Disclaimer: Starsky & Hutch and its characters are the property of Spelling/Goldburg Productions and 20th Century Fox.

Originally published in Ouch #15 (Neon Rainbow Press).


BITTERSWEET

by: Carole

"I don't know, Starsk," Hutch said, closing the door behind them as the two men exited the interrogation room. "There's something about Jeffers' statement that bothers me, but I just can't put my finger on it."

Starsky shifted his armload of manila folders into a more secure position. "He did seem a bit nervous."

Hutch shook his head. "No, it's more than that."

"His alibi wasn't exactly airtight," Starsky offered. He glanced back at the closed interrogation room door. "And that story he gave us sounded more like a fairy tale."

"Weinhold and Weinhold Shipping," Hutch recalled aloud. He pursed his lips together thoughtfully. "I've seen that name before."

"Weinhold?" Starsky asked, matching the taller man's stride down the hallway. "You know, that name does sound familiar."

"Yep."

"One of our other cases?"

"Could be. I know I saw it recently." Hutch snapped his fingers in recognition. "I know. Starsk, let me see the Rodriquiez file."

"Probably on the bottom," Starsky commented as he came to a halt, juggling the stack of file folders as Hutch thumbed through them.

"Almost," Hutch admitted with a grin, pulling out the one he was searching for. "Now, let's see if I can find it." He opened the file and began to read, comparing the information on both sheets of paper. "There it is!" he exclaimed triumphantly a few seconds later. "This blows Jeffers' story out of the water. Let me show you."

"Wait a sec. I'm gonna get a snack." Starsky headed for the candy machine that sat against the wall. Tucking the folders under his arm, he reached into his jeans pocket, jingling a few coins. "Want a candy bar?"

"Hmm?" responded Hutch without looking up, his attention still on the papers in his hand.

Starsky dropped several coins into the slot and made his selection. "Candy bar," he repeated. He waved the chocolate prize in the air. "Want one?"

"No, I--" Hutch's words broke off suddenly as he focused on the candy in Starsky's hand. Swallowing convulsively, his face went white.

"Hutch?" Starsky moved closer in alarm. "What's wrong?"

Shoving the file folder in Starsky's direction, Hutch gagged once, his hand going to his mouth reflexively, before he half ran, half stumbled down the hallway.

"Hutch?" A few steps behind, Starsky shouldered his way past a few startled uniforms to follow his partner toward the men's room. He pushed the door open just in time to see Hutch enter a vacant stall and drop to his knees.

Racked by nausea, Hutch was oblivious to his partner's arrival as he continued to gag. Leaning forward, Hutch grabbed on to the porcelain bowl in front of him before violently emptying his stomach.

Pocketing his candy bar and leaving the files on the sink, Starsky drew closer as the other man retched over and over again. "Easy, boy. Easy," he soothed, placing one hand on Hutch's bent shoulder.

"Starsk?" Hutch raised his head slightly, his face beading with sweat.

"Yeah. Right here." Starsky rubbed Hutch's back. "Take it easy."

"Easy for you to say," Hutch groaned, dry heaving painfully a few times for good measure before relaxing his stance, one hand cradling his abdomen.

"'Bout done?" Starsky asked softly.

"I think so," Hutch responded, but, despite his words, he made no effort to get up. Instead, he took a several deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly and deliberately.

"Hang on, babe. Let me get somethin'." Starsky rose to his feet and headed for the sink. He quickly soaked a paper towel, then, after squeezing out the excess water, brought it over to Hutch. "Here ya go."

Still on his knees, Hutch raised a shaky hand to take the towel. "Thanks." He wiped his face and the back of his neck before tossing it into the bowl.

"Ready to get up?" Starsky extended a helping hand.

"Yeah." Gratefully accepting Starsky's assistance, Hutch carefully levered himself to his feet. "Thanks," he said again, reaching out to flush the toilet before leaving the stall.

"Wash," Starsky directed, motioning across the room. As his partner obediently moved to the sink, he followed closely, poised to lend aid again if needed, but, to his relief, Hutch was steady on his feet.

Using more soap than the job really required, Hutch washed his hands, scrubbing and rinsing under the flowing water.

"You'll feel better if you rinse your mouth, too," Starsky suggested, when Hutch turned off the water. He pulled a paper towel out of the wall-mounted dispenser, intending to pass it over when the blond was done.

Hutch nodded his acknowledgement and rinsed his mouth several times, spitting the water into the sink. When he was finished, he straightened up to accept the towel Starsky held out. "Thanks."

"How ya doin'?" Starsky asked, watching the other man dry his hands, crumple up the paper towel, and toss it into the closest garbage can.

Still pale, Hutch tried to give Starsky a reassuring look. "I'm okay now."

"You don't look okay," Starsky countered honestly, examining Hutch with a worried gaze. "You wanna go home? We could talk to Dobey, and--"

"No," Hutch blurted out almost frantically, dropping his own gaze to the tiled floor.

"What's goin' on, Hutch?" Starsky asked, his concern growing.

Hutch's cheeks flushed with color, but he didn't answer. Instead, with his eyes still directed downward, he just shook his head mutely.

"Hutch?" Starsky gently grasped Hutch's chin and lifted his head. The self-loathing on his friend's face brought a lump to his throat. "Hutch, talk to me," he begged softly. "Please."

Unable to resist Starsky's heartfelt plea, Hutch sighed. "It was the candy," he admitted reluctantly.

"The candy?" Starsky shook his head in confusion.

"Starsk, for a minute there, I was back in that room." Hutch swallowed hard, trying to regain control of his once again rebellious stomach.

"What room? What--"

"You were asking me if I wanted a candy bar," Hutch continued, as if he hadn't even heard Starsky's question. "All I could think about was trying to get those candy bars to stay down, and the smell when I--" Hutch shuddered, lost in his memories.

Realization dawned on Starsky's face. "Aw, Hutch."

"I'm sorry, Starsk." Hutch's voice was hoarse with emotion.

With a sympathetic sigh, Starsky grasped the back of Hutch's neck, tenderly pulling his head down until their two foreheads touched. "Not your fault," he whispered. When the blond didn't respond, he repeated, "Not your fault," in a stronger, firmer voice.

"I know," Hutch finally acknowledged quietly.

"It's only been a couple o' weeks, Hutch," Starsky reminded him, allowing his partner to straighten up, but keeping a supportive hand on his arm. "It'll get better."

Hutch took a deep breath, making a visible effort to put the memories aside. "I hope so."

"I know so," Starsky insisted. "Look how far you've already come."

"Thanks to you." Hutch's eyes were suspiciously bright.

"Uh, uh," Starsky denied emphatically, his tone leaving no room for disagreement. "Teamwork all the way. Me and thee, remember?"

Hutch smiled faintly, blinking away the unshed tears. Covering Starsky's hand with his own, he gave it a brief squeeze. "Yeah."

Starsky's expression softened with affection. "Yeah," he echoed, pulling Hutch into a tight hug.

"Starsky," Hutch laughed as he returned the embrace with equal force.

"What's so funny?" Starsky asked in a mock indignant tone, releasing his partner.

"I was picturing Dobey walking in here about now."

Starsky snorted in amusement. "Almost be worth it, just to see his face." He laughed again before asking, "So, you ready to get back to work, partner?"

"I guess we'd better, before Dobey really does come looking for us," Hutch joked.

"Hutch," Starsky began soberly, "If you wanna talk about this some more..." He let his voice trail off in open invitation.

"I'm okay, Starsk. Really."

Starsky studied his friend, searching for any lingering signs of distress. "You sure?"

Clasping Starsky's shoulder for a moment, Hutch squeezed lightly. "Yeah."

Reassured, Starsky nodded, a wide smile lighting up his face. He picked up the file folders, tucking them back under his arm. "Ready?"

Pausing to examine his reflection in the mirror, Hutch grimaced in disgust. "Just a sec," he murmured, and took a few seconds to straighten his clothes and push his slightly sweat-dampened hair back into place. When the blond was finished, he turned back toward his partner. "Ready."

Starsky steered his partner toward the exit, one hand on his back. As Hutch opened the bathroom door, Starsky stopped by the trashcan. Reaching into his pocket, he took out the candy bar.

"You don't have to do that."

The dark-haired man hesitated, his hand poised over the garbage receptacle. "Yeah?"

Hutch smiled again. "Yeah. Just... save it for later, huh?"

Starsky answered Hutch's smile with a relieved grin of his own. "No problem." He dropped the treat back into his pocket and followed Hutch out into the hallway. "Hey, what were you gonna show me?"

Hutch half turned, looking back at Starsky. "Hmmm?"

"What were you going to show me about the case."

"What case is that?" Hutch teased, feigning ignorance, as the two men easily fell back into their familiar bantering.

"Weinhold, remember?" Starsky said, rolling his eyes and jabbing Hutch with his elbow.

"Oh, that case." Hutch's tone was all innocence. "Uh, nothing much, just the gaping hole in Jeffers' story."

Starsky's jaw dropped. "No kidding?"

"Nope. You want to play 'bad cop' this time around?"

"I think we should both play 'bad cop' this time around," Starsky said with a wicked grin.

Hutch laughed in anticipation, his eyes twinkling. Arriving back at the interrogation room, he stood back, motioning toward the door. "After you."

~end~

*feedback welcome at carolej126@yahoo.com*

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