Author: Rebelcat

Rating: PG, for mild violence and excessive mucus

Category:  Case story (sort of), humor (kind of), hurt/comfort (depends on your definition of comfort), sick fic (definitely)


Disclaimer:  I was sick.  I had a fever.  I’m not responsible for my actions!


Feedback / Critique:  Pretty please!  I always respond to comments!


Beta:  And, of course, big smoochy (and now germ-free) thanks to EH who despite (or maybe because of) heavy medication and brain freeze helped me make this fic even stickier (and sicker!), and of course, who generously lent me the ever expanding saga of Days of our Hope Hospital.


Notes:  This gooey bit of fluff takes place in the second season, sometime after “The Psychic”, but well before “The Plague” (which was third season, anyway).  No spoilers to speak of (at least, none that I noticed).


Cold Case

I reckon being ill as one of the great pleasures of life, provided one is not too ill and is not obliged to work till one is better. ~Samuel Butler, 1903

THERE WAS no answer to his anxious call, only a faint moan from the bedroom. Moving into the room, he saw his partner sprawled on top of the covers, mumbling incoherently. Rushing to the side of the bed, he reached out to touch the semi-conscious form, jerking his hand back in alarm at the heat radiating off of his beloved.

But the other somehow sensed his presence. A weak hand reached for him, and with a sob he threw himself onto the bed and gathered his partner into his arms. The dark curly head fell back against his shoulder, and tenderly, he brushed a sweat-soaked lock of hair off his partner’s forehead. Tears welled up in his eyes, giving lie to the chiding tone of his voice. “Why didn’t you tell me you were so sick?”

The hoarse, tortured reply was almost inaudible, “Didn’t ... want ... you ... to worry...”

“Oh man,” said Starsky, reaching for another Kleenex. “This is great stuff.” He blew his nose and then examined the results dubiously. Was it yellow or green mucus that meant you had to see a doctor? On TV, Detective Ryan Bradley was now mopping his stricken partner’s forehead with a damp cloth, while tearfully confessing his secret love for her, which he had hidden behind years of ill-temper and cutting remarks.

Starsky snickered, and mimicked the announcer’s voice. “Meanwhile on the other side of Windy Peaks, da killer stalks sweet unsuspectin’ Misty of th’ holy rack...” A spasm of wet rattling coughs interrupted his narration, and he blindly grabbed another Kleenex. “Ow.”

He was vaguely aware of his front door opening, but by the time Starsky had emerged from under the pile of used tissues it was too late to turn off the TV. He tipped his head back over the arm of the sofa and peered up at Hutch through red, watering eyes. “Hi,” he said, nasally.

Hutch frowned down at him over his armful of grocery bags. “I thought you were going to work on your reports this morning.”

“I’m sick!” protested Starsky. With a sour glance that had absolutely no effect on Hutch, he thought, I’ll betcha in school he was the kind of kid who would volunteer to bring you your homework when you were sick. He was probably a safety patroller, and had perfect attendance, too. We used to beat those kinds of kids up after class... Starsky was tempted, but it would take way too much effort at the moment.

Blinking, at the TV, Starsky decided to ignore Hutch. Now, that Ryan, he really knew how to appreciate a partner. Of course, if Hutch was stacked like Ryan’s partner, Starsky figured he’d be doing a lot of appreciating himself. Hey wait a minute! Starsky rubbed his eyes with a handful of Kleenex. Did Ryan just cop a feel off of his sick partner? Judging by the expression on the actress’s face, that part hadn’t been scripted. God, I love this show.

“Dobey called me,” said Hutch, as he crossed the apartment. “I tried to tell him you were more useful to the department doing paperwork from home. He didn’t buy it.” Hutch deposited the bags on the kitchen counter. “I don’t know why you couldn’t do at least some of it. It’s not like you’ve got anything important to distract you.”

Starsky would have answered, but at that moment, Detective Melissa Fairbanks’s eyes rolled dramatically into the back of her head, and she collapsed bonelessly into Detective Ryan Bradley’s arms. Starsky admired the actress’ technique as she discreetly kneed the actor in the groin, adding extra realism to Bradley’s anguished pleas as the screen faded to black. It immediately brightened again with previews of upcoming episodes. Misty was being menaced, and Rodney, unfairly framed for the murders, was trying to find her before it was too late. Then an attractive lady doctor in a distractingly short skirt solemnly told a distraught Bradley, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do...”

“What the hell are you watching?” asked Hutch.

“Days of Our Hope Hospital,” said Starsky, resigned to missing the rest of the clips. Turning around on the couch, he added excitedly, “Man, this is bad! Melissa’s the only one who knows the true identity of the killer who’s been stalking the town...” Starsky stopped, suddenly aware of the disapproving frown on Hutch’s face. “It’s a good show, and the actresses are hot!”

Hutch snorted, and went back to putting the groceries away. “It’s a soap,” he said over his shoulder.

“Yeah well, I’m sick!”

“So is most of the department. And you left early yesterday.” Hutch closed the fridge and headed across the apartment to the bathroom. He came back out with a thermometer in his hand. He shook it a few times before holding it out to Starsky. “Dobey says the only way you’re getting off work is if you have a fever. Otherwise, he expects you to drag your sorry carcass in. We’ve lost too much manpower to this flu as it is.”

Starsky settled the thermometer under his tongue, giving every indication of passive compliance. As soon as Hutch turned his back, he pulled it out and held it up against the light bulb of the lamp on the end table.

He watched Hutch as he moved around kitchen, opening cans and dumping them into a pot. Hutch seemed oblivious as he continued his lecture about their reports, as if having the flu was a lucky opportunity to catch up on the backlog.

As the thermometer heated up on the light bulb, Starsky fought off the nagging feeling that he was being childish. He reminded himself that both he and Hutch had been taking double shifts to cover for other cops who were too sick to work. Guys who, no doubt, got to kick back on the couch all day and have their loving wives wait on them hand and foot until they were healthy again. Starsky eyed Hutch speculatively. Leaning over the pot with a wooden spoon, he was almost a picture of domesticity, except for his very unfeminine shape, and the set of his shoulders radiating annoyance. Starsky adjusted the thermometer so that more of it rested against the light bulb. It’s not like I wouldn’t take good care of him if he was sick.

Starsky had been working with a miserable cold all week, and now that it had finally turned into the flu, he felt that he deserved at least one day off. Besides, things were pretty quiet these days. No murders, no kidnappings, no new satanic cults, nothing. So, let some other guys handle the run-of-the-mill stuff while Starsky stayed at home and was pampered. Preferably by any of the Bay City Bombers’ cheerleading squad, but he’d happily settle for Hutch.

As Hutch began to turn away from the stove, Starsky whipped the thermometer away from the lamp and stuffed it back into his mouth. He yelped as the heated glass burned his tongue, and sent the thermometer flying onto the carpet. Hutch entered the living room and picked it up. Starsky watched his partner warily as he tilted the thin glass tube, holding it up to read the numbers.

“A hundred and fifteen,” said Hutch.

“I’m really sick?” said Starsky, hopefully.

“If you were this sick, Starsk, you’d be dead.”

“Maybe I am dying. I see a light, and a tunnel...”

“You’ve got a cold, and the only thing you see is soup on the table, and me, about this close to getting seriously pissed off.”

Starsky bit his lip, thoughtfully regarding his partner. Nah, Hutch isn’t anywhere close to snapping. Starsky let his head drop weakly onto the arm of the couch. In a trembling voice, he asked, “Could you get me cool cloth?” He thought of Detective Bradley gently mopping Detective Melissa’s fevered brow, and squinted hopefully at Hutch.

Hutch was scowling. “What happened to the one I gave you this morning?”

“It fell... over there... somewhere.”

“Well, pick it up!”

Starsky’s arm flopped helplessly off the edge of the couch. “I can’t reach.”

“Oh, for God’s sake.” Leaning over the coffee table, Hutch grabbed the edge of Starsky’s blanket and with one firm yank, hauled both it and Starsky off the couch.

Starsky hit the floor with a thud and a hoarse yell. “Hey!” He started coughing again, gagging on phlegm.

Hutch threw the box of Kleenex at him. “Get up. You’ve used up all your discretionary sick days, and without a fever you won’t be getting a doctor’s note. Now, there’s soup on the table, and Dobey’s expecting to see us in half an hour.”

Starsky picked himself up off the floor, Kleenex pressed to his face. “By node hurds...” he said, miserably. Hutch is mean.

“You’ve let yourself get run down,” said Hutch, as he ladled some of the chicken soup into another bowl for himself. “It’s all that junk food you eat. A good vitamin regimen and some regular exercise...”

Starsky sneezed three times in a row. “Ow.”

Hutch ignored him, warming up to his topic. “A study recently showed that farmers are, on the whole, much healthier than the rest of the population. And why? Because they eat healthy natural foods, which they grow themselves, and they work outdoors all day long, the way nature intended. They have the kind of active lifestyle we city-dwellers can only dream of.”

Starsky couldn’t let that one go by without protest. “Active lifestyle? Geez, what d’ya call chasing whippos? Ducking bullets?” Both activities which he’d rather avoid today.

“I don’t see you baling any hay,” said Hutch, smugly. He blew on his soup spoon before taking a sip.

“Yeah, just hand me that pitchfork and we’ll see where I can shove it.”

“Jogging with me once a week doesn’t count,” said Hutch, taking another careful taste of his soup. “You’re out of shape. Look at me! I eat well, exercise, and am I sick right now? No.”

Starsky helped himself to a large spoonful of the steaming soup, and his eyes watered as the hot liquid hit his already sore tongue. He swallowed determinedly and then reached for his glass of water. It tasted gross, just like almost everything else he’d tried to eat over the last two days. Starsky muttered, “I swear officer, I thought all that blond stuff was hay...”

“What did you say?” asked Hutch.

“Nuffin’.” Starsky attacked his soup with grim determination. Were you supposed to feed a cold and starve a fever, or was it the other way around? Never mind, he decided, anything involving starving wasn’t up his alley anyway. His body ached and his head hurt, and Hutch wasn’t being at all sympathetic. Not like that cop on TV...

“You were a lot nicer to me the last time I was dying,” said Starsky.

“That’s because you were dying, you moron!”

Starsky reached for another Kleenex, and blew his nose. “Ow.” He sniffed pathetically, feeling a fluish ache in every muscle of his body.

Hutch’s expression became calculating, and he learned forward. Starsky watched him, warily.

“Buddy,” said Hutch, with wide-eyed innocence. “You’re not really going to send me out on those streets today, alone, with no back-up, in pursuit of an armed felon?”

“Armed?” asked Starsky. “Felon?” A new case?

“That’s what Dobey wants to see us about. He’s got a line on the bank heist last weekend.”

“Really?” Starsky wondered who’d died to get the case moved from Robbery to Homicide. He remembered some vague bit on last night’s news, about the elderly security guard and a heart attack. Any death connected to the crime would put the case in their purview.

“Yep, some uniforms found the getaway car. Our perps tried to dump it in the canal, but it didn’t sink. Forensics got a full set of prints off of the steering wheel. Dobey wants us to track the driver down, and bring him in.”

That clinched it for Starsky. He’d happily malinger with the best of them, but not when it came to backing up his partner. He’d have to be unconscious to let this bust go down without him, and even then... Suddenly energized, Starsky pushed himself back from the table and stood up. “Okay, let’s go.”

“Aren’t you going to finish your soup?”

“Not hungry, and it tastes like snot.”

Hutch winced, and shoved his own bowl away, his appetite having abruptly vanished.


Dobey frowned at the men seated on the other side of his desk. Starsky had pulled his head into the collar of his heavy knit sweater, looking like a curly-headed turtle. He was clutching a pink and lavender floral-printed box of Kleenex to his chest with a desperation that suggested he couldn’t live without it. Hutch looked like he was hanging onto his temper by the barest of threads. His knuckles were turning white on the arms of his chair.

“Is not my fault I ran out’a K’eenex!” protested Starsky, his voice muffled by the collar of his sweater.

“You could have stopped the car before diving into the backseat to look for more!”

“But I gabe you the wheel! S’perfectly safe!”

“You almost got us killed! Next time, I drive.”

Starsky’s tousled head emerged, his expression outraged. “But is by car!” He sneezed loudly, burying his face in a wad of Kleenex.

“Oh God, you got it on your knee.”

“Rea’y?” Starsky peered down at his knee. He dabbed at it with the Kleenex he’d just used to blow his nose.

Hutch massaged his temples, in obvious pain.

Dobey was very relieved that the Chief was himself home sick today. If he were to run into these two characters whom Dobey had frequently described as his department’s finest officers... Dobey cleared his throat, and watched two sets of eyes focus obediently on him.

“Sir?” said Hutch.

“Rrh?” said Starsky.

“Listen up.” Dobey’s voice was hoarse and he took a quick drink of coffee. This flu was hitting everyone, he thought, except Hutch, whose ridiculously good health was sparking rumors ranging from alien clones to experiments in breeding a master race. With an effort, Dobey brought himself back on track. “The guy you’re looking for is the driver of the getaway car, William Miller-.”

“William... Willie? Willie Miller?” Starsky’s eyes opened wide, and then narrowed dangerously. Turning to Hutch he said, “You dragged me out hereto catch Willie th’ Weasel Miller? Dis is your armed felon?” Starsky began coughing, and blew his nose again. “You’re a dead man, ‘Utchinson.”

“He’s armed. He’s a felon,” Hutch argued. “That makes him an armed felon.”

“He’s five foot nothing, ‘bout eighty-five pounds, and...” Starsky paused to cough again. “His only conviction was for an attempted purse snatching...” Another pause, this one slightly longer. Starsky was turning red in the face, in a desperate effort to finish his rant before his lungs gave out on him entirely. “That almost got him killed when the old lady beat him half to death with her umbrella!” Starsky turned back to Dobey. “What’s he armed with? A BB gun?”

Dobey checked the report. “Nothing here says he’s armed...”

“Ah, hah!” said Starsky, smugly, if also hoarsely.

“...but since he was the driver for a gang who committed an armed robbery, it’s safe to assume he’s armed!” Dobey’s voice had been rising in volume throughout his speech, and cracked on the last word. He drank more coffee, and took firm rein of his temper. If he lost his voice, he’d lose control over his men.

Now it was Hutch’s turn to look smug. “It’s called being a detective, Starsk. You should try it sometime.”

Starsky’s expression was murderous. He was halfway out of his chair when Dobey bellowed, “Starsky! Hutch-!” His voice cut out with a squeak half way though the name, and he slammed his fist onto the table in frustration.

They froze, and two heads snapped over to stare at him.

In a furious whisper Dobey said, “You got a problem with each other, take it outside! Hit the streets! Get out of my office!” They continued to stare at him for a moment longer, until he yelled in a soprano wheeze, “Now!”

Hutch was out of his chair and through the door first, with Starsky close on his heels. Dobey didn’t bother trying to convince himself that it was their dedication to duty that motivated them to move so fast.

Dobey finished his coffee. Not that they aren’t good cops...

His eyes landed on the soggy pile of tissues Starsky had left on the floor beside his chair, and suddenly he found his voice again. “STARSKY! What the hell do I keep a wastebasket in my office for?”


Heading for the hallway, Hutch’s only goal was to put as much distance between himself and Starsky as possible. So, he wasn’t prepared for the plastic tape that snagged his ankle and sent him crashing into the filing cabinets. He caught himself with his elbow and turned, ready to fend off a furious Starsky.

A startling sight met his eyes. Starsky’s desk had been swathed in yellow police tape, including his chair. A biohazard sign had been propped up on his desk, and his piggy bank was lying on its back with a tiny chalk outline etched around it. Hutch’s innate sense of self-preservation made him clamp down on the chuckle bubbling up inside him.

The other men in the room felt no such qualms. They laughed heartily, sounding very pleased with themselves.

Starsky crossed his arms over his chest, still clutching his box of Kleenex, and scowled. “Oh, bery funny.” His gaze landed suspiciously on Hutch.

Hutch held his hands up, grinning. “I didn’t do it.” Forgetting about the tape around his ankle, he took a step backwards and stumbled, hitting the filing cabinets again. They rattled against each other, and a stuffed bear fell off the end.

Starsky made a sound that might have been a snort, under less congested conditions. As he stalked past Hutch and the rest of the snickering detectives he muttered something under his breath. Hutch couldn’t make out what he’d said, but he was certain it wasn’t complimentary.

Following Starsky down to the parking garage, Hutch’s amusement faded as he began to feel the insidious stirring of guilt in his gut. His guilty conscience was a constant companion at the best of times, but right now it was sending some very unwelcome jabs his way.

Starsky wasn’t feeling well and he clearly didn’t want to be at work today. A real friend would have called Dobey and made some excuse. Tell him Starsky was still running a fever - not a fever of a hundred and fifteen, of course, but a fever, nonetheless.

Hutch had known all along that he didn’t really need Starsky backing him up while he collected the Weasel. The man was harmless. Odds were, if they didn’t pick him up, he’d turn himself in shortly anyway.

So, why force a sick friend out of his bed?

Hutch was not in the habit of lying to himself, so he acknowledged the obvious. He wanted revenge.

Any sympathy he’d had for Starsky had been used up over the last week, as his partner slowly, excruciatingly, succumbed to the flu. Starsky had not only whined at him while they were working, but he’d also tied up Hutch’s line each evening to whine at him some more, interspersed with copious amounts of coughing, sneezing, and nose-blowing.

My partner can take a bullet in the shoulder without complaining, but god help us all when he gets a head cold.

From “I think I’m coming down with something” a week ago, to “I think I’m dying” yesterday, Hutch was all but ready to hand Starsky a loaded gun and say, “Go ahead, and put us all out of our misery!” He wouldn’t actually do it, but the fact that the thought had even crossed his mind was definitely fodder for his over-active conscience.

They’d nearly reached the Torino when Hutch was hit with a traumatic flashback of their drive to work. Starsky, his ass in the air, rummaging in the back seat as Hutch frantically tried to keep the car in the lane and prevent them from running into oncoming traffic. Quickly, Hutch inserted himself between Starsky and the driver’s side door. “Give me your keys.”

Starsky glared at him. “No.”

Hutch decided to try reason first. “Look, buddy. You’re not feeling well, right? So, I’ll drive and you can just rest.” He hoped his expression and tone of voice conveyed sincerity and solicitude.

Starsky looked unconvinced. After a moment, a calculating expression crossed his face and he slowly drew the keys out of the pocket of his sweater. “Okay, but I gotta warn you... I sneezed all over th’steering wheel.”

Hutch felt a touch of revulsion, but nodded determinedly. How long could germs live on plastic, anyway? “That’s okay. Just give me the keys.”

Starsky looked thoughtfully at the keys in his hand. He bounced them twice, and then suddenly his face twisted and he sneezed violently.

Right into the hand with the keys.

“Oh, sorry!” Starsky dropped his Kleenex box in the process of pulling out another wad of tissue. He tried to clean the keys, but was interrupted by another sneeze. He blew his nose, and then went back to trying to mop off the keys with the used tissue.

Hutch capitulated. “Fine!” He threw his hands up as he stormed around the front of the car. “You win! Drive!”

“No, really, I don’t mind...” said Starsky, holding out the sticky keys.

Hutch glared at him over the roof of the car. “You did that on purpose!”

Starsky simply smirked at him.

Hutch glanced into the back seat of the Torino as he climbed into the car. He winced. Unlike the car’s usual pristine condition, there were enough used tissues back there to lose a suspect in. Maybe two suspects, if they were small. He gingerly retrieved a new box of Kleenex and placed it on the bench seat between himself and Starsky.

Starsky gave him an inquiring look, and Hutch said, “In case you run out again.” He paused, feeling a twinge of sympathy despite himself. Starsky really did look pathetic, hunched over the steering wheel with his sweater pulled up around his ears. “Do you need anything else?”

Starsky sneezed again, spraying the windshield. “Nope. M’good.”. He squinted at the droplets on the glass. He used a tissue to wipe them off, before starting the engine.

The queasy sensation in the pit Hutch’s stomach reminded him that Starsky hadn’t eaten very much at lunch today. Beginning to believe that he really did deserve the Masochist’s Medal, Hutch turned to Starsky. “Let’s swing by Huggy’s. I’ll buy you some lunch, and we can see if he knows where Willie might be.”

Starsky blinked at him, before turning his attention back to pulling out of the garage. “You’re gonna buy me lunch?”

“Well, I can’t have my partner wasting away,” said Hutch, feeling his guilt subsiding to a low simmer. At least no one could accuse him of not taking good care of his partner. “You didn’t eat your soup, and you should feed a cold.” He stopped, momentarily confused. Or was it feed a fever?

Starsky grinned. “I can get behind that.” As he turned onto the street, he reached blindly for another Kleenex and pressed it to his nose. “Ow.” The car swerved sharply, as Starsky tried to blow his nose while driving. There was a squeal of brakes, as a driver narrowly missed running into the back of the Torino.

“Watch where you’re going!” yelped Hutch.

Starsky squinted into his rearview mirror. “Where’d that guy come from?”

“Just pull over! I’ll drive!”

“You shouldn’t yell at the driver,” said Starsky, sternly. “You’ll only distract me.”

Hutch moaned despairingly and sank down in his seat. This was worse than a sudden desire to search the back seat for a box of Kleenex. Every time Starsky coughed, the car bobbled. Every time he sneezed, it swerved sharply out of its lane. And every time he blew his nose, Hutch found himself wishing he’d updated his will more recently.

He could only pray that Starsky was driving badly on purpose, in order to make some point about the inadvisability of dragging sick partners off to work, or they’d be lucky to get to Huggy Bear’s alive.

Hutch abruptly turned around in his seat, searching for the seatbelt, desperate for anything that might give him an edge in survival.

“Don’t bother,” said Starsky. “I had Merle take them out.” He tossed another Kleenex into the back of the Torino.

“Why?” Hutch winced at the high panicked note he heard in his own voice.

“‘Cause we never use them,” said Starsky, reasonably.

Hutch hung onto the door as Starsky took the next turn with entirely too much enthusiasm. Damn bench seat... “Slow down! I don’t want to slide into you. God only knows what I’ll catch.”

Starsky sneezed again. Regaining control of the car, he said, “I thought people who eat right, and take their vitamins, and jog eb’ry day, don’t get sick. So what are you worried about?”

Hutch thought, of you, cracking up the car and killing us both in a snot-soaked, germ-ridden wreck. But admitting it would mean losing face, so he kept his mouth shut, and hung on for dear life.


When Hutch clammed up, a lot of the fun went out of terrorizing him. So Starsky concentrated on finding a parking spot close to Huggy Bear’s instead. By the time he’d found one only two blocks down, Starsky was feeling more mellow towards his partner.

Hutch, however, was definitely looking queasy, though to his credit he didn’t take back his offer to pay for lunch.

Huggy was nowhere in sight when they arrived. Anita greeted them instead and said he’d just gone down to the bank. Hutch, with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm, ordered his usual hamburger platter with a side salad. Starsky asked for vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.

“You want a cherry on that, too?” asked Anita with a grin.

Starsky brightened. “Sure!” Then he realized that Hutch was frowning at him. “What?”

Hutch’s scowl deepened. “You had ice cream for breakfast this morning, and for dinner last night, and I don’t know what you had for lunch yesterday, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t also ice cream!”

When Starsky didn’t deny it, Hutch growled, “I’m pretty sure the surgeon general doesn’t recommend ice cream three times a day.”

“My throat hurts!” Starsky coughed once to illustrate his point. Unfortunately, this triggered a spasm of further coughing that left him gasping for air. He was occupied with his tissues for the next several minutes, trying to alternately clear his lungs and empty his sinuses. He was vaguely aware of the man sitting at the table next to them abruptly asking for his check, and leaving.

In Starsky’s opinion, Hutch had made a good start by buying lunch, but he’d lost any ground gained there with his nagging over the ice cream. Disappointingly, Hutch was still oblivious to his proper role as a nurturer and comforter of sick partners. Starsky tried looking at him pleadingly, but Hutch appeared completely absorbed in examining the sugar packets in the little bowl on the table. Starsky gave up trying to gain his partner’s sympathy, and silently began to plot his revenge. Well, as silently as possible while hacking up a lung into his napkin.

Anita, who had not built up an immunity to Starsky’s charms, gave him a sympathetic pat as she dropped off their respective meals. Starsky smiled at her appreciatively. She obviously knew how sick people should be treated, unlike certain blond meanies. Therefore, Starsky politely waited until she had left before he inspected the contents of his napkin. He held it out to Hutch. “Does this look green to you?”

Hutch encircled his lunch with a protective arm as he pulled back from Starsky. “Get that away from me!”

“For a guy who’s not worried about catching anything, you’re awfully jumpy,” said Starsky, inserting just the right amount of innocence into his voice so he couldn’t be accused of deliberately baiting his partner.

“I’m trying to eat my lunch here!” snapped Hutch. He glared at Starsky’s dessert, and added, “And you should be eating something healthier. You’ve got a cold, not tonsillitis!”

“And how would you know, Dr. Hutchinson?” Starsky deliberately took a large spoonful of ice cream.

“Because you told me, in graphic and disgusting detail, all about how you got them out when you were seven!”

The ice cream was melting on Starsky’s tongue, sending soothing coolness trickling down the back of his throat. Damn, but that felt good, he thought. There couldn’t possibly be a food that was better for him right now. “For all ‘oo know, dey goo back!”

“Tonsils don’t grow back.” Hutch looked disgusted. “And don’t talk with your mouth full!”

Starsky swallowed, and winced as the sides of his throat scraped together. “Guy takes a couple’a first aid courses...” He grabbed the cherry by its stem, and popped it in his mouth.

Hutch put his whole grain burger down, clearly offended. “It was paramedic training!”

Starsky moved the cherry into his cheek, not quite ready to try swallowing again. “One lousy weekend.”

Now the Hutchinson finger made its appearance, right on cue. “Hey, you’ll thank me the next time you get shot!”

The cherry dropped out as Starsky’s mouth fell open. “Whaddya mean next time?”

Hutch turned just a little bit too white, lines of strain showing on his face, and Starsky found himself unwillingly recalling a rainy night in an Italian restaurant. But then color returned to Hutch’s face and he shot back, “The way you’ve been acting, you’d think you were dying of the plague!”

Relieved by the change of subject, Starsky took another bite of ice cream. “I could be!”

“We’re not living in the middle ages,” Hutch pointed out. “No one gets the plague anymore.”

Starsky let the ice cream slide down his throat without swallowing. “Hey, I saw on TV...”

“Was it a soap opera?”

“You know, they base those stories on real stuff!”

“You haven’t got the plague.” Hutch picked up his burger again and attacked it with a determination that signaled this topic was closed.

Starsky scowled. It would serve Hutch right if he did have the plague. He picked at his ice cream, and privately consoled himself with fantasies of Hutch coming into the apartment to find him passed out just like Detective Melissa. His imaginary Hutch was tearfully apologizing for never having properly appreciated him, when the real Hutch said, irritably, “What are you grinning about?”

“Nuffin’.” Starsky decided it was probably a good thing they didn’t share Melissa and Ryan’s psychic bond, either. Though he wouldn’t have minded sharing a little of his sinus headache, aching muscles, chapped nose, cracked lips... Starsky sighed, an action which promptly started him coughing again.

He was still blowing his nose when Huggy finally appeared at their table. Huggy looked at Starsky for a long moment, his mouth pursing into a frown. Starsky ignored him, preoccupied with trying to turn his sinuses inside out.

Turning to Hutch, Huggy propped his hands on his hips and said, “I have enough problems with the health department as it is. Get that plague-ridden partner of yours out of here!”

“You can’t get the plague in the 20th century,” insisted Hutch.

Huggy’s eyebrows crawled up his forehead. “You’re behind times, m’man. I saw this show...”

“Oh, oh!” Starsky waved his spoon at Huggy, as he blew his nose one last time. “Wad id ‘Days of Our Hope Ho’pitl?”

“Yeah, and...” Huggy leaned down, but noticeably not nearly as close as he would have if Starsky was healthy. “I have it on good authority that Melissa’s going to end up in a coma.”

Starsky was delighted. “Oh, shit, really? Wow, how’s Ryan going to take that?”

“About as well as you’d expect.”

Hutch cleared his throat pointedly. “Excuse me? Could we get back to reality here?”

Huggy straightened, looking deeply offended. “I’ll have you know, Detective, that the soap opera is the modern morality play, a reflection of our cultural mores. Any student of the human condition ought to know that.”

“An’ you learn useful stuff,” added Starsky. “Like the fact that if you’re not careful my cold could turn into pneumonia, and I could end up in a coma!”

Hutch wasn’t impressed. “The only way you’re going to end up in a coma, is if I put you there!” Hutch then looked up at Huggy, his tone changing from threatening to cajoling. “We’re looking for Willie Miller. Do you have any idea where he’s hanging out these days?”

Huggy grinned smugly. “Everyone’s after the Weasel these days. I heard a certain gang ain’t too happy with him, neither. Something ‘bout forgettin’ to wear his gloves on a job, and a car which didn’t sink the way it was supposed to.”

Hutch swore under his breath. “If we don’t find Willie first, they may decide to shut him up permanently.”

His cold forgotten for the moment, Starsky leaned forward. “C’mon Huggy, you got to have some kind’a line on this guy!”

“What am I? A Magic 8-Ball? You can’t just shake me and expect to come up with an answer. Or, wait, wait, maybe you can!” Huggy closed his eyes dramatically and tilted his head back, doing a fair imitation of the Amazing Collandra. “I see words... words floating up out of the darkness... They say... Reply hazy, try again.”

Starsky reached for his wallet. “I wonder if Magic 8-Balls work better when they’re well lubricated?”

“That,” said Huggy, “is not a reassuring image coming from you. Keep your snotty lucre. Money may not be the root of all evil, but it’s certainly the root of all disease when it’s comin’ from you.” His gaze landed expectantly on Hutch.

Hutch sighed and pulled out his wallet instead. “How much do I owe you?”

“Well, if we count in the hamburger platter and the ice cream...” The sum Huggy came up with made Hutch wince.

Pulling two bills out of his wallet, he handed them over to Huggy. “Can you put the rest on our tab? I’m tapped out.”

Huggy shook his head pityingly, but took the money nonetheless. “The Weasel has a little Weasel girlfriend who works down on the strip. Where she was recently overheard bragging about her new summer cottage, a houseboat she bought from Harry the Hustler.”

“The Hustler...” Starsky repeated, thoughtfully. “You mean Harry Scarpelli?” His voice gave out with a squeak on the last syllable, and Hutch snickered.

Starsky glared at him. He tried to say, “We should check it out,” but his vocal cords wouldn’t co-operate and Hutch began laughing harder.

“Starsky,” Hutch choked out between guffaws, “you sound like Dobey!”

Huggy, who hadn’t heard Dobey recently, looked puzzled.

Starsky crossed his arms over his chest. When I come down with pneumonia and end up in a coma, he’s going to be really, really sorry.


Hutch was already sorry. Revenge was obviously not its own reward, at least when it came to sick, cranky partners who would rather be in bed. Starsky was in as foul a mood as he’d ever seen, alternately hacking and sneezing, spraying germs as liberally as he could in his partner’s direction. And he flatly refused to let Hutch drive, which made it increasingly unlikely that either of them would survive the day. Hutch took to handing him tissues every two minutes, so Starsky would stop taking his eyes off the road.

He wanted to shout, all right already, I admit it! I was wrong! I should have left you in bed and handled this one by myself! But every time Hutch got close to an apology the words stuck in his throat. Okay, he had been wrong, but Starsky wasn’t exactly on the side of the angels either. Hutch usually found his partner’s childlike side endearing. Today he just wanted to turn Starsky’s inner child over his knee and spank the spoiled brat within an inch of his life.

The thing he couldn’t understand was why no one else could see how badly Starsky was behaving. Even Harry Scarpelli had been sympathetic. After giving them directions to his old houseboat, he offered Starsky a discount on an "almost new" property he had downtown, a real fixer-upper, and an investment in the future. Hutch spotted the feverish gleam of yet another get-rich-quick scheme in Starsky’s eyes, and physically dragged his partner away.

“Remember the job, Starsk? We’re not buying a house today.”

“We?” Starsky gave him a startled glance. “You’d buy a house with me?”

Hutch felt something like cold terror form in his gut at the thought of a lifetime spent nursing Starsky through assorted colds and flus, without even a home of his own to retreat to. I didn’t... I wouldn’t... “I didn’t say that.”

“Yeah, you did. You said...”

“No, I didn’t! Now, are you going to let me drive?”

“Heck, no!”

At one point while they were driving along the docks Starsky pulled over the car in order to engage in a marathon nose blowing session that left him red-faced and sweaty. Well, sweatier than he already was. Hutch honestly couldn’t see the attraction of wearing a heavy sweater in this town, no matter how sick a person might be. At least Starsky had apparently misplaced the knit cap that used to go with it.

Starsky pulled the Kleenex away from his face with a wet suction-like sound. Hutch tried to ignore the roiling in the pit of his stomach.

Surely he can’t get any more repulsive...

“I think I just blew a small dead animal out of my nose,” said Starsky, staring into his Kleenex with apparent fascination.

I was wrong.

Hutch considered pointing out that at least Starsky was spared the usual rotting-fish miasma of the docks, but one glance at his partner’s face changed his mind. No, Starsky wasn’t going to be receptive to any attempt to look on the bright side of things. Hutch leaned back in his seat as Starsky restarted the car, and they continued slowly down the dock.

Abby had been on a meditation kick lately, and it occurred to Hutch that she might be onto something. He tried to visualize a better world, a happy place, free of hacking, snot-dripping, surly partners. Rolling green meadows, mountain wild-flowers, clean, sparkling waters... Hutch stopped. His meditation was beginning to disturbingly resemble a commercial for an air freshener.

Starsky stopped the car a short distance up the pier, and they both evaluated the houseboat in silence. It definitely was not a seafaring vessel. In fact, as far as Hutch could tell, it appeared as if someone had taken a trailer home, vinyl siding and all, and hoisted it onto a flat barge. A railing cobbled together out of two by fours surrounded the deck.

Despite Huggy’s description of this eyesore as a “summer cottage,” it was not docked anywhere remotely suitable for a vacation. Instead it was tucked out of the way in the industrial sector, behind an abandoned warehouse. If it weren’t for the fact that Harry had been willing to point them in the right direction, they would never have found it.

They watched as the front door of the houseboat opened, and a young woman stepped out, carrying a large purse. She turned and spoke to someone inside, before closing the door and locking it. She navigated the railing with ease, and got into a car parked out in front of the warehouse.

“Yeah,” Starsky paused, and coughed twice. “Willie’s there.”

Hutch nodded. He slid down in his seat, as Willie’s girlfriend drove past, and felt Starsky doing the same beside him.

They sat up when she was out of sight. “How do you want to do this?” asked Hutch.

Starsky blew his nose, and then threw the used Kleenex over his shoulder. “I’ll take the front. You take the back. ‘N case he jumps out a window, or something.”

Starsky had such a determined look on his face, that Hutch couldn’t resist the temptation to tease. “You sure you’re up to this?” he asked, his tone solicitous. “I mean, we could just radio in his location, and let the black and whites handle it. After all, you’re sick...”

Starsky stiffened, and he made a sound that was probably intended to be a growl, though it was decidedly damper than usual. He threw open the driver’s side door, and was halfway across the pier before Hutch collected himself enough to catch up. Starsky’s shoulders were tense and his feet striking the wood of the pier made an impressive amount of noise considering the soft rubber soles of his shoes.

Only Starsky could stomp in sneakers.

“Hey, wait up!”

Starsky spun on his heel. “What!”

“You forgot your Kleenex.” Hutch held out the box, an ingratiating grin on his face.

Starsky grabbed the box from him. There was a slight pause, and then his nose twitched. He retrieved a tissue just in time to catch another thunderous sneeze. The sound echoed off the warehouse behind them. Seagulls took off, screaming.

“Ow,” said Starsky, carefully dabbing at his nose.

Hutch took a closer look and winced. Starsky’s nose was looking sadly raw, scabs forming around the nostrils.

“You should put some moisturizer on that.”

“Maybe it’ll just fall off. Save me the trouble.”

Hutch would have laughed, except that Starsky sounded absolutely serious.

Starsky blinked at him through red, watering eyes. “If I’m getting chills, that means I got a fever. Right?”

“Not necessarily.” Hutch silently prayed that Starsky didn’t have a fever, because if he did, he’d never stop gloating.

Okay, I was wrong to make you work today, but please don’t make me admit it.

Starsky pulled his sweater tighter across his chest, tucked his box of Kleenex under his elbow, and tried to feel his own forehead. Hutch hadn’t thought it was possible, but somehow he appeared even more wretched than before.

“Oh, for God’s sake...” Hutch abruptly grabbed Starsky’s face, and pressed their foreheads together in the time-honored fashion of frazzled mothers everywhere. Starsky’s forehead felt cool. Giving Starsky’s head an impatient shake between his palms, Hutch said, “You’re the same temperature as me. You’re fine! Now are we going to catch this guy, or not?”

There was a significant pause before Starsky said, “You mean, that guy there?” He jerked his thumb to his right.

Hutch looked in the direction Starsky indicated. Willie was standing in the doorway of the houseboat, staring at them in open astonishment.

Hutch released Starsky, but his badge had barely cleared his pocket when Willie shook off whatever temporary paralysis had him in its grip. He bolted around the side of the houseboat, and disappeared.

Hutch took off after him. He could hear Starsky running the other way, to head him off.

“Willie!” bellowed Hutch, jumping over a crate onto the deck of the boat. “Don’t make this any harder than it has to be!”

Willie didn’t answer, because at that moment he collided with Starsky.

Starsky was expecting him, and straight-armed him back into Hutch.

Unfortunately, Hutch wasn’t expecting the rope coiled neatly on the other side of the crate, out of sight. As he braced himself to grab Willie, he stepped back, directly into the center of the twisted hemp. The rope snagged his left ankle, sending him lurching sideways. Scrambling to regain his footing, he fell hard against the railing. There was a splintering crack of wood, and Hutch found himself in free fall.

It felt like the longest fraction of a second in his life. He even had time to wonder who he’d pissed off today, and why he kept tripping over things, when he was normally a very lithe and agile kind of person.

Athletic, anyway.

Then he hit the water.


Starsky was perfectly aware that Hutch could swim. It wasn’t even a particularly significant fall, maybe three feet, at most. So logically there was no reason to panic.

Unfortunately, panic never listened to reason.


Starsky grabbed Willie one handed, and slammed him into the side of the houseboat, his eyes on the churning spot of water where Hutch had vanished.

Unfortunately the Weasel had earned his nickname for more than just his tendency to rat out his partners in crime. Starsky was vaguely aware of Willie twisting in his grip, but his gaze was on the soaked blond head now bobbing to the surface, accompanied by an eruption of coughs interspersed with cursing. It wasn’t until he felt something jammed into his ribs and looked down to see his own gun in Willie’s hand that he realized he was in trouble.

He released Willie immediately. “Hey, that’s mine!”

Willie backed up, holding the gun in both hands. Starsky hadn’t heard him flick the safety off, but he couldn’t be certain.

“Just leave me alone!” Willie yelled. The barrel of the gun wobbled in his uncertain grasp.

Behind him Starsky could hear more splashing, followed by the sound of spitting and more cursing, as Hutch tried to climb back up onto the deck of the boat. Starsky spread his arms wide, the box of Kleenex in his left hand, trying to placate the nervous little man holding his gun. “Look, Willie...”

But Willie suddenly turned and ran, Starsky’s pistol clutched close to his chest, heading for the abandoned warehouse on the other side of the dock.

Starsky sagged wearily. “Ah, hell.”

Another loud splash, then Starsky heard Hutch ask, “Did he just run off with your gun?”

“Yes.” Starsky dropped his head, embarrassed. It was a rookie mistake. Never take your eyes off the perp, especially if the perp in question was a thief.

Starsky sighed and turned around. Hutch had managed to haul himself most of the way out of the water. He had both elbows hooked over the deck, and was looking at Starsky inquisitively.

“C’mon,” said Starsky, leaning forward to offer him his hand. “Let’s go get him. I need to kick his ass.”

Hutch grabbed Starsky’s forearm, and used it to scramble up onto the houseboat. In the process, however, he bumped into Starsky’s elbow, and the box of Kleenex under Starsky’s arm slipped. He let go of Hutch to try to catch it, but succeeded only in knocking it away from himself. They both watched in horror as the Kleenex box fell over the edge of the railing and into the water.

“Oops,” said Hutch.

Starsky was speechless.


There was a ramp on the outside of the warehouse leading up to the second level. While it had clearly been intended to make loading easier, it was also very long and steep. Hutch listened to Starsky gasping and coughing behind him as they ran.

As long as he’s still breathing, there’s nothing to worry about.

But they could pretty much kiss goodbye any hope of sneaking up on Willie. Starsky sounded like a locomotive with critical engine issues.

“You can’t tell anyone I lost my gun, okay?” wheezed Starsky, grabbing the back of Hutch’s shirt.

Hutch didn’t answer. He was wet and cold, his leather boots were ruined, and he was seriously considering payback for every bit of of misery Starsky had been putting him through today.

“I’m serious!” said Starsky, pulling harder on Hutch’s shirt. “You tell anyone, and I’ll... I’ll tell ‘em that your Magnum’s something you carry around t’make up for your deep seated insecurities in bed!”

It was the last thing Hutch would ever have expected Starsky to threaten him with. Any attempt at stealth forgotten, he laughed. “Where the hell did you hear that?”

Starsky mumbled something, bending over and holding onto his side as he gasped for breath.

“What’s that?” persisted Hutch, grinning.

“I said I saw it on TV! Okay?”

“Let me guess, Days of Our Hope Hospital, right?”

“Yeah, Detective Bradley had to see a psychologist a couple months ago, after he was kidnapped and brainwashed--.” Starsky stopped abruptly, realizing that he’d given away more than he’d intended. “Never mind!”

Hutch pulled him next to the entrance of the warehouse, out of the line of fire. He grinned. “You want to tell me, buddy, just how long you’ve been hooked on this show?”

“I’m not hooked on it,” said Starsky, sulkily.

“Uh huh.”

“There wasn’t anything else to watch, when I was stuck in the hospital!”

“Which time?”

“You just wait,” threatened Starsky. “Someday, Mr. America, you’ll get laid up for a couple weeks, and you’ll end up watching it too.”

Hutch smirked, knowing Starsky was wrong. Some people had a taste for quality entertainment, and some people didn’t, and nothing could change that simple fact.

With a quick nod at Starsky, Hutch drew his gun. They moved together into the warehouse, Hutch taking the right, while Starsky took the left. It was cluttered inside, stacked with crates, rolls of cable, and large pieces of unidentifiable machinery. A hoist ran the length of the ceiling, but the wires had snapped, rendering it useless.

A single gunshot sent them both diving for cover. They landed together behind a large shipping container.

Hutch pressed his back against the cold metal and closed his eyes, trying to pinpoint Willie’s location among the echoes rattling around the cavernous room. He could feel his shirt sticking clammily to his skin, and his cords were already picking up grime from the warehouse floor. However, he stayed well clear of any notion that the day couldn’t get worse, knowing that it could. It probably even would.

Starsky was on his belly, looking around the corner. He tried to shout, “Give it up!” but his voice cracked after “give” and the rest came out in a hoarse whisper.

Suppressing a snicker, Hutch helpfully bellowed, “Give it up.”

Starsky glanced over his shoulder at him and made a face.

Willie shouted, “Don’t come any closer! I’m a very bad shot, and I might accidentally kill you!”

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance. From the sound of it, Willie was not far away. Maybe even just behind the central pile of scrap metal.

“Willie,” said Hutch in his most reasonable voice. “Just give it up. There’s some bad guys after you, but if you cooperate with us, we can protect you.”

“I can’t do hard time again!” wailed Willie.

Starsky crawled forward on his elbows, moving towards Willie’s hiding place. After a few yards, he stopped suddenly and buried his face in his arms, his shoulders shaking silently as he struggled to suppress a coughing jag. Hoping to keep Willie’s attention off of his partner, Hutch yelled, “You’ve never done hard time! You did six weeks community service last summer!”

“It was hard, and it was time! Those guys were scary, man. They kept lookin’ at me like I was fresh meat.”

Hutch took a quick peek around the corner of the shipping container. Starsky had reached the pile of scrap metal, and was pulling himself up onto his knees. Hutch said, “Those guys were little kids. You did your time cleaning up at the community wading pool!”

“I was attacked!”

“By a six year old!”

“She bit me! I could’a got the plague!”

Hutch rubbed the bridge of his nose in sudden pain. It was obvious Willie was also a regular watcher of Days of Our Hope Hospital. Had everyone in the city lost their minds? Knowing it wouldn’t do any good, he still had to say, “You can’t get the plague in the 20th Century!”

At that moment, Hutch heard a thud, followed by a metallic clang and a yelp of pain. Charging around the crate, Hutch found Starsky on top of Willie. He had his knee in Willie’s lower back, and his arms pinned. Spotting his partner’s gun on the floor a few feet away, Hutch went over to collect it. As he bent down, he saw Starsky lean close to Willie’s ear.

“You should listen to him,” Starsky advised. “He’s got paramedic training.”


Starsky gave Willie a few extra shakes, before snapping the cuffs onto his wrists. The guy looked like a scared rabbit, all big eyes and terror, but Starsky wasn’t in the mood to be sympathetic. He was angry with himself for letting the little weasel take off with his gun. Not that it was entirely his fault. If Hutch hadn’t tripped...

Strange, Hutch isn’t usually that clumsy. But today he’s managed to stumble over things twice. And he only ate half of his burger, and he didn’t eat any of his salad.

Starsky hauled Willie around and took a closer look at Hutch. He was shivering in his damp clothes, his hair drying in tufts, and there were two bright red spots high on his cheeks.

Is he coming down with my cold?

“Hey, Hutch?”

Just as Hutch turned away from the door, Starsky saw movement behind him. Without thinking, he shoved Willie behind a crate and charged toward Hutch. “Get down!” Starsky tackled his partner, landing them both behind a forklift. He heard a whine as a bullet cut through the air where Hutch’s head had been a moment earlier.

Starsky felt his gun shoved into his hand, and then they were both firing back in the direction of the doorway. Unfortunately, the new arrivals had already taken cover themselves.

There ought’a be a law, that all warehouses should be razed to the ground, unless someone’s actually using them, and not just as a place to ditch old garbage either. And they can level the old zoo, the dump, and the abandoned amusement park as well.

“You know what?” said Hutch, with a note of surprise in his voice. “I think I’m glad I dragged you out here, today.”

Starsky glanced at his partner. Hutch was pale, but still grinning, with a streak of grime running from his cheek down to his chin. He thought of the bullet he’d heard, the high pitched zing of a close miss, and felt a prickle of belated apprehension. “You almost got your hair permanently parted on the other side.”

Hutch nodded. “Yeah. Thanks.”


The plan was obvious. Starsky would provide cover while Hutch drove the forklift into the bad guys’ position. A quick tilt of Hutch’s head and a nod from Starsky, and then Hutch reached for the ignition button, hoping to hell that the owners of the warehouse had left it here to clear out some of the garbage versus abandoning it.

Before he could do anything however, Willie yelled, “Guys! You got here just in time! Those cops almost got me!”

Another burst of gunfire, and Hutch’s ankles were seized as Starsky yanked him unceremoniously back into cover.

Willie squealed, and there was a clatter and scramble as he went to ground. Hutch couldn’t decide if he was relieved or disappointed that Willie had survived.

A new voice shouted, “We had everything under control until you screwed up!”

“Yeah,” said a second voice, “You know the price!”

Hutch glanced over at Starsky and held up two fingers questioningly. Starsky shook his head and held up three.

Quietly, Hutch asked, “You sure?”

Starsky nodded emphatically and then sniffed. He rubbed his nose on his arm, ineffectually. Hutch turned to peek around the front of the forklift. He felt Starsky move up behind him, a warm presence at his back.

From his hiding place, Willie pleaded, “C’mon, Frankie, you’re my pal!”

The first voice said, “That’s right, Frankie. You’re his pal. This whole mess is your fault, isn’t it, Frankie?”

And now the third man spoke up. “We should shoot both of them!”

Frankie became defensive. “Yeah, well, who didn’t wanna be driver anymore, huh, Ricky? Who said we needed to find another guy to drive? Huh? Huh?”

“I said you should find a driver, not a twitchy little weasel who can’t sink a car and who runs right to the cops.”

Willie tried to protest. “Rick, man, I didn’t run to the cops! They found me! And then you tried to shoot me! Bob, c’mon, you guys don’t really wanna shoot me, do ya?”

Hutch ducked reflexively as a barrage of gunfire echoed around the cavernous warehouse. The fact that the bag guys weren’t currently aiming at himself or Starsky did very little for his sense of security.

Willie, Frankie, Ricky...

Starsky, clearly thinking along the same lines, whispered, “Just Bob? Not Bobby?”

Hutch shrugged. “Do you have a pencil? We should get these names down.”

Starsky patted his pockets ineffectually. “Maybe if we stay out of sight they’ll all shoot each other and we won’t have to do anything except call the meat wagon.” This hopeful pronouncement was followed by a thunderous sneeze. A hail of bullets was instantly directed at their position.

Hutch ducked, dragging Starsky down with him.

The voice he’d identified as Bob said, “First we take out the cops. Then we decide what to do with the weasel!”

“Damn,” said Hutch. “Why is there always one smart one?”

Starsky was squirming beneath him, and he started to roll off, only to find Starsky clinging to him, his face buried in the tail of his shirt. For a moment he felt a stab of concern. Had his partner caught one of the bullets? Had he lost his nerve?

But then he heard a snort, and saw Starsky’s head move from side to side, and realized exactly what Starsky was doing. “Hey!”

“I need to bow by node!”

“Then use your own damn shirt!”

“S’ your fault I dropped by K’eenex in the bay!”

Hutch elbowed him away. Starsky slumped back against the wheel of the forklift, rubbing his nose on the heel of his hand. Miserably, he added, “Besides, my nose hurts, and your shirt feels nicer than mine. Less scratchy ‘cause it’s damp.”

“I don’t want to know how you know that.”

Starsky glanced at Hutch’s back, and grimaced. “Um, well, you may want to wash that shirt when you get home.”

Hutch twisted around, and grabbed the tail of his shirt. “You slimed me!”


Another bullet ricocheting off the cage of the forklift brought their attention back to the more immediate crisis. Hutch gave Starsky a final dirty look and then held up three fingers. Starsky nodded and gave his weapon one last check as Hutch counted down.

Two, one...

Starsky popped up shooting at the same time as Hutch scrambled for the seat of the forklift. Starsky had to duck to avoid getting kicked in the chin as Hutch tried to stay low while he started the engine.

Starsky’s nose was running again. Sucking the snot off his top lip, he continued to fire over the top of the seat. Three bullets left. Two...

The forklift started with a noisy shudder, and Starsky clung to the back as Hutch wrenched the wheel sharply to the side, aiming at a pile of crates a few yards away.

The bad guys scattered to either side, and Starsky used the momentum of the machine to roll directly into the path of the closest one. He caught a glimpse of Hutch leaping from the seat of the forklift and tackling another baddie.

Then Starsky was entirely preoccupied with his own target, hanging onto the oversized gorilla’s wrist. He tried to dig his fingers into the sensitive part of the wrist that would force the man’s hand open and make him drop the gun. A sudden barrage of bullets into the ceiling told Starsky that he’d hit the wrong spot.


Starsky would have been warmed by the concern in Hutch’s voice, if he’d had the attention to spare. “I’m fine!” This optimistic pronouncement was followed by a grunt as the escapee from the local zoo landed an oversized fist in his stomach.

Starsky felt all of the air leave his lungs in one big whoosh, as he doubled over, coughing. His grip loosened and out of the corner of his eye he could see the gorilla’s gun hand coming back down.

Feeling a familiar, urgent tickle in the back of his nose, Starsky suddenly straightened up, threw his head back, and sneezed. Directly into the gorilla’s face. That’ll show the bastard not to hit a sick man.

Reflexively, the goon stepped back. Starsky lunged forward, and got in one clean shot at the man’s chin. Thankfully, it was enough, and the gorilla went down like he’d been cut off at the ankles. Starsky was on top of him in an instant. He grabbed the man’s gun and spun around in a crouch, looking for the rest of the bad guys.

What he saw instead was Hutch, aiming his gun directly at him, a fraction of a second before he heard, “Starsky! Get down!”

Starsky didn’t have time to duck. Hutch’s gun went off, simultaneous with an explosion from behind Starsky, and he heard that sound again, the one made by bullets passing much too close to his hide. He turned to see a man standing directly behind him, gun still raised.

As Starsky watched, the man’s hand fell as if the gun was suddenly too heavy to hold. He looked down at the spreading red stain on his shoulder in shock, and collapsed heavily onto the concrete.

Starsky sat down on his gorilla’s back, ignoring the pained groan from beneath him. He blew a long breath out and looked at Hutch. “Did you get your guy?”

Hutch simply jerked a thumb over his shoulder, and Starsky's gaze followed the gesture to the last of the bad guys sitting on the ground, securely cuffed. He looked back to find Hutch still staring at him, an odd expression on his face.

Starsky was about to ask him what the problem was, when Hutch abruptly shrugged out of his flannel shirt. He tossed it at Starsky. “Here.”

Starsky was delighted. Hutch really was a good buddy, after all. He was willing to sacrifice his shirt, just so Starsky could blow his nose. He had his nose buried in the soft cotton when it was suddenly yanked out of his hands, and Starsky found himself looking up at a very irritated Hutch.

“No, you dummy!” Hutch grabbed the side of his chin and tipped it to the side, using the shirt to dab at something above Starsky’s ear.

Starsky yelped at the sudden stinging sensation. “Hey!”

“You’ve got a crease,” said Hutch, his expression set. “Didn’t I tell you to get down?”

Now Starsky noticed the warm trickling sensation down the side of his face and neck. He touched his fingers to his cheek and grimaced at the red stain on his fingertips. “Aw, geez.” Hutch poked at the wound again, and Starsky jerked away. “Ow, leave it alone!”

“Well, it doesn’t look like you’re going to need stitches, anyway,” said Hutch, sounding relieved. “I always knew you were hard-headed, but I didn’t know you could actually deflect bullets with it.”

“Funny,” grumbled Starsky. He felt movement beneath him, and glanced down to see his prisoner stirring to life. “C’mon, let’s get these guys booked.”

Starsky looked around the warehouse again. One bad guy cuffed, one down and semi-conscious, and one writhing in silent agony on the floor with a bullet in his shoulder. He had a nagging sense that he’d forgotten something, but it was hard to think with his head stuffed up. Pulling the shirt out of Hutch’s hand, he blew his nose in it.

“Shh!” Hutch hissed, grabbing it back. “What’s that sound?”

Starsky listened, and suddenly remembered what they’d both forgotten. “I think that’s Willie... Either I gave him my cold, or he’s... crying?”

Hutch set off in search of the source of the whimpering. Starsky stayed where he was, not willing to take any chances on his gorilla regaining full consciousness any time soon. He watched as Hutch reached the capsized forklift and shoved aside a couple of boxes.

There was a pause before Hutch announced, “Oh crap, he’s under the forklift.” He bent over and asked the unseen Willie, “Are you okay?”

Starsky immediately scrambled up onto his feet. Keeping his gun trained on the gorilla, he backed up to where he could see Willie in the middle of a pile of demolished boxes, half under the forklift. “He’s still moving, anyway.”

Hutch appeared worried. “I don’t think the DA’s going to be very happy when he finds out we squished his star witness.”

Starsky took another look. Willie was staring up at them with wide panicked eyes, and under different circumstances Starsky might have felt sorry for him. But this little weasel had not only stolen his gun, but then he had tried to shoot both of them with it. “Ah, he’s okay. The forklift just got his leg. He’ll be able to walk into court. Or hop. Or crawl. Or something.”

He glanced back at the gorilla, but the guy had stopped moving. Turning to Hutch, Starsky said cheerfully, “Here, gimme a hand and we’ll lift this thing off of him. And then you can use your paramedic training on him!”

Hutch looked definitely interested by this idea. Willie, on the other hand, looked terrified.


“Oh, babe,” Ryan whispered, tenderly taking Melissa’s hand into his. “I miss you so much.”

Tears welled up in his eyes, but he blinked them back manfully. “God, Melissa, you’ve never looked so fragile. I never realized how easily I could lose you forever.” His voice choked up momentarily before he could continue. “I guess never realized before how much you meant to me. Oh God, all those wasted years...”

Suddenly, the fingers in his hand tightened weakly around his. “Babe?” he whispered, hope and fear in his restrained voice. “Are you waking up?”

Dazed, cerulean eyes, framed by lush dark lashes, slowly blinked open. Ryan moved into her line of vision. “Melissa! You’re back!”

A tiny crease formed in her perfect brow. “Who... who are you?”

Starsky whooped. “All right! She’s got amnesia! Rodney will never clear his name at this rate!”

“She’s faking,” said Hutch.

“It’s called acting, partner.”

“No, I mean I think the character’s faking it.” Hutch explained. He blew his nose. “Ow.”

“Aw,” said Starsky, sympathetically. “Does your nose hurt? Would you like some more lotion? Chicken soup? Maybe a hot water bottle?” He examined Hutch with a critical eye, checking to see if he’d forgotten anything in his quest to make his partner more comfortable. But no, Hutch was swaddled from head to toe in a blanket, pillows were propped under his back and knees, the TV was angled so he could watch comfortably, and he had a tall glass of root beer close at hand.

Hutch claimed he never drank root beer, but Starsky knew it was by far the best thing to drink when you had a cold. That’s what his mother had always said. Just like ice cream was good for a sore throat, and never mind the nonsense Hutch said about milk products increasing your mucus production. He was taking good care of Hutch, just the way a partner should.

“What I would like,” said Hutch, in a tone of unhappy resignation, “is for you to leave me alone so I can die in peace.”

Starsky just patted him. Hutch had a fever, and didn’t know what he was saying.

As he watched Ryan try to comfort the confused Melissa, Starsky released a happy sigh. Being sick sucked big time, but taking care of a sick partner, no matter how crabby, was deeply satisfying. Besides, a couple more episodes and Hutch would definitely be hooked on Days of our Hope Hospital.