Murder Ward Revisited

"Get down, Mr. Starsky." Dr. Mattwick spoke calmly waving the gun in the direction he wanted the detective to go.

Starsky slowly complied as he got off the refrigerator, one hand raised before him to placate Mattwick; the other supporting his lithe body, as he eased himself to the tiled floor.

The doctor watched as the detective's muscles rippled beneath his open shirt; his movements slow and predatory; almost animal-like. Animal-like. That thought brought a grin to the doctor's face, for Mattwick knew that he could handle any lab animal used for his psycho chemical experiments and this 'rat' was no different than any other.

Starsky eyed the gun waving in the doctor's hand and Mattwick felt a surge of adrenalin race through his body. He could feel the tension radiating from the detective, although to his credit, the detective appeared calm. The doctor felt in control and all powerful, as he directed the cop into the adjoining room. "Hate to have to use this..." the doctor smirked indicating the gun in his hand.

"Yeah... you'd rather use a syringe for your dirty work," retorted the curly haired detective as he passed the doctor and entered the room where he immediately saw the table and straps. Come on Hutch, Starsky thought, I need you now buddy. Starsky briefly entertained the idea of manhandling the good doctor for control of the gun, but that thought quickly faded as his eyes caught a dark form emerging from the shadowy corner of the room.

"Ah... you remember Charles don't you, Mr. Starsky?" the doctor sneered, his contempt for the detective clearly discernable under his false pretense of polite introductions. "Charles Deek certainly remembers you!"

Starsky stared at the young man, stormy blue eyes widening slightly as recognition set in. It was the man's eyes, the same burning, deranged glare that haunted the detective's sleep for many nights after the arrest.

His mind raced back to that day, five years ago, when he and Hutch arrested the man standing before him for the serial murders of several young girls. Long haired, and bearded back then, Charles Deek was quite skilled with the knife, able to prolong the agony of his victims, as he slowly bled them to death. Deek threatened to one day kill Hutch and himself, as he was taken away and sentenced to life in prison. They never knew that he was later transferred to Cabrillo State's lock down section for the criminally insane.

Starsky eyed the knife that Charlie brought out from behind his back. The sharp blade caught the fluorescent light from the fixtures above and it gleamed brightly in the shadows. Oh man Hutch, now would be good time!

"Good ol' Charlie Deek..." Starsky drawled out, blue eyes never leaving the blade as it was passed carelessly, back and forth, between the madman's hands. "Funny meetin' ya in a place like this..."

Charlie lifted his lip in a half-snarl, but then began to snicker almost maniacally, "It's satisfaction time for me Starsky, first you, then your partner."

Starsky knew that Hutch would be clocking out soon and hoped that his partner would notice that he was missing when he dropped by his room before leaving for the evening. He silently wondered how they could have missed the fact that Charlie was in this joint, especially since Hutch had been under for a whole week longer as Hanson, an intern working for the asylum, secretly checking out the place before Starsky was brought in under the alias of Rudy Skylar.

"Alright Mr. Starsky, kindly get up on that table, stomach down if you please." Mattwick's cordial voice sent shivers down Starsky's spine. Starsky had almost forgotten about the doctor with the sudden appearance of Deek.

Suddenly, Charlie flashed the large knife and lunged at Starsky, the sharp blade nicking the detective's throat, as a rivulet of blood slowly seeped and blended into the bright red bandana that adorned Starsky's neck. Starsky stood his ground and hardly even flinched, for he knew that Deek was looking for any outward show of fear.

"Impressive detective, very impressive... now, now Charles," the doctor cooed, "You'll get your chance, but first he's mine... get up on the operating table now!" Mattwick's voice hardened, as he shoved the dark haired detective towards the table and dug the gun into his muscled back.

Starsky slowly climbed onto the table, face down, and winced as Charlie took great pleasure in tightening the straps around his hands and body.

"Now Charles," Mattwick spoke amiably, "I must attend to some rather pressing matters. Please make sure that Mr. Starsky's stay here is a pleasant one until I return."

Starsky strained his neck to watch Mattwick, as he shuffled off into the corridor and the bound man suppressed a shiver, as he heard the sound of Charlie snickering behind him. Strapped the way he was, Starsky knew he was vulnerable and he struggled to remain calm and unaffected on the outside, but inside he silently begged Hutch to hurry up and rescue him. Huuutch.

He was worried. He wanted to pull out, but he knew they were close to cracking this case. If he called Dobey now, Starsky would certainly be pissed, especially if he knew that Hutch alone had made the decision to pull the plug on the case. Hutch sighed and dry washed his face. He had a bad feeling about this and he knew he couldn't leave his partner here alone for another night. Glancing at his watch, the blond detective knew he didn't have much time before he was expected to leave. He wanted to check in on Starsky to reassure himself that his partner was still safe. It had become a nightly habit of theirs since being undercover at Cabrillo State and it gave them a chance to reconnect and validate their own sanity. Although there were nights that Starsky was completely under in a drug induced sleep, Hutch still had the satisfaction of tucking his partner in and making sure he was okay before he left.

Hutch finished half his sandwich and took another bite from his apple. Starsky. He knew his friend was just barely holding it together and watching his partner being sedated, restrained and confined over the past several days, was beginning to wear him down too. Guilt ridden, Hutch thought about Jane Hutton, the perky undercover girl reporter. She wouldn't be in a barbiturate induced coma right at this moment, if he hadn't asked her to help them get information that could help them solve the case.

"Hanson, you're still here?" Startled, Hutch turned towards the voice over his shoulder. Mattwick.

"Uh, yeah, just about ready to leave... finishing up some reports," Hutch replied, offering up the other half of his sandwich, "Um... would you like some?"

"No... thank you, you may sign out now Hanson." Mattwick fingered the small bottle in his lab coat pocket. If he could not get Hutchinson to leave willingly, then perhaps a little 'medicinal' persuasion would be necessary. He eyed the blond detective warily and watched as he clocked out. He quietly shadowed the tall intern out into the hallway.

Hutch could feel the doctor's eyes on him as he went to the locker room to get his belongings. Could almost feel those eyes rake into his back, as he slowly took off his lab coat and put on his leather jacket. He had wanted to check in on Starsky before leaving, but the doctor followed him down the corridor towards the entryway and Hutch had no choice but to leave. To stay any longer would be cause for suspicion.

Hutch turned slightly and raised his hand towards the doctor, who stood in the darkened corridor. "G'night" he said.

As Hutch turned forward he collided into Freddie. Freddie was the ever lurking, inmate who thought of himself as a gumshoe, or private investigator. Hutch knew that Starsky had formed a loose friendship with Freddie, and that Freddie proved more than once, that he was aware of the shady going-ons in the institution.

"Sorry Freddie." Hutch murmured, as he helped Freddie off the floor and gave him back the hat that had fallen from his head.

"Into your room Freddie," Matwick called, "You shouldn't be out at this time of the evening." Freddie took the offered hat and jammed it back on his head and without saying a word marched off towards his room. Hutch watched Freddie's retreating back and again made eye contact with Mattwick. The doctor stood in the shadows and it was hard to read his expression.

"Um, g'night again," Hutch called as he walked out towards the parking area. Even as he pulled away, he could see Mattwick still standing in the entryway watching him drive out of the parking lot. Hutch felt the fine hair rise on the back of his neck, a feeling of fear in his gut, "We gotta pull outta this tonight, buddy." he whispered to himself.

Starsky struggled with the straps around his wrists and torso. Too tight, already cutting off circulation. Perspiration beaded his forehead and limbs.

"Whatsamatta cop?" Charlie sneered, brandishing the flat side of the blade against Starsky's face, "Time for some promised satisfaction!" With that, Charlie plunged the long blade into the back of Starsky's left shoulder. Starsky bit back a scream of pain and gasped as he rode it out, twisting against the straps that held him down. The blade went deep and Starsky could feel it dig into the table beneath him.

"Charles!" Mattwick snapped, as he hurriedly came into the room, "Enough!"

Starsky groaned as Deek slowly pulled the long blade out. Closing his eyes against the agony racing through his hot throbbing shoulder, Starsky took quick, shallow breaths as he tried to gain control over his quivering pain-filled body.

"Hurts don't it, Starsky?" Charlie laughed, excited by the blood dripping down the blade of the knife. He quickly licked the blood that slowly ran down the handle.

"Yeah... you're a... big man, Charlie," Starsky growled out between breaths, opening smoldering cobalt eyes, "Why don'cha untie me and... we'll see what'cha made of." The pain in his left shoulder was excruciating and Starsky could feel the warmth of his own blood slowly seeping out to pool on the table beneath him.

"Huh... pretty good... most of 'em scream with that move... think you're a tough guy don't you?" Charlie growled, "Well, let's see how tough you really are!" Charlie grabbed the wounded shoulder with both of his hands and dug his thumbs into the wound, staring in fascination as the blood sluiced over his palms and fingers. Starsky groaned, straining to twist away from his tormentor. He could feel the warm rivulets running down the side of his arm and back.

"Now look what you've done... he's bleeding all over the place!" Mattwick pushed Deek away from the bound detective and shuffled over to the counter to take out some gauze and a cloth. He roughly shoved the gauze against the wound causing Starsky to softly groan. Starsky hissed, as Mattwick tied the cloth tightly around his shoulder. "There detective... can't have you bleeding to death before we complete our private therapy session, can we?"

"Listen to me... Mattwick," Starsky gasped, breathing through the white, hot pain that threatened to knock him unconscious, "It's not too late to..."

"Really Mr. Starsky... I haven't even started yet. I wanted to try out my new research on you." Starsky watched with glazed eyes, as Mattwick filled a hypodermic needle with a clear amber fluid and approached the table. "It's really a shame that you truly aren't Rudy Skylar. His tendencies towards disorder and violence would have made him a perfect study for my research on this Belladonna derivative I've created. Oh well... you will just have to do!" Breathing hard, Starsky winced as he felt the thin, steel needle slide into his hip.

Hutch pulled over and doubled back to Cabrillo. He called dispatch and asked to be patched into Dobey. "Captain, it's Hutch."

"Where's Starsky?" the concern in his captain's gruff voice came over loud and clear.

"I'm heading back to Cabrillo Cap, I've got a sick feeling in my gut. Starsky's in trouble... the doc scheduled a 'therapy' session for Starsk at midnight. We've got to pull the plug on this one Captain."

There was a long pause and Hutch could feel himself growing impatient and angry at the delay. His gut was really doing a number on him now, as anxiety for his partner filled his being. He absently placed his palm over his mid section to subdue his fear. Starsky. Hang on buddy, I'm coming!

"Look Hutch," Dobey's anxious voice broke through his thoughts, "Do we have enough evidence to shut this down?"

"I don't give a damn about evidence!" Hutch shouted angrily into the mike, "Starsky's in trouble!" then more quietly, "I just... feel it." Hutch rubbed his stomach, stuck his hand into his jacket pocket, and was surprised to feel a crumpled slip of paper in there.

He took it out and read the scrawled words, "Save the Cabrillo Kid!" The cold hand of fear tightened its' hold until it almost became unbearable for Hutch to even breathe. "Captain... Starsky's in trouble now. Just found a note in my pocket. It says we gotta save the Cabrillo Kid! That's the name Stark used for his roach in that stupid roach derby diversion he instigated... must've been Freddie that slipped me this note when I left." Hutch increased the speed of the car while reaching for his magnum and cuffs that he had stashed in his glove compartment, "Captain, I gotta get back there now!"

Dobey's voice crackled over the mike "Alright, I'll send back-up with a warrant to search the place... wait for them Hutch, don't do anything stupid!"

"Stupid? Yeah, don't worry Captain, that's Starsky's department, remember?" Though Hutch tried to lighten his voice, Dobey could hear the worry and strain the blond detective felt for his partner.

Starsky was tiring fast. The strain in his arms and back from his awkward position on the table was becoming unbearable. He could feel an icy, cold numbness radiating throughout his body from where the needle penetrated his hip. Starsky watched as Charlie stroked the long blade of the knife, now stained red with his own blood. His peripheral vision began to blur and any movement of his head caused the room to spin. Hutch he cried out silently, hoping he wouldn't show how weak he felt; praying he wouldn't spill his guts out in front of these sickos.

"Let him up Charles," Mattwick crooned, "He can't possibly hurt anyone now."

Charlie roughly untied the bound man, and Starsky gritted his teeth against the jarring pain. He closed his eyes as the room spun crazily and gasped as his arms fell to the sides of the table, his shoulder pulsing painfully. Charlie shoved him off the table and Starsky landed with a thud upon the concrete tiled floor.

An explosion of pain seared into him, and Starsky struggled to stay conscious, gasping and writhing while holding onto his shoulder, which began to bleed again. He groaned softly, barely holding his anguish in check, hanging on with a stubborn tenacity; refusing to give his tormentors the satisfaction of hearing him cry out loud.

"I wanna hear you scream, pig," Charlie snapped, as he rammed his boot into the detective's side, "Scream and beg me to stop."

Starsky lifted pain filled eyes and snorted, "That how... you get off Charlie... huh?" He lifted his good arm and tried to grab onto the side of the operating table, teeth clenched as a sudden spasm of pain spiked in his left shoulder, room spinning out of control. "You feel like... a big man when those little girls... scream and beg ya to stop? You're a sick man Charlie, probably was a mama's boy too huh?"

"Dirty pig," Charlie snarled, as he slammed Starsky to the floor again and repeatedly kicked the downed man in his ribs. The curly haired detective grunted in pain from the force of the repeated blows and he groaned as he felt his rib give way. Charlie let out a triumphant hoot and panted, "How's that for satisfaction huh doc?"

"Charles! That's quite enough! I will not have you abuse my patient in that manner!" Mattwick roughly shoved Charlie away from the hurting man and squatted next to the fallen detective.

Starsky lay curled on his right side, one hand over his bleeding shoulder, the other over his damaged ribcage. Eyes closed tight; long lashes; dark smudges against his pale face, perspiration flattening the dark curls against his head -- that was how Hutch first saw his friend, as he broke through the door.

"Get away from him," Hutch snarled, pointing his cannon towards Deek, as he addressed the doctor. He knocked the knife out of Charlie's hand and cuffed him to the leg of the table; securing the knife, he quickly knelt next to his hurting partner; anger and fear making his pale blue eyes seem almost silver in color. "Starsk," he gently whispered, using that soft, gentle voice he reserved solely for his best friend.

"Hutch?" Starsky softly gasped, eyes still closed, blood steadily leaking from his left shoulder, "What... took ya so long... you... 'kay... Blondie?"

Hutch drew in a quivering breath. It never ceased to amaze him how much love and trust Starsky had in him, Though bleeding and battered, Hutch was not surprised that Starsky's first thought was of his partner and his well-being. "I'm fine buddy," Hutch softly replied, "You don't look too hot though." He smiled affectionately at his curly haired partner; smoothing back some of the unruly damp curls from his partner's forehead.

"Yeah?" Starsky whispered wearily between shallow breaths, "'M fine... jus' tired 's all... how do I look... huh?" Starsky's voice was almost inaudible, eyes still closed, a lopsided grin barely appearing, as that long time joke was shared once again.

Hutch gently examined his friend, noting the stab wound to the back of his shoulder and the exit wound to the front. "Take it easy buddy," he whispered gently, feeling Starsky tensing in pain. "It's over... I'm here now... right here."

Hutch felt his friend relax slightly, although his breathing remained rapid and shallow. Hutch lifted Starsky hand away from his side and gently examined the area.

Starsky softly groaned and tried to move Hutch's offending hand away from his tender ribs. Hutch gently held onto Starky's trembling hand, "It's okay, easy Starsk, I just gotta check you out... I know it hurts buddy... just try to take it easy..."

At least two ribs were broken or fractured, Hutch surmised. He could see the area already starting to swell and bruise through the torn and bloodied fabric of the denim shirt Starsky had worn throughout his whole stay at Cabrillo State. Anger flared in him again at the agony his friend had to endure. The knife had to have entered in extreme force to be able to exit from the front and Hutch could feel the excruciating pain his friend was in. He quickly reached over and grabbed as much gauze as he could on the counter nearest him and began to layer it together into a thick pad.

"How do I... look... huh... huh?" Starsky couldn't believe how thin and raspy his own voice sounded. Hutch's fussing and probing hands were making him feel sick. Although he was intently focused upon the ministrations and voice of his partner, he was also consciously aware that there were still others in the room. Starsky panted and swallowed convulsively, his throat suddenly dry; valiantly attempting to fight down the queasiness he felt deep down in his gut. Hell if he was going to spill his dinner in front of an audience if he could help it. Starsky almost smirked, as that thought raced through his head, but he grew rigid as another spike of pain lanced through his body.

"You look terrific" Hutch replied, wishing he could see those familiar blue eyes, but they were still tightly closed, as Starsky struggled to ride out the wave of pain coursing through his body.

Starsky gasped softly, breathing heavily as the spasm of pain passed and that faint lopsided grin briefly grazed his lips once more before it quickly turned into a grimace, as Hutch pressed the gauze to his shoulder to staunch the flow of blood. Starsky scrunched his closed eyes even tighter and turned his head away from his partner, clenching his teeth to keep from groaning.

Hutch could feel the tension in Starsky's body and he knew that his partner was trying to shield him from the pain he was in.

"Hey buddy, you don't need to do that," Hutch said gently. Hutch purposely made his voice light, but a storm was brewing in his heart and he could barely control the seething anger that was ready to explode. Though his focus was on his partner, Hutch was totally aware of Mattwick and the cuffed inmate standing a few feet away; keeping an eye and his gun trained on them at all times.

"Hey... Hutch," Starsky whispered, quick, shallow breaths breaking the stillness in the room, dark lashes smudged against pale cheeks, "You... you get the bad guys... 'member Charlie Deek... huh?" Starsky could sense the anger and tension in his blond companion; turning towards his partner, Starsky weakly grabbed onto Hutch's jacket with his right hand.

"Shh Starsk, it's okay buddy... I'm here, I'm here." Hutch whispered, his own hand covering Starsky's, as his icy glare made contact with Deek's swaying form. Pale blue eyes widened slightly as recognition sunk in. How did that maniac slip from detection? Hutch remembered how Deek had threatened Starsky and himself five years ago and he unconsciously tightened his hold on his partner's hand. Damn! If I had known he was here, I would have never left Starsk alone, not even for a minute!

Nurse Bycroft, forgotten for the moment, stood at the door, pity melting her eyes into watery pools as she gazed down at Rudy Skylar. She was truly fond of the curly haired rowdy scamp. Bycroft had directed Hutch to this room when he came barging through the entryway, for she knew something was happening to Skylar. Enough was enough! In the past, she truly believed in Mattwick's research; thinking it would be the "miracle" drug to help her patients, but it had gone too far. There were too many "accidents" or "miscalculations" as the doctor would say. It was wrong, and she was wrong to have let it get so out of hand.

"Get an ambulance!" Hutch snapped angrily, ice-blue eyes rose in her direction. He knew he was taking out his anger and frustration on her, but he couldn't control the fear that was spreading through his veins when he looked at his injured partner. She quickly called for an ambulance even as Hutch heard the wailing sirens of the approaching police back up that Dobey called in. Hutch never took his gun off Charlie who stood cuffed to the operating table, eyes darting everywhere, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.

Deek wiped the drool that slowly leaked from the corner of his mouth, then laughed as he made eye contact with the blonde. "One day Hutchinson, it's gonna be you that's lying on the floor and it'll be satisfaction time for me again!"

"Take him away." Hutch snapped at the four uniformed officers that came in, two took Deek to the wagon waiting outside, the other two approached Mattwick who stood still, gleaming eyes never leaving the wounded man on the floor.

Hutch gently rubbed his thumb over his partner's fingers which still clutched onto his jacket, needing to comfort and reassure through the use of touch, when suddenly Starsky arched his back; pain spiking throughout his body, leaving him unable to catch his breath. Hutch held onto his partner, careful of the shoulder wound, but unable to ease the tight tension radiating from his partner. "Starsk... Starsky, easy, breathe buddy... just breathe, I'm here... I got'cha."

"It's working, it's working," a gleeful voice shouted from across the room. Mattwick raced forward and knelt next to the wounded man. "His adrenal gland is working overtime... producing adrenalin to..."

Hutch reached over and grabbed the doctor's lab coat lapel with one hand and stared in open-mouthed horror, as it began to dawn on him what Mattwick was babbling about. He quickly released the doctor and gently held Starsky close.

"Starsky, hey buddy... I-I... need you to open your eyes and look at me for a minute." Hutch gently wiped his friend's face with some extra gauze, sickened by the possibility that on top of all that his friend had endured these past few days, he was also used as a human guinea pig for the mad doctor's latest research.

"Can't..." Starsky murmured as he sucked air into his burning lungs, "Gonna be sick... 's all spinning..."

Hutch gently pried open his partner's heavily lashed lid. Barely any blue could be seen around the huge dilated pupil. Drugged.

Starsky softly moaned and twisted away, panting rapidly, trying to take in much needed air. Hutch's gut wrenched painfully, as he realized what was done to his partner.

"You scum," he snarled, glaring eyes riveted on Mattwick, "You gave him that derivative didn't you...?" He grabbed the doctor's coat again and angrily shook him, "Didn't you? You spoke with me about it in the lab... with the mice..."

"It works in conjunction with the adrenal gland," the doctor said breathlessly, brushing Hutch's hands away from his coat, curiousity gleaming behind spectacled eyes, as he anxiously continued to watch Starsky's reaction to his creation. "Something though... always went wrong... perhaps this time..."

"Ungh," Starsky groaned, as he twisted again in pain, gasping for air. Hutch gently got behind his friend, cradled him and held him up against his own chest to open up his partner's lungs and airway and aid him in breathing. Starsky took in quick, shallow breaths, as he turned his face into Hutch's chest.

"Keep him as still as possible," Nurse Bycroft suddenly directed. "The serum was made for people with violent tendencies. Usually those who do violent acts, produce large amounts of adrenalin, which work in conjunction with the doctor's compound." Nurse Bycroft looked warily at the doctor who glared back at her. She hesitantly added, "He's made an antidote this time... just in case there was another 'accident'... he keeps it in the upper right hand drawer of his desk." Dr. Mattwick clenched his fist but said nothing.

Hutch gently tightened the hold on his gasping, straining partner, as pain once again impaled his friend's body, fingers clawed rigidly into the tiled floor as Starky tried to get a handle on the agony ripping through him.

"Starsk... it's okay buddy, take it easy..." Hutch whispered, stroking the side of his partner's pale face. "I'm right here buddy... take it easy..."

Nurse Bycroft quickly walked across the room to get the hypodermic. "You need to keep Skylar calm, if he keeps fighting it, the drug will completely shut his body down... it's an inhibitor; it affects the lungs first, that's why he's having difficulty breathing... eventually it'll attack his heart..." she said as she hurriedly left the room.

Starsky gasped, tension radiating out of his body as he once again arched in pain. "...utch... can't... breathe..." Starsky rasped, his voice broken by his attempts to take in shallow breaths.

"Easy Starsk... try to relax," Hutch softly murmured against the top of his partner's curly head while he rubbed small circles into the tight muscles on his friend's back. The tension and pain Starsky was in, frightened and angered the blond at the same time.

"This experimental drug you use on patients... you murder people... all in the name of science?" Hutch demanded, blazing blue ice stared the doctor down, "Is that what's happening to him?" Hutch glanced down at Starsky; barely able to see his friend's face, as the wounded man turned into his chest once again.

Startled by the venom in the blonde's voice, the doctor stammered, "It inc... incapacitates my subjects, rather like a built-in behavior control mechanism which shuts down the body at the first sign of an adrenalin rush..." the doctor continued, almost with regret, "Unfortunately, your friend can't stop his adrenals from pumping out adrenalin because he's using it to stay conscious and deal with the pain." At this, the doctor began to chuckle and he slowly shook his head at the irony of the situation.

Hutch glared at Mattwick, disgust and loathing dripping in his voice, "Take him away." He gave a curt nod to the uniforms and watched as they escorted Mattwick to the wagon. Hutch wanted to hit something, but he purposely attempted to get control of his wrath; knowing his agitation would only add to his partner's discomfort.

"Hey buddy," Hutch's voice, velvet smooth, wrapped itself around Starsky's pain filled mind. "I need you to relax for me okay? I know you hurt and it's hard to breathe, but the ambulance will be here soon and everything will be alright." Hutch held Starsky close, still applying pressure to the shoulder wound. "It's okay Gordo, you're safe now."

"Hutch?" Starsky looked up at his friend and Hutch could barely see lavender-blue around the huge dilated pupil peeping out from beneath dark lashes, as he listened to each labored breath his friend struggled to take, "Can... can I go home now... huh?"

Hutch smiled down at his curly haired partner wrapped in his arms. Like a little boy, Hutch thought to himself. "Soon buddy," Hutch spoke quietly into his partner's ear, his soft, gentle voice causing his friend to slowly relax and lean into his chest. "Hey buddy, gotta stop eating those burritos you like so much... you're starting to weigh a ton..."

Starsky quietly snorted, lips raised in a half-smile, eyes opening wider as they attempted to focus on the face of his friend, "Yeah? Ya know Hutch... did I ever tell ya that... you really... know how to cheer a guy up?" Starsky squinted his eyes, as he tried to make out his partner's features. "Hey... ya look kinda nice... all blurry and stuff... all that... yellow and blue mixed t'gether..."

Hutch snorted, "Yeah? Just close your eyes and rest, dummy. You already have a shoulder wound and some cracked ribs... wouldn't want you to strain your brain on top of everything else."

Starsky giggled, then quickly regretted it. Gasping, he turned his face away from his partner and Hutch could hear a soft groan.

"Shhhh, I'm sorry buddy..." Hutch whispered, as he stroked the damp, unruly curls back from Starsky's forehead. "No more jokes okay? Just rest... and breathe."

Hutch watched as the paramedics arrived and gently eased away from his partner; making way for them, so that they could work on Starsky. Starsky had fallen into an uneasy sleep by this time, twitching every now and then as the drug coursed through his body. In this relaxed state, Starsky's breathing almost stabilized, but he began to stir again when he felt Hutch move away from him. Hutch quickly explained the situation and gave the hypo filled with the antidote to the paramedic nearest him.

Nurse Bycroft had earlier handed the hypodermic to the tall, blond detective as he cradled his partner close. She knelt next to them and wiped the perspiration from Starsky's face with a cool, wet cloth then gently ran her fingers through his damp curls. "This drug has been continuously enhanced by Dr. Mattwick for long-term effects... hopefully the antidote will work... I'm so sorry..." she whispered, never meeting Hutch's eyes. When the paramedics filed into the room, she quickly got up and silently stood to the side, anxious eyes watching as they crowded around the fallen man, hands twisting nervously together.

Hutch could see his partner becoming agitated again, as one paramedic probed Starsky's ribs and shoulder, while the other took some blood and tried to start an I.V. into Starsky's right arm.

"...utch," Starsky gasped, unaware that his blond partner had already moved next to him; anticipating his needs.

"Sir," the closest paramedic nervously said, eyeing the tall, angry, disgruntled detective who had closely hovered around them as they worked, "We need to have some room here..."

"Hu-sh" Starsky weakly called again, as he raised a trembling hand to seek the comfort he desperately needed. The strange voices, swirling colors, sharp needles and probing hands were overwhelming him. Starsky could feel the perspiration running down his face; his dry throat constricting as he tried once again to take air into his burning lungs. Twisting his body away from unfamiliar hands, Starsky struggled to find his one solace and suddenly he felt warmth radiating down his arm, as his hand was clasped in a firm, but familiar gentle grip. "...utch?"

"I'm here... right here buddy," the soft voice whispered. Hutch looked up at the frowning paramedic, "I'm staying right here... I'm his partner and he needs me. I already told you that Detective Starsky was given an experimental drug, we need to keep him calm or that damn drug makes it impossible for him to breathe! I understand that you're trying to do your job, but he's getting worked up again and I need to stay here to keep him calm." Although his voice remained soft, the glaring blue eyes challenged the young paramedic to make him move. An unspoken agreement was made and the paramedics worked around the big blond. Hutch gently stroked the inside of his partner's wrist when Starsky softly moaned, pain slicing through his body once again. "Easy Starsk, don't fight it... just relax and breathe... that's all you gotta do okay?"

Hutch smiled, as dark lashes rose to reveal familiar blue eyes. He felt his partner weakly squeeze his hand.

"'Kay," Starsky gasped, breathing a little easier now that Hutch was with him. With Hutch near, Starsky felt safe and could let down his guard; trusting his partner to watch his back. He closed his eyes and let himself relax; his last conscious thought was how nice and warm it felt to have Hutch's hand in his, knowing that his blond counterpart would keep watch while he drifted off.

Noticing how their patient immediately relaxed in the presence of the tall detective, the paramedics quickly worked to stabilize the dark haired detective for transport to the hospital. Along with Hutch's help, they got Starsky into the ambulance and allowed the blond to accompany them, as they sped away to Memorial.

"Look, didn't I tellya ... this place makes the best burritos in town!" Starsky tugged on the arm of his partner's leather jacket; almost bouncing in his excitement over his new discovery of the hole-in-the-wall eatery.

Hutch smiled at his friend's exuberance; glad to see that his partner was almost back to his old self after that harrowing ordeal at Cabrillo State. He watched as Starsky winced and absently rubbed his left shoulder, all the while talking non-stop.

It pained Hutch to see his partner still favoring his left shoulder. The doctors had to repair torn muscles and tendons caused by the blade's forceful entry and Starsky was currently going to rehab to strengthen it, so that it could return to full working capacity.

Hutch smiled fondly at his bouncing counterpart; the curly haired detective chattering incessantly about the ingredients in this new burrito he discovered. Hutch's smile eased up, as his thoughts took him back to the night they brought Starsky to the hospital a little over two weeks ago.

For a while, Hutch held his breath while Dr. Franklin, Nurse Bycroft and two emergency doctors worked together to stabilize his partner. Franklin was called in as Hutch had specifically requested. He was a doctor that both he and his partner trusted. It seemed like only yesterday that Starsky lay in this same room; drugged and poisoned by an unknown assailant who had broken into his home. At least this time, they had an antidote and Hutch agreed with Franklin's decision to test it, for no one really knew what was in Mattwick's unknown serum.

Nurse Bycroft had followed the ambulance to the hospital upon Hutch's request, in case they needed any kind of information that could help them understand the chemical compounds in Mattwick's drug. With her assistance, perhaps they could render quicker aid to his hurting partner.

Although it was against standard procedures, Hutch was allowed to stay in the emergency room with his partner, for Dr. Franklin knew of their close bond and the calming effect Hutch would have on the wounded man. He held on to his partner's sweat drenched hand and murmured soft words of encouragement to his hurting friend. Hutch lifted weary eyes and watched as Dr. Franklin filled a hypodermic with what he hoped was the antidote to Mattwick's experimental drug.

"Hutch?" Starsky gasped, squeezing his hand tightly as he fought down a wave of pain, his breathing rapid and shallow. "Ungh," he groaned softly.

Hutch looked down into a hazy, pain filled sea of midnight blue until thick, dark lashes hid the agony his partner was going through. It was strange to still see his partner's dilated eyes and Hutch knew the drug still had a hold of his friend. The tension racked his partner's body and Hutch knew Starsky was struggling to take air into his burning lungs, as well as ride the crest of pain that impaled him. Hutch gently rubbed his partner's wrist and soothed his friend until he exhaled sharply, body going limp as the crippling pain released its weary hostage.

"It's gonna be okay now Starsk... don't fight it buddy, you gotta try and relax so you can breathe a little easier okay? In a little while they're gonna take you up and fix that shoulder of yours... once they flush those chemicals out of you..."

"'Kay," Starsky whispered, barely able to keep his eyes open, dry throat swallowing convulsively, "After this... think we can get some o'that... burritos I was tellin' ya about... huh?"

Hutch snorted and tenderly brushed back an unruly curl from the damp forehead of his partner. "Whatever you want buddy..."

Although it amused him that food and ladies were never far from his partner's mind, Hutch knew his friend was in considerable pain and any movement caused a domino effect to occur. As his curly haired partner fought to get control over the pain, the drug immediately tried to shut down his body by not allowing oxygen into his lungs.

Hutch listened to the rapid, shallow breaths coming from his partner and watched as Starsky unsuccessfully tried to suck more air in; gasping and straining at the effort it took.

"Easy buddy... don't fight it... just relax Starsk." Though outwardly calm, the blond detective raged in helpless silence; wanting to throw something, do anything to make the doctors work faster. Hutch gently rubbed Starsky's chest in hopes that it would lend comfort to his partner while his pale blue eyes locked on Dr. Franklin. "He can't breathe doc, how much longer?"

Franklin calmly directed one of the E.R. nurses to put an oxygen mask on the dark haired detective to aid his breathing and quietly motioned for Hutch to join him on the other side of the room.

"Hey buddy," Hutch's soft, gentle voice enticed the heavy lids of his tired partner to lift up once more. "I-I'm gonna just go over there for a minute... don't go away huh? I'll be right back."

Starsky gave an imperceptible nod; dilated eyes glazed and unfocused, as the oxygen mask was placed over his face. He slowly closed his eyes and surrendered to the pain and exhaustion that overtook his battered body.

"Detective Hutchinson, we are going to administer the antidote. Everything checked out and it should rectify the symptoms that the drug is producing in Detective Starsky's body."

"He's in a lot of pain doc... and he's unable to get a handle on it if he can't breathe." Hutch replied gruffly, squeezing the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb; hoping it would alleviate some of the pressure that was causing his head to pound.

"Yes, I am aware of that Sergeant Hutchinson. We didn't want to give him any type of pain medication that might create a drug interaction until we knew for certain what was in the compound. As you know, the serum contained Belladonna, also known as Devil's Root. A part of the deadly nightshade family... a type of poison that can cause a sense of suffocation. One of his fractured ribs is also pushing up against his lung, which compounds his breathing difficulties. His dilated pupils, extremely dry throat, loss of balance, blurred vision... they're all part of the symptoms of this toxic herb. Belladonna or atropine attacks the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates non-volitional or subconscious activities such as breathing, heart rate and perspiration. Atropine inhibits the production of acetylcholine, which prevents the nervous system from sending out electrical nerve impulses. This then, makes the heartbeat, as well as breathing extremely irregular.

Dr. Franklin nodded his consent and Hutch watched silently as the antidote was injected into his partner's IV line. Starsky's head rolled to one side, but his eyes remained closed.

At Hutch's silent inquiry, the doctor continued, "The antidote is mainly Pilocarpine; the same antidote used to treat atropine." Hutch's gaze never left his partner's face and he watched as the nurse took the oxygen mask off. "In a few minutes, we'll be taking Sergeant Starsky up to surgery."

"Uh, yeah..." Hutch murmured distractedly and as a last minute thought he added, "Thanks Dr. Franklin... a lot."

Dr. Franklin pushed up his glasses and smiled knowingly, "Your partner may not like soapy scenes, but he cares about you a great deal Detective Hutchinson. He's a fighter and he'll pull through this with flying colors." Almost embarrassed at his optimistic declaration, the doctor quickly turned and left the room.

Hutch walked slowly towards his partner. Starsky's breathing now seemed easier and regulated. "Hey buddy..." Hutch whispered, as he softly stroked his thumb over his partner's cheek, "I gotta go now... they're gonna take you to fix that shoulder of yours, but I'll be right here waiting for you okay?"

Heavy lashed lids slowly lifted to reveal dark circles under weary eyes. Though his pupils were still a little dilated, Hutch could see more blue now and it filled his heart with joy.

"Hey... Blintz..." Starsky murmured; grimacing as pain in his shoulder flared up once more, "D-don't... forget the... burritos."

Hutch shook his head and laughed quietly as he held onto his partner's right hand while the emergency team prepped him for surgery. "You bet buddy..." Hutch said, "And I'll even pay for them." He walked along with Starsky while they wheeled him up to the OR; hands still clasped together.

Just before they wheeled Starsky away, the partners shared a last look, silently communicating their friendship, trust and love for one another.

Starsky weakly squeezed his partner's hand and let go, then heaving a quiet sigh, he softly murmured, "See ya."

The doors swung close and Hutch gently reached out and touched the doors, offering up a silent prayer for his partner's well being. Then heaving a quiet sigh, the blond turned towards the waiting room and softly murmured to the empty corridor, "See ya."

"Didya even hear what I said?" Starsky asked, knowing his blonde partner had completely tuned him out again.

"What's that?" Hutch replied absently, stopping when his partner grabbed the arm of his jacket and frowned up at him.

"What's wrong Hutch, huh? You've been like this all day... all week in fact... since I got outta the hospital." Starsky squinted sapphire eyes up at the tall blonde. "Wanna talk about it?" At the blonde's stubborn silence, Starsky tilted his head and batted his long lashes; asking almost shyly, "Ain't ya glad I'm outta the hospital Hutch?"

Hutch snorted, a grin appearing suddenly. "Dummy," he laughed, as he ruffled the curls on his partner's head, "Just show me the burritos."

"Ho-boy Hutch, your gonna love 'em!" Starsky's cobalt blue eyes gleamed with excitement as he rubbed his hands together. "Nobody makes 'em like this place Hutch... you jus' wait'n see Blondie... it's to die for!" Starsky's bouncing form stopped suddenly when he realized his partner had lagged behind. Starsky frowned upon seeing the expression on his friend's face.

"What? Hmmm?" Starsky retraced his steps until he was gazing up at his troubled partner. Starsky did a quick mental assessment of his blonde partner; noting the deep crease between the blonde's brows and the dismal pale blue eyes that slid down to fixate upon his blue addidas. "Hmmm?" he queried again, eyes widening under raised brows.

Hutch heaved a sigh and restlessly ran his fingers back through his fine silky hair, eyes still lowered, an almost remorseful expression on his face. ...it's to die for Starsky words echoed in his mind. How many close calls would it take before he or his partner actually did bite the dust? This whole mess could have been avoided if he had just done a more thorough job of checking all the inmates out at Cabrillo. He should have known Charlie Deek was an inmate there.

Starsky waited patiently, watching the emotions race across the familiar face. He watched his partner's blonde locks fall back into place; golden highlights sparkling as it picked up the rays from the afternoon sun.

Oh God... Starsky knew a guilt trip when he saw one and his buddy was definitely a master at tripping over guilt. Musta been all that cold, conditional Hutchinson upbringing... the 'you're guilty until proven innocent' mind set that was crammed down the throat of a sensitive little boy who eventually grew up into a sensitive, but guilt ridden young man. "Well partner, you gonna stand here all day, sweatin' in this heat, or d'ya wanna just spill it... hmmm?"

Hutch stammered, "It's just... I -- I guess I just want to say... I'm sorry Starsk."

"For what? You haven't even tasted the burritos yet..." Expecting a chuckle from his blonde partner, Starsky's bright blue eyes filled with concern when Hutch just lowered his eyes again and worried his lip by chewing slightly on it.

"Hey Blondie... you okay? Hmmm?" Starsky ducked slightly so he could peer into his partner's downcast eyes.

"Look Hutch," Starsky voice gentled as he let out a soft sigh, "Everything worked out... the loony doc and the knife happy sicko is locked up, Jane's better and is goin' back to work soon and I'm fine... we made it." He gently tugged on Hutch's wrist, not wanting to startle his friend from his deep thoughts.

Hutch sighed, then raised his eyes to stare into his partner's ocean blue depths, "This time... we made it again this time Starsky, b-but what about the next time? I should have known about Deek being there, I should have not left you alone that night, I should have checked in on you before signing out and I should ha..."

"Should've, would've , could've and what ifs," Starsky snapped, eyes bright with anger, "Hutch, you gotta knock it off. We're cops! We can't afford to think like that."

"Starsk..." Hutch began; shocked by the vehemence in his partner's tone.

"No Hutch..." Starsky almost shouted, then lowered his voice at the stunned look on his partner's face, "Don't..." he said gruffly.

Seeing hurt and confusion in his partner's eyes, Starsky sighed. "Listen to me buddy," he began again, softer this time, deep blue eyes locked to sky blue ones. "If I went undercover or out on the streets wondering about what could happen to you or me, it would do me in. I couldn't be the kind of cop I am, if I always worried about the 'what ifs' in life. You and me Hutch, we do things based on our instincts, it keeps us alive out there on the street, and it helps keep others alive too. If I started second guessing myself every time I went out there, if I started thinkin' about all the should've and what ifs, I'd freeze when I should be movin', and then I'd be..."

"You'd be afraid," Hutch whispered cutting Starsky off, as he quietly finished his partner's thoughts. Hutch had stood silent, nodding the whole time that Starsky spilled his guts; remembering a time in their not so distant past where he froze up in a dirty alleyway. It almost cost them their lives that day... it had cost Gillian's hers.

Soft blue eyes searched into his soul as Hutch reached out and gently touched his partner's shoulder, rubbing small comforting circles into the tense muscles there.

"Yeah... afraid," Starsky sighed quietly, "I wouldn't be able to make it without you Hutch... and every day we go out to do our jobs, I know it's a risk I take and it kills me... jus' kills me... and I can't let myself think like that... and you can't either buddy." Starsky deep blue eyes locked onto his partners lighter ones and he softly added, "Sometimes Hutch, it's easier to not think so much and to jus' live in the now... no future, no regrets... jus' the now."

Hutch stared down into wide, liquid blue eyes, silently agreeing with Starsky's simple wisdom. He could feel the ribbon of fear and the bleak burden of despair that dwelled within his heart these past few weeks, slowly dissipate in the warmth of his partner's gaze.

"Yeah..." Hutch agreed exhaling softly, feeling suddenly awkward and foolish as his eyes once again searched the ground for those familiar blue addidas.

Starsky watched as a bright red blush spread across Hutch's face and neck and he grinned fondly at his embarrassed partner. "Hey Blondie," Starsky reached over to gently thump his partner's chest, "You ready to eat or d'ya still need more soap to wash out that brain of yours hmmm?

Hutch looked up to see twinkling blue under long dark lashes; gazing up at him with a knowing lopsided grin plastered over that familiar face. He glanced up at the sun and felt a cleansing breeze blow gently through his hair as it lifted his spirits. Starsky was right; life was too short to be wasted on regrets. Their job required them to be proactive and instinctive, not retrospective and ambivalent.

Hutch took a deep breath in and affectionately ruffled his partner's dark curls again. "Well, you know buddy," Hutch smiled down at his friend's mussed hair, "No one does a brain wash quite like Mr. Marlene!"

Starsky snorted, and grabbed his partner's arm, "C'mon you dummy, I'm starvin'. Hutch, did I tellya that this little joint makes the best burritos in town?"

Hutch laughed as his bouncy partner dragged him to the hole-in-a-wall eatery all the while chattering incessantly about the ingredients to this new burrito he discovered...


** This story was written in response to challenge #2 on Elisa Valero's website regarding the episode, "Murder Ward." This is my very first attempt at any fan fiction. Positive feedback and critiques would be kindly desired. Hope this is something you enjoy Wuemsel.