by: Katherine Atkins


A dark curly head poked through Captain Harold Dobey's doorway, and a New York accented voice asked brightly, "You bellowed, Captain?"

Dobey's lips tightened. "Get in here, Starsky. NOW."

The dark-haired man entered, moving easily and quickly, fueled by barely contained energy.

The captain repressed a smile at his healthy detective. There had been times in the last year when he feared he would never see that energetic walk again. "How are you feeling?" he asked.

David Starsky smiled. "Great. Just great, Cap."

"No problems from the shooting?"

The curly head shook. "Are you kidding? You think I'd be here if Hutch even thought there might be a problem? Right now he's sick as a dog, but he'd still have me in the doc's office so quick both of our heads would be spinning." Despite the exasperation in his tone, Starsky smiled fondly. Nothing seemed to really upset the detective since his hard-earned return to full-time duty.

"And how is your stubborn partner?" Dobey asked. "When will he be back at work?"

Starsky shrugged, a glint of worry flashing in his blue eyes. "You know Hutch. He fought this bug for three days before he gave in. If he hadn't almost passed out in the office, he'd still be trying to pretend that everything's fine. The only reason he ain't here now is you told him if he showed up for work before the doc releases him, you'd put him on traffic duty for the next month."

"He needs to rest. He won't get well until he does." Dobey frowned, remembering the concern he'd felt for Hutch during Starsky's recovery. The blond always seemed to worry about and take care of everyone except himself.

The detective nodded. "You know that, and I know that, but Hutch thinks he's Superman. When I stopped by at lunch yesterday, he'd gone downstairs to the laundry room. Scared me to death. Huggy calls to let me know that there's another rumor goin' around that Gunther is gonna try to get Hutch and me before the trial. And then when I go to check on Hutch, I can't find him. Just when I was ready to put out an APB, he shows up, barely able to stay on his feet, carryin' a basket of clothes he's just washed because he told FiFi not to come 'til he's over this bug. Doesn't want her to get sick. Then he tells me not to come by again, that he'll be okay alone."

"I'm not surprised. Your immune system was pretty weak for a while, Starsky. It seemed like you picked up every bug that came along after you got out of the hospital," Dobey observed sourly. He understood Hutch's worry, even if he couldn't agree with it.

"Yeah, and Hutch ain't quite over thinkin' that it's his job to make sure nothin' gets to me. But I'd'a had less trouble believin' he'll be okay alone if he hadn't gotten dizzy. He needed my help to make it to his bed so he could lay down. And even then, I mighta bought his act if his temperature hadn't been 103."

"I've ordered a black and white to check his place every half hour," Dobey confessed. "I don't like these rumors about Gunther either, and having Hutch get sick is just the opportunity Gunther would try to take advantage of." Seeing the worry on his detective's face, Dobey decided to change the atmosphere. "So, how are the plans for the party going?"

Starsky's grin lit up the room. "Great, Cap. It'll be the best birthday I ever had. Hutch and Huggy have invited everyone I ever said 'hello' to, I think. There's gonna be enough food and booze there to feed every cop, civilian, and crook in the city."

"Good. I hope Hutch gets to come. He's worked so hard putting it together."

"Yeah, and I think that's why this bug is hittin' him so hard. He's been working all day and plannin' this party and fussin' over me at night for a month, ever since I came back to active duty. And that's after taking care of me while I was getting well. He's just about worn himself out." Starsky's smile turned into an exasperated grin.

Dobey took advantage of his detective's good mood to hand him a pile of folders. "Since your partner's out, you can catch up on these files. They're overdue."

"But, Cap, I wasn't even here..." Starsky whined.

The captain shrugged. "I know how creative you can be Starsky. Just get it done."

Starsky's lower lip formed a momentary pout, but when he rose and sauntered out of the room, Dobey didn't even bother to hide his smile. These days, not even being assigned much-hated paper work could keep Starsky down for long.

Starsky squinted a little as he read the bad news. "Sorry, Blondie, it ain't gonna happen." He gave his pale partner a sympathetic look.

Ken Hutchinson's red-rimmed blue eyes narrowed. "Are you sure? Are you reading it right? Let me see." He held out his hand, but Starsky ignored it.

"I know how to read a thermometer, Blintz." Starsky looked at the thermometer, squinting as he pretended to read its message. "It says right here, 'Hutch ain't goin' anywhere 'cause he's got a temperature of 102'."

Hutch closed his eyes. "Sorry."

"You don't have anything to be sorry about, Hutch. You can't help it if you're sick."

The week had been tough. Hutch was to be an important witness in the upcoming trial of James Marshall Gunther, and was spending long hours with the District Attorney and his staff preparing the case. Starsky's testimony was important, too, but he had been in the hospital, recovering from an attempt on his life Gunther had ordered, when the investigation came together. He could and would talk about the events leading up to the hit, which had taken place in the police garage. But Hutch would testify to the information he found in computer printouts; information which led him to confront Gunther in San Francisco and find the murdered body of Gunther's lawyer in the powerful man's office. The investigation had continued since Gunther's arrest, and many additional charges had been filed, but the detectives' testimony was considered essential to the successful prosecution. Although nothing had happened, there were constant rumors of an impending attempt to eliminate the two chief witnesses against Gunther.

The long hours of work and stress had taken their toll on Hutch. The blond detective was easy prey to a flu bug that had made him sick for several days. He tried to continue working, but he finally had to reluctantly admit defeat when he continued to get worse.

Resting at home for three days had not helped much, though. His lungs were still congested, his fever stubbornly stayed around 102, and he was further weakened because little that he ate or drank stayed down for long. The doctor maintained that it was just a mean virus that would eventually run its course. However, patience with his own limitations was not something that came easily to Ken Hutchinson.

In addition to the long hours he and his partner spent working on the Gunther case, Hutch had spent many hours with Starsky and their friend Huggy Bear, planning an all-out celebration for Starsky's birthday. The three friends agreed that a real blowout was required to adequately express their gratitude for Starsky's recovery from the grievous wounds inflicted by Gunther's hit men, and the fact that he had returned to active duty with his partner. A blowout Hutch was going to have to miss because of his illness.

"Sorry I can't go to the party. Have a good time, huh? Tell Huggy I'm sorry," Hutch whispered, sounding like a disappointed kid.

"Okay, I'll tell him when I call. But, I ain't going anywhere."

"Starsk, it's just the flu. You don't have to stay here. Quit worrying, will ya?" Hutch didn't help his case when his words broke off into a long coughing spell that left him weak and breathless. "I'll be fine in a couple of days." He swatted away the hand that hovered above his flushed forehead. "I want you to go to your party, okay?"

"I'm not going anywhere, Blintz. You're sick, and I ain't leavin' you alone. It's bad enough that I had to leave you here while I worked the last few days. Dobey gave me the weekend off, and I'm plannin' on stayin' here and makin' sure you rest and get better." He smiled a comforting smile. "I want you back on the streets with me, pal."

Hutch's blue eyes widened as a recurring concern washed over him. He put on his most persuasive expression, keeping his raspy voice low and soothing. "Starsk, I've been okay here by myself for three days." He grinned. "There's no need for you--"

"Yeah, you were okay, with me coming by at lunch and staying at night." Plus having a black and white drive by every 30 minutes, he added silently. What Hutch don't know won't hurt me. "But you ain't getting better, and I think it's 'cause you've done more than you should have. Who was the guy who went down to the laundry room yesterday, the one who was supposed to be resting in bed? Who was that?"

Hutch tried to protest, but Starsky was having no part of it. "You can't be trusted to take care of yourself. So I'm gonna make sure you rest in bed like the doc said."

Hutch managed to look pitiful and stubborn at the same time. "You've been working hard all week. I just thought I could help out, so you won't have to do so much." He looked down, hoping his partner hadn't caught the catch in his voice. "I keep telling you I don't think you should be here. You might get sick. The doctor said your immune system--"

"Forget it. I know what the doctor said. And you know what happened the last time you were sick. You almost died and I wasn't there..." The dark-haired detective turned his head to hide the unexpected and unwanted tears forming in his eyes.

The blond rose up on his elbows and glared weakly. His voice rose. "Starsk, that was over two years ago. I had the plague, for Pete's sake! And you couldn't be with me. You were out looking for Callendar. This is different. This isn't a plague. It's--"

"Just the flu," Starsky finished. "Yeah, I know. But I still ain't goin'."

"But, you have to go to your birthday party," Hutch argued, changing his voice to speak in a calm, reasonable tone. "It's a celebration of your birthday, so you have to be there," he explained as if he were talking to a four year old.

"The party'll go on without me. You don't think those whippos will let free food go to waste, do ya?" Starsky grinned his most irresistible grin, but the blond was shaking his head.

"Starsk, this is your party. You're back at work, we're on the streets again, it's a cele... celebration." The short speech was interrupted by a loud sneeze.

Starsky automatically handed his sick friend a clean tissue, mumbling, "Bless you." He perched on the edge of the mattress, watching Hutch carefully wiping at red and angry looking skin on his upper lip.

"Danks," was muttered from behind the tissue. Hutch lay back on the pillow, his eyes pleading. "Come on, Starsk. I don't want you to miss out on this party. We've been planning it for weeks. Everybody's gonna be there, and they're expecting you to be there, too. They..." The long speech took its toll, as he was caught in another coughing spell.

Starsky sat on the edge of the bed and pulled him into a sitting position, holding him while the coughing eased. Hutch settled against him and rested quietly, gathering strength while Starsky rubbed his back.

Starsky noted the heat radiating from his sick friend's body, and he shook his head. "I ain't leavin' you alone, Blintz. And I ain't arguin' about it anymore. You lie down and get some rest." Putting his words into action, he gently took Hutch by the shoulders and lowered him. "Need anything?" he asked with the most ingratiating smile he could muster in the face of an icy blue glare.

Hutch shook his head, his eyes already closing.

"I'll call Huggy later, so he can let everybody know we won't be there. No reason to cancel the party, though. They can have a great time and tell us about it later."

"But, Starsk. It's your birthday..." Hutch muttered, already half asleep. "Wanted to celebrate... You worked so hard... Made it back... Something to be proud of."

"It's okay, partner," Starsky assured him. "We'll celebrate when you feel better. It wouldn't be a party without you. You worked as hard as I did to get me back on the streets. We should celebrate together." He brushed damp strands of blond hair off of Hutch's hot forehead. "Get some rest, okay?"

Hutch opened his eyes, but Starsky didn't see the gleam of an idea lurking there. "Uh, could you get me some juice, buddy? I'm kind of dry." He cleared his throat, trying to hold off another coughing attack.

"Sure." Starsky disappeared into the bathroom to return the thermometer. When he emerged, he started for the refrigerator, but turned before he reached it, shaking his head. "Sorry, Blintz. I told you this morning that you're out of juice. I gave you the last of it for breakfast before I went to work, and I didn't have time to get some more." His eyes narrowed. "Come to think of it, that juice is all you've had today, even after I slaved over a hot stove to warm up your soup when I stopped by at lunch."

"Sorry," Hutch rasped weakly. "I... I just wasn't hungry."

Starsky grinned his forgiveness. "Tell you what, Blintz, you get some rest, and I'll go to the store and get you some juice. How's that sound?"

Hutch hesitated for a moment, then he nodded. "You could get my juice and bring it back before you go to Huggy's," he suggested hopefully. "How about that?"

The other man couldn't keep from smiling fondly at his stubborn friend. "You don't give up, do ya, partner? Well you're gonna have to, 'cause I ain't givin' in this time." He held out a hand with two white tablets in it. "Take these Tylenol. I'll go down to the market and get your juice, and when I get back, I'm callin' Huggy to let him know our social calendar won't allow us to attend the party tonight. Got it, Blintz?"

"Got it." Hutch sat up a little to take the Tylenol and drink the glass of water Starsky handed to him, then settled back into the depths of his pillow.

Starsky shrugged into his leather jacket and headed for the door. He stopped, considering the forlorn figure on the bed. "Anything else you need?" At a negative shake of the blond head, he turned. As he opened the door he called, "Don't go anywhere, partner."

"I'll be here, Gordo," the blond muttered.

Hutch lay quietly as the door closed. He listened to retreating footsteps pounding down the stairs; then he heard the familiar roar of Starsky's Torino as it pulled away. Nodding to himself, he sat up, waiting impatiently for the room to stop spinning. Then he made his way to the living area and sat down carefully on the sofa, reaching for the phone. "It isn't over yet, buddy," he vowed as he tried to focus well enough to dial a familiar number. "It's time call in reinforcements."

Starsky's slightly off key whistling sounded loud in the otherwise quiet apartment as he prepared to make omelets for their dinner. He returned from the grocery to find Hutch sleeping, and resolved to let his sick friend get as much rest as possible before he had to wake him to make him eat and take his medications. He tried to call Huggy, but the line was busy and he decided to get their dinner started, then try again.

A soft knock caused him to hurry to the door, not wanting to wake Hutch. He opened the door and stared, surprised by the sight of Captain Harold Dobey and Officer James Babcock standing in the doorway. "Hey, Cap, what's goin' on?" he asked, as casually as he could. Dobey wasn't one for impromptu personal visits to his men.

"Easy, Starsky, everything's okay," Captain Dobey soothed as the two men entered. They settled on the couch, while Starsky watched them curiously. "How's Hutch?"

Starsky let out a long breath. "Okay. He's sleepin'." He headed back to the kitchen to resume dinner preparations. "So what are you guys doin' here?" he asked, suspiciously.

"I'm under orders to give you a ride to your birthday party and see that you have a great time," Dobey replied with a smile. "And Babcock here has volunteered to stay with Hutch so you won't have to worry about him while you're at the party."

"Cap, that isn't necessary," Starsky protested. "Hutch is still real sick, and I'm gonna call Huggy and tell him we can't come." He smiled. "That doesn't mean you can't go and have a good time, though. It'd be a shame to waste all the food Huggy's plannin' on servin'."

Dobey shook his head. "Listen, Starsky. Hutch called me and told me in no uncertain terms that I have to get you to the party. I've seen your partner in action, and I for one don't want to be on his bad side, even when he's flat on his back with the flu bug. Either you go with me quietly, or he'll be in here reading us all the riot act."

"But, Cap--" Starsky whined.

Dobey was shaking his head again. "Hutch wants you to have a good time tonight. It's important to him that you enjoy your birthday."

Babcock spoke up for the first time. "I'll be here, Starsky. I'll take good care of him. He'll be fine."

Starsky was still shaking his head. He took a deep breath and finally voiced the reason for his fear. "Gunther's trial is coming up soon. You know he'd like nothing better than to see the star witness against him knocked off. And Hutch is sick. He ain't able to watch out for himself..." He sank to the sofa, unable to continue the thought. "I gotta be here, Cap."

Dobey put a large hand on Starsky's shoulder, ignoring the slight tremble he felt. "Hutch took the trouble to call me, Starsky. He knows you're worried about him and why."

Starsky's head came up in surprise, but he nodded. He could never keep anything from Hutch.

"Babcock heard me talking to Hutchinson when he called the office, and he has agreed that he'll stay here in case your partner needs anything. Hutch is in good hands, son."

Starsky shook his head.

Dobey's hand tightened on Starsky's shoulder. "Hutch worked hard to get this party set up. He wants you to go. Can you really just ignore everything he's done to give you a good birthday?"

The dark curls bobbed as Starsky shook his head once more. "I won't forget anything he did, Cap. And not just the trouble he went to putting the party together. I won't forget the nights he spent in the hospital sleepin' in that chair next to my bed, the hours he spent workin' with me during my physical therapy, the way he put his own life on hold while he took care of me. I won't forget any of that. That's why I don't wanna leave him."

"Hutch would be the first to say you don't owe him anything," Dobey observed.

"It ain't that I owe him, Cap," Starsky argued. "We help each other. But, don't you see how special what me and Hutch have is? That he cares for me like that. And I... I care for him. I can't lose that, Cap. That's why I need to be here." Starsky blushed, unaccustomed to expressing his emotions so plainly to anyone but his partner. "I don't wanna lose Hutch," he confessed softly.

"He took care of you so you'd get your life back, so you'd be happy. He wants you to be happy, son. Don't ruin all the work he did to help you celebrate getting back. Don't let the fear of what Gunther or some other goon might do in the future keep you from living now. Hutch doesn't see what he did as a sacrifice. He'd do it again without a second thought. Your partner'll be fine, Babcock will see to it. The best thing you can do to honor what Hutch did is go to your party and have a great time."

"Yeah, so you can come back and tell him all about it," Babcock chimed in.

Starsky stood and walked to the alcove where Hutch lay. He checked his sleeping friend's temperature with the back of his hand, nodding in satisfaction that his patient seemed a little cooler.

"Okay, let's go, Cap," he finally said, turning back to his captain. "Babcock, I'm holdin' you responsible." He shrugged into his jacket. "Oh, yeah, I got some eggs and stuff in the kitchen. Make yourself an omelet and make sure Hutch eats when he wakes up."

Babcock nodded.

"His cough syrup is on the sink in the bathroom. He can have a teaspoon of the yellow stuff when he gets up. Make sure he takes the red stuff before he goes to sleep for the night. He hates it, so you gotta watch him. He'll probably try to spit it out if he thinks you ain't lookin'."

Babcock rolled his eyes, and Dobey suddenly felt the need to hide his mouth with his big hand.

"And make sure he takes the antibiotic in the white bottle right after he eats. It upsets his stomach unless he takes it with food."

"Got it."

"Check his temperature when he gets up. It should be down 'cause I gave him some Tylenol this afternoon. If it starts going up, give him some more Tylenol and a glass of water. Make sure he drinks all the water, so he won't get dehydrated."

"Sure, no problem."

"Hutch hasn't felt much like eatin', you gotta coax him. But he has to eat, he's gotta get his strength back."

Babcock didn't bother to answer this time, not wanting to encourage further instructions.

Starsky was almost out the door when he turned back one more time, ignoring Babcock's martyred sigh and Dobey pointedly looking at his watch. "And if anything happens, call me at Huggy's. The number's on the pad on the kitchen counter."

Babcock grinned. "If anything happens, I hear Mexico is really nice this time of year."

Only half joking, Starsky responded, "If anything happens to him, you wouldn't be safe in the Australian Outback."

Babcock nodded. "Happy Birthday, Starsky." He grinned, suddenly. "Oh, and Starsky, I think I should remind you of something Hutch said the other day."

Starsky knew he'd probably regret asking, but he did, anyway. "Yeah, what's that?"

"He said he was gonna make sure there's a working fire extinguisher around when they light the candles on your cake." He broke into a loud laugh.

"Yeah, real funny," Starsky agreed, trying to sound irritated. But he couldn't hide the twinkle in his eyes. "When he wakes up, tell him..." he broke off. "On second thought, I'll tell him." He winked and followed his captain out of the apartment, while Babcock headed out to the kitchen to check on the dinner possibilities.

The party was great, and Starsky told Hutch so when he made his second call to check on the blond.

"Starsky, quit worrying about me and just have a good time," had been Hutch's response. Before Starsky could say anything else, Hutch had added, "I had an omelet for supper, I took my medicine and I'm goin' back to bed. If you call again, you'll just wake me up. I'm okay, Babcock is here, and he's almost worse than you are." He chuckled a little. "What did you threaten him with?"

"Umm, well I think I mentioned something about Australia,"

Hutch sighed. "Say 'goodnight', Starsk."

"Goodnight, Starsk. Tell Babcock I'll be there before sunrise."

Hutch laughed, but when the laugh was choked off by a coughing fit, Babcock took the phone and assured Starsky he'd take care of Hutch.

Starsky returned to the party, resolutely pushing his concern to the back of his mind.

Every off-duty cop from the ninth precinct was there. Dobey willingly ignored the fact that most of the on-duty officers had found their way to The Pits at some point during the evening to help Starsky celebrate his recovery and his birthday. Starsky had smiled and hugged and danced and eaten to his heart's content, surprised to find that he really was having a good time. Dobey finally left, after making sure that Huggy would take Starsky back to Venice Place.

By the time the last of the crowd left the bar, it was almost three in the morning. "Come on, Hug, I'll help ya clean up before ya take me back to the Blintz's," Starsky offered.

"Not necessary, my man," Huggy answered. "I anticipated this and told Diane and her cohorts to report early tomorrow, or rather today, for clean-up duty." He looked at the remains of the refreshment table and sighed. "But, we'd better put these leftovers up so they won't spoil."

"Okay. And could we make a plate for me to take to Hutch?" Starsky asked.

Huggy grinned. "Sure. And one for the birthday boy, too."

"Thanks, Hug." Starsky checked his watch and let out a low whistle. "I'd better call Babcock and let him know it'll still be a few more minutes before I get there."

"Just tell him to go on home. Hutch will be fine for a few minutes," Huggy suggested, picking up plates of chicken and ham.

"Uh... I don't think so. It won't be much longer... Babcock won't mind," Starsky protested, uneasily.

Huggy shook his head as headed into the kitchen, but he knew better than to argue with a Starsky about anything to do with a Hutch's safety. "Just be wastin' my breath," he muttered to himself.

When he returned to the bar area, he found Starsky with the phone's receiver at his ear, and a concerned expression on his face. The detective looked over at his friend. "There's no answer, Hug."

Huggy didn't hesitate. "Let's go. I'll worry about the food later." He was at the front door, his car keys in his hand in mere seconds, but Starsky was there before him, moving quickly toward Huggy's new white Cadillac.

The ride toward Venice Place was silent, each man lost in his own thoughts, each trying not to add to the other's worry.

"I should have called Dobey," Starsky finally mumbled, his unseeing gaze on the quickly passing streets. "Naw, let's see what's going on first," Huggy objected. "Dobey'd kill us if we rousted him at this hour, and Hutch is okay."

"Yeah, but if he isn't..." Starsky couldn't finish the sentence.

Huggy nodded, not bothering to try to reassure his passenger. Only the sight of a safe and whole Ken Hutchinson would do that. All Huggy could do was pray that the blond was okay, one more time.

The Caddy had barely pulled to a stop at Venice Place when Starsky was out the door, moving carefully up the stairs with Huggy close behind him.

At Hutch's apartment, Starsky motioned for silence and listened at the door. Hearing nothing suspicious, he pulled his weapon from his shoulder holster and quietly used his key to open the lock with his other hand. Carefully, he pushed the door open.

The living area was deserted. Starsky motioned for Huggy to stay put, and quietly surveyed the unoccupied kitchen. He quickly checked the small bathroom and then moved slowly toward the doorway to the sleeping area, his eyes moving constantly. Footsteps sounded as someone moved toward the doorway from the other side. Starsky jumped away from the wall, arms outstretched, his hands wrapped around his semi-automatic.

"Freeze, police!"

James Babcock stepped back, his face losing all color as he stared at the Beretta in Starsky's hands.

After a moment of stunned silence, a very frazzled Babcock took a deep breath and greeted him in an unsteady voice. "I'm sure glad to see you, Starsky. Maybe you can do something with him. It's Hutch," he added unnecessarily, pointing to the sleeping area. The other detective holstered his gun and ignored the giggles coming from Huggy's vicinity.

Starsky lips tightened. "What's wrong with Hutch?" He looked toward the entrance to the sleeping alcove just as his fully clothed partner leaned against the wall, breathing heavily. The blond's hair was spiked in every direction and his crookedly buttoned shirt was half tucked into his jeans. He had obviously dressed in a big hurry; his face was flushed from fever and exertion.

"Hutch, what do you think you're doing?" He moved toward his partner, glaring at Babcock on the way.

"It's not my fault, I tried to stop him." Babcock complained. "He had a bad nightmare. It took me a few minutes to get him awake, and I thought I'd never get him calmed down. I heard the phone rang, and I figured it was you, but I couldn't get to the phone. Hutch was thrashing around so much, I was afraid he'd hurt himself. When I finally got him calmed down, he started worrying when he realized you weren't here. I called The Pits to let him talk to you, but there was no answer. I tried to tell him you were okay, but he wouldn't listen. He decided you were in trouble and said he had to find you. He was getting ready to go out to look for you." He frowned deeply at the trouble the stubborn blond had caused him.

Starsky had one arm around Hutch's waist, supporting him. He put the back of his other hand against Hutch's pale forehead. "Your temperature's up again. What did you think you were doin', Blintz? You're not supposed to be out of bed."

"You weren't here. Jimmy called Huggy's to see if you were still there, but there was no answer. Where were you? I thought..." Hutch spoke slowly, fighting for breath. He leaned into Starsky's embrace, resting his forehead on a strong shoulder.

"I know what you were thinkin', Blintz." He grinned. "I was thinkin' the same thing about you."

Hutch raised his head, searching Starsky's face anxiously. "You sure you're okay?"

"I will be, as soon as we get you back to bed," Starsky assured him.

Hutch shook his head. "No, I'm tired of being in bed. I want to sit out here. Tell me about the party."

Starsky brightened the room with a big smile. "It was a great party. I had a great time."

Hutch smiled. "Good." He tried to move forward to the sofa, but Starsky held him.

"No way, Blintz. You gotta rest. Don't you listen to the commercials? 'Rest in bed, keep warm, and drink plenty of liquids.' The only place you're going is to bed."

Hutch opened his mouth to argue, but he could see he wasn't going to win this one. Hoping to distract his partner, he narrowed his eyes and asked. "So where were you?"

Starsky grinned innocently. "I'll tell ya while I get ya settled. I'll tell you all about the party. Okay?" Not waiting for a reply, he guided his partner over to the bed and helped him sit down. He soon had the blond back in pajamas and lying in bed with covers up to his chin. It was only after he completed settling his partner that he realized that Huggy and Babcock had made a discreet exit.

"Diane has a Polaroid camera. She took some pictures at the party, and let me borrow them to show you." He grinned. "This is my favorite," he told Hutch as he handed him a picture.

Hutch laughed so hard he almost lost his breath when he was overcome by a coughing fit. He just shook his head, looking at the picture of Starsky blowing out the candles on a huge cake while Huggy stood by with a fire extinguisher at the ready.

"You can see the rest tomorrow, partner. You need to get some sleep."

Hutch turned over on his side, a sign that he was going to sleep. But he wasn't quite ready to give in. "Starsk, don't you want to open your present from me?"

Starsky shook his head. "Naw, it's okay, Blondie. I'll wait until tomorrow."

Hutch stopped, turning back to his partner with genuine concern in his eyes. "You sure you're okay? You didn't hit your head or anything, did you?"

The blond's partner grinned. "Just go to sleep, Blintz. It's really okay. Besides, this way I get to stretch out my birthday for another few hours."

"Oh. Okay, I guess," Hutch agreed. He really wasn't up to watching Starsky open his present. He wasn't even sure he could stay awake for two more minutes, but he didn't want to say so. "If you insist."

"I do, partner. I really do." Starsky couldn't resist tucking the covers around his patient as he ordered. "You get some sleep, and I'll open it at breakfast, okay?"

"Okay." Starsky turned to leave, but turned back at Hutch's mumbled question. "Starsk, we're not getting paranoid are we?"

"Nope, Blintz. We're just careful. But even if we are paranoid, it's okay."

"Huh?" Hutch's eyes were closed, as he sank into unavoidable rest. He sighed, settling beneath his blankets.

"Just because we're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get us," Starsky explained.

"I must be more delirious than I thought." Hutch's words slurred as he drifted closer to much needed sleep.

"What's that?" Starsky questioned, rubbing the sick man's shoulder gently.

"That almost... made sense," Hutch explained. "I think we've been together too long."

Starsky shook his head as he tiptoed from the sleeping alcove. "Not nearly long enough, Blintz. Not nearly." He grinned to himself. "Ask me again in a hundred years."

The End

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