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"Starsk," Hutch murmured, struggling to free his right arm from its mysterious entrapment.  After eliciting no response from his partner, Hutch cleared his throat and tried again.

"Starsky," Hutch repeated, his voice little more than a whisper.  "You're heavy," Hutch added, attempting to push the other man away.  "I need you to move - please."  

Hutch had awakened to find Starsky draped halfway across his chest and belly, his right hip pinned solidly to the floor.  He wasn't sure how long the two of them had been in that position, but the tingling sensation in his right arm suggested it had been a while.  

Reaching for Starsky with his free arm, Hutch punched the other man lightly in the ribs.  Startled into wakefulness, Starsky was quiet as he struggled to process his surroundings.  Seconds later his eyes flew open as he lifted himself free of Hutch, a litany of confusion clearly written across his face.  

"What the hell?" Starsky asked, locking eyes with Hutch.        

 "I dunno, Starsk," Hutch replied, grimacing as he reached for his shoulder.  "I just woke up myself."

As Starsky shifted his weight, Hutch tried unsuccessfully to wiggle the fingers of his right hand.  No such luck.  Regaining normal sensation was apparently destined to be a full-blown undertaking.  Hutch could not remember the last time he had awakened in such an awkward position.  Well, not since his college days anyway.  

Starsky pushed himself to a sitting position before scrubbing his face with both hands and running his hands through his thick, dark hair.  Peeking out from behind splayed fingers, he noticed the discarded tequila bottle on the floor next to Hutch.    

"Well," Starsky said, reaching for the empty vessel.  "I'm sure this thing used to be full.  Damn," Starsky added, peering into the bottom of the clear glass.  "Even the worm is gone." 

Hutch twisted his face in disgust from his position on the floor.  "Just wait 'til I see Huggy again," Hutch said. 

"We're still mostly dressed," Starsky added, marginally impressed.  

"Are we?" Hutch asked.  "Goody.  I've been afraid to look."

Starsky tossed the bottle aside before returning his attention to his partner.  "Ah, we both should've known better, Hutch.  Tequila and poker are a really bad mix for us."

Starsky paused to study his blonde-haired friend.  It did seem like the other man was heavily involved in trying to move his right arm.  

"Need some help there, partner?" Starsky asked, amusement creeping into his voice. 

Hutch licked his lips and sighed as he appeared to consider the question. "I don't know yet," Hutch admitted. "Where are we anyway?  My place?"

"Yep," Starsky answered, glancing around quickly if only to reassure himself. 

Releasing a deep breath, Hutch suddenly renigged on his previous statement.  "Actually, Starsk, I can't feel most of my right side.  Yeah, help me up, would ya?"

Starsky smiled as he moved alongside his partner before sliding an arm underneath the other man's shoulders. "Come on, Hutch," Starsky said, encouraging him to sit up.  "It's really not so bad once you get up here."

Hutch was nothing short of sincere in asking for help.  Starsky could see how much his normally stoic, blonde partner was struggling just to sit up.  Dragging Hutch toward the sofa, Starsky helped him to an upright position before carefully letting go.  Gathering his courage, Hutch took a deep breath and opened his eyes.   

Oh crap, Hutch thought.

Whatever he and Starsky had started in their joint state of drunken glee, Hutch prayed they had contained it to the apartment.    

"Today's Saturday, right?" Hutch asked, chancing a second look.    

"Blessedly - yeah," Starsky answered, chuckling softly.  "How's your arm feelin'?"   

"It's starting to hurt - must mean it's comin' around." 

"So what happened last night, Hutch?" Starsky asked, leaning against the sofa.  "I thought you were monitoring me." 
  
Hutch was busy rotating his shoulder in gentle circles, still trying to work out the stiffness.  

"As I believe I heard you say"... Hutch paused to focus on a particularly sore spot.  "Between you and me, Starsk - tequila, a deck of cards, and a hot pair of dice are a notoriously bad mix.  Apparently, neither one of us is any good at following our own advice."

Starsky normally relied on his other half to cut him off in any situation involving alcohol before things could escalate out of control.   

"Hutch! You know how I can get with tequila!"

"Oh, it certainly looks like I was right there with ya," Hutch answered, not bothering to conjure up excuses. 

Both men were momentarily quiet, each lost in thought as they surveyed the condition of the room around them.  

"So who's gonna watch me next time, huh?" Hutch asked.   

"Next time?" Starsky asked.  "We're already talking about next time?  Next time I'm gonna have to insist that you throw me in the shower fully clothed - barricade the damn door if you have to, but don't let me have that bottle!"

Hutch's eyes slid sideways toward his partner, the unspoken message transferring clearly between them.  

"Yeah, alright," Starsky conceded.  "Maybe we're just gonna have to take turns."

The piercing shrill of a telephone slicing through the room caused Hutch to jump and cover his ears.  Starsky launched himself in search of the offending noise by following the cord on his hands and knees to the far side of the room.  

"Yeah," Starsky answered, locating the receiver.  "Yeah, he's here," Starsky added, his voice gentling noticeably.  "Captain, have I ever mentioned that you have really lousy timing?"

Hutch's eyes widened as he realized Starsky was talking to Captain Dobey.

"No, talk to me, Captain," Starsky continued, glancing at Hutch.  "He isn't quite ready for a real conversation yet."

Whatever Dobey might have said or thought about Starsky's comment, Hutch did not hear.  In truth, there was little that would likely surprise Captain Dobey about either one of his top-notch detectives.  If Starsky said talk to him, then that's what Dobey would do.

Starsky listened intently for several moments, leaning heavily against the wall as he concentrated on Dobey's instructions.  His brows furrowing together, Starsky glanced at Hutch intermittently as their Captain talked.

"Yeah, I understand," Starsky said.  "Yep.  I got it, Captain.  I will - we'll be there."

Starsky hung up the phone and looked at Hutch.

"It's not good news," Starsky began.  "There was a double homicide last night.  Captain wants us both downtown in one hour sharp."

Hutch nodded, accepting the news calmly.  Intuition had told him Captain Dobey was not calling without a good reason so early on a Saturday morning.

"I'll hit the shower first," Starsky directed.  You sit here and keep working out the kinks, then follow me ASAP.  We can be out of here in twenty minutes."

Hutch stretched his arms high overhead, his long legs simultaneously extending out in front of him.  Once Starsky was sure that Hutch was moving all four extremities, he leaped to his feet and sprinted toward the bathroom.

Reaching the shower, Starsky opened the faucet full-throttle, stepping back only slightly as he waited for the spray to turn warm and steamy.  In the privacy of the bathroom, Starsky allowed his shoulders to slump as he reviewed his discussion with Dobey in his head.  It was no ordinary homicide investigation they would be accepting this morning.  Dobey had warned Starsky that one of the victims was also one of their own - a fellow officer both Starsky and Hutch knew well.  The information was going to hurt which was exactly why Starsky was keeping it to himself until Hutch was not only more awake but trapped safely alongside him in the front seat of the Torino.  Starsky would break the news as gently as possible before they arrived at the crime scene.

Shedding what was left of his clothes and ducking beneath the shower stream, Starsky allowed the hot water to fully awaken him.  What his conversation with Dobey had not already accomplished, he hoped the pulsating water would finish.  Grabbing a bottle of shampoo from the shelf, he doused his hair with the liquid soap and proceeded to scrub his scalp nearly raw.  Maybe getting himself squeaky clean beforehand would help when it was time to resubmerge himself and his partner into the seedier side of life in Bay City. 

Starsky stepped under the showerhead one final time, rinsing his hair to rid himself of any remaining soapy residue.  Moving away from the spray, he shook his head vigorously from side to side, removing as much water as possible before throwing open the curtain and grabbing the nearest towel.  Leaving the shower running, Starsky dabbed the rest of his hair mostly dry before wrapping the towel around his waist and opening the door.

"Hutch!" Starsky yelled.  "Your turn!"

The aroma of fresh coffee wafted its way to Starsky's nostrils through the open doorway.  Pleased they would at least have coffee to take with them, Starsky gathered his clothes from the floor and thought about what he should wear.  Each of them had developed the habit of keeping a small stash of clothing at the other's apartment - a lesson learned years ago after too many late nights and unplanned early mornings.

At least I'll have clean underwear, Starsky thought.

Starsky was about to yell at Hutch again when his partner appeared from the other room quite obviously headed for the shower.

"Ya know, most people take their clothes off once they're IN the bathroom," Starsky commented.

"Yeah?  Well, you ought to know by now that I'm not most people, Starsk," Hutch replied, entering the bathroom and closing the door.       

Ah, Hutch, Starsky thought, scowling as he fumbled with his own clothing.  That's exactly right.  You are not 'most people' at all.

Borrowing a shirt from Hutch's closet, Starsky finished dressing and headed for the kitchen, eager for his first cup of coffee.  After rummaging around in an upper cabinet, Starsky located a thermos he remembered Hutch using on stakeouts.  Rinsing the cylinder first, he had just finished filling it with hot coffee when he heard the shower water finish. 

"Good timing," Starsky thought, pouring a cup for Hutch.  

Starsky was leaning against the kitchen counter sipping coffee when Hutch emerged from the bedroom fully dressed.  Knowing exactly how his partner had looked only fifteen minutes earlier, Starsky was admittedly impressed.    

"Good morning, Blondie," Starsky said, handing Hutch his coffee.  

"Morning," Hutch answered.  "Shall we try this waking up thing again?"
  
Hutch accepted the coffee gratefully.  The heavy, porcelain cup warmed his hands nicely as he held it.    

"We shall, and we have," Starsky replied, looking around for his keys. 

"Top of the 'fridge," Hutch commented.

Starsky looked at him quizzically.  "The 'fridge?" he repeated.

"That's right," Hutch said.  "I hid your keys last night out of caution."

"Out of caution?" Starsky asked.

"Yep.  The minute Huggy showed up with a bottle of tequila under his arm, I hid your keys."

Hutch reached for the top of the refrigerator, his hand landing easily on a set of keys pushed nearly to the back of the appliance.  Retrieving them from their hiding place, Hutch returned the keys to their rightful owner.

"Let's go," Hutch said, turning on his heels.  

Starsky stared at Hutch as the man walked away, coming back to his senses shortly before Hutch reached the front door.  Grabbing the thermos from the counter, Starsky turned and chased after him.

Unlocking the Torino, Starsky slid into the driver's seat and reached for the passenger lock.  As Hutch settled beside him, Starsky started the engine to allow the motor a chance to warm up.  Steeling himself against the back of the car seat, Starsky turned to face his partner.

"Hutch," Starsky cautioned, gently clasping the other man's shoulder.

Recognizing the guarded tone in Starsky's voice, Hutch immediately froze - that familiar sense of awareness they had always shared caused his heart to beat a little faster any time Hutch realized the forthcoming tenderness was intended for him alone.  Such a pause in routine procedure always meant that Starsky had been protecting him from something.  Hutch turned and looked at Starsky.  Starsky could read the quiet apprehension in Hutch's eyes.   
 
"Hutch, Starsky repeated.   "Before we go, there's something you need to know about this case."

Hutch swallowed nervously and waited.  "Ok, what is it?" Hutch asked.  

"Dobey told me one of the victims is John Harris," Starsky said.  

Starsky saw the wounded look in his partner's eyes before the other man could turn away.  His breath catching in his throat, Hutch slumped momentarily against the back of the car seat.  Gazing ahead through the windshield, he sighed and shook his head as if trying to settle the painful information into some unfortunate but necessary category.  Quickly recovering his outward composure, Hutch turned to lock eyes with his partner.  

"Do we know what happened?" Hutch asked, swallowing hard.    

"No," Starsky answered, releasing a sigh of his own.  "Not yet.  That's why Dobey called us." 

Hutch nodded, accepting the news as best he could.  A comfortable silence ensued as Hutch worked through his emotions while Starsky waited.  When Hutch next looked in Starsky's direction, Starsky smiled gently and asked, "Are you ready?"

"Yeah," Hutch said softly.  "Let's go take care of John."

Starsky nodded and reached for the radio.  "Central, this is Zebra Three," Starsky began, waiting for the station to acknowledge him.  

"Go ahead, Zebra Three," replied a pleasant female voice.  

"Log us in at 0640 hours," Starsky instructed.  "And notify Captain Dobey that we are en route."

"10-4, Zebra Three."

 

 Finished - May 13, 2021