as they approached and his gaze zeroed in on Hutch. "I see," he said, grabbing Hutch's other arm and propelling him into the outer office and through it to an examining room. He didn't try to be gentle about it, either. Starsky trailed along behind.

 

Trevor grumbled under his breath as he went over Hutch inch by inch, peering into his eyes and ears -- using some salty language when he peered into the infected ear -- and his throat, taking his temperature, and firing terse questions at both of them about how long he'd been sick and what they'd been doing.

 

When Starsky sheepishly admitted to camping out the night before, Trevor went straight up.

 

"You slept on the cold ground, out in the open, with an ear infection?" He tossed his stethoscope onto the examining table and put both hands on his hips. "Have you lost what passes for your mind, moron?"

 

Hutch flushed. "We didn't have much choice, Trev -- "

 

"Oh, you didn't. Well, you could have stayed HOME, for starters!"

 

"I didn't want Starsk to-- "

 

"Starsky is not the issue here, Ken Hutchinson. Starsky does not have an ear infection. Starsky does not have a temperature of 102!" Trevor stalked out of the room and slammed the door behind him.

 

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance. "He's kinda pissed," Starsky offered softly.

 

"No shit, Sherlock."

 

"It seems a little over the top, though, even for him."

 

"Yeah, it does," Hutch said. "Maybe there's more to it than our -- my -- stupidity."

 

Trevor stalked back in with a prescription pad in his hand. Still grumbling, he scribbled two prescriptions and handed them to Starsky. "Fill those. Stuff 'em down his gullet. And you," he turned his attention to Hutch, "get your ass home, get in bed and stay there for a minimum of two days. I'd prefer three. If you move outta that bed before two days have passed, I'm gonna kick your blond ass. Kapish?"

 

Hutch merely nodded.

 

"I see you've bonked that hard head of yours again, too," Trevor went on. "If you have a headache, take an aspirin. It's just a bump, though, instead of your usual concussion-worthy bonk. How you've kept from cracking your damn skull open and leaking out what few brains you have is beyond me."

 

"Um, Trev?" Starsky ventured. "You okay? You seem a little, um, short-tempered."

 

"I'm supposed to be off today," Trevor said sharply. "I'm supposed to be with my girl at a romantic restaurant, popping the goddamned question! Instead I'm here with you two knuckle-draggers because Hutch is too goddamned stubborn to stay home when he's sick. What kinda mood you think you'd be in?"

 

"Popping the question?" Hutch raised both eyebrows.

 

Trevor boosted himself up on the table next to Hutch and reached into his jacket pocket. He produced a little velvet box and opened it.

 

"Wow," Starsky said. "That's a helluva rock you got there. No wonder you drive that old bomb if you're spending all your money on -- " He stopped when Hutch unceremoniously kicked him.

 

But Trevor gave a reluctant grin. "That isn't why I drive that car, dumbass, but it is a nice ring, isn't it? You think she'll say yes?"

 

"She'd be nuts not to," Hutch said. "How often does a girl bag a young, handsome doctor?"

 

Trevor's grin widened.

 

"Go on, Romeo," Starsky said. "I'll get Hutch home and put to bed and dosed up. You still got plenty of time to woo your lady."

 

"You'd better," Trevor said.

 

After a quick stop by the drugstore, Starsky got Hutch home and reluctantly allowed him to take a shower before getting into bed. Then he tucked him in, brought him his pills, and found the book Hutch had been reading.

 

"There you go, all cozy."

 

"Where's Teddy?" Hutch asked with a grin. "That's about all I don't have here."

 

Starsky turned without a word and went into the other room. Hutch could hear him rummaging in the closet and in a few moments, he returned with Ollie and triumphantly set the battered bear on the bed next to Hutch. "There you are."

 

Hutch gently stroked the bear's head and smiled at Starsky. "Okay. Now I'm all set."

 

"Good. Whatcha want for supper? I'll run out and grab something for us."

 

"I'm not really hungry, Starsk."

 

"Either you tell me what to get or I'll use my own judgment."

 

"God, no." Hutch shuddered. "Okay, then, how about won ton?"

 

"Gotcha. Back in a flash."

 

After they'd eaten, Hutch was clearly having trouble staying awake, and Starsky took the garbage away to get rid of it. When he came back, Hutch was sleeping and his right arm had fallen across Ollie, tipping the bear sideways so that it lay cheek to cheek with him. Starsky blinked back a sudden mist in his eyes and tiptoed forward to pull the covers up over his partner a little more. He brushed back the tousled blond hair and was relieved that the fever seemed to have come down.

 

"Night, Hutch," he whispered, and turned out the light.

 

The End

 

 

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