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The Finest Balm

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Starsky blinked groggily as the phone rang. When it rang again, he reached for it, and his hand accidentally struck the girl sleeping next to him.

"Mmm, hey," Andrea protested sleepily.

"Sorry," he croaked, fumbling for the phone. "H'lo?"

"Dave?"

He froze and then turned halfway to glance beside him. It was never good to have a woman on the phone when there was another one sleeping next to you.

"Yeah?" he said warily.

"Dave, it's Abby."

He sat up so fast he ripped the blankets from the other side of the bed, ignoring the protest that followed. "Hutch." His heart was pounding, and he couldn't breathe. "Hutch – is he – "

"Oh, no! God, no, he's fine, as far as I know. I'm sure he's fast asleep, in his own bed."

Starsky let out a shaky breath. "What'd you have to go and scare me like that for?"

"Oh, Dave, I'm sorry. It's just – well..."

He frowned. Even if he was half-asleep and on an adrenalin high, he could tell she sounded upset. "Abby? What is it? Ow!" He winced as Andrea poked him in the ribs. When she did it again, he yelped, "Hey! Cut it out!"

"Abby? Isn't that Hutch's girl? Why's she calling you?"

He put his hand over the mouthpiece. "I don't know, sweetheart, I'm trying to find out. Listen, why don't you go hop in the shower, and I'll join you in a minute, okay?" She narrowed her eyes at him, and he shrugged. "Look, if something's wrong, I gotta find out what it is."

She slid off the bed and sauntered into the bathroom. He sighed and uncovered the mouthpiece. "Sorry, Abby."

"No, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have called, I didn't want to cause trouble for you."

"No, it's okay. What's wrong?"

"I'm going home, Dave." She sounded resigned, but determined.

He lazily scratched his chest, brow furrowed in confusion. "Huh? Home?"

"Home. I'm going to go visit my parents... and I don't know if I'll be back."

His face fell as he realized what she was saying. "Oh. Oh... Hutch..."

"I haven't told him yet... that's sort of why I'm calling. I don't know if I can – I mean, will you tell him, Dave?"

"What? No, I can't tell him! You tell him!"

"I don't want to hurt him!"

"Then don't leave him."

"I can't stay, Dave... I always thought I could be a cop's girl, y'know? I thought I was okay with the night shifts and the long hours and the constantly having to go check out leads, but you guys are always in danger and you're always getting almost killed and almost run over and hurt and shot at and burned, and then... this... that man – I was so scared, Dave, and I just... I can't do it anymore!"

Her voice was shaky and tearful, and he automatically held up a hand to try and calm her. "Okay, shhh, okay, Abby, it's okay. I understand, all right? But I can't tell Hutch for you."

There was a watery sigh. "I know. I knew that, really I did. I just don't know how to tell him. I don't want to hurt him."

"Just tell him straight. And you can't do it without hurting him."

"Yeah. I'll tell him... I'll tell him today. Hey, listen, thanks, Dave."

"For what?"

"For listening... I know you love him just as much as I do."

Starsky blinked, but before he could answer, she disconnected. He rubbed his face tiredly with both hands. "Man."

He sighed and headed for the shower.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

He was in the bathroom, briskly drying off, when the phone rang again. "What now?" he muttered with a sigh.

"Should I answer it?"

"Sure."

"What if it's Abby again?"

"Just answer the phone, will ya?"

He slipped into his jeans, and he was buttoning the fly when she called, "Dave? It's Ken."

Starsky closed his eyes. "Be right there."

He headed into the bedroom to see Andrea lounging on his bed, half dressed, phone handset swinging from the cord she held loosely in one hand. If not for what was going on with Hutch and Abby, he would have tossed the phone aside and crawled back into bed with her.

"Hutch."

"Hiya, Starsk! Are you still in bed? You two are going to be late, you know. Get up!"

Obviously, Abby hadn't told him yet. Starsky tried to smile. "We're up, we're up."

"You're going to be there at noon, right? Hey, listen, I found this great wine, and I think I'll go to that little bakery Abby likes and get her some of that Italian bread..."

Full of dread, Starsky listened as his partner prattled on, his voice light for the first time since this whole mess with Solkin had started. As far as Hutch was concerned, the bad guys were put away and his girl was going to be okay, and everything was just fine. It hurt Starsky to know what was coming, and he wondered if he should tell Hutch.

He shook his head. What he'd told Abby had been right – it wasn't his place to say anything.

"Hey, Starsky? You there?"

Starsky blinked. "Yeah, sorry, Hutch. It's early, you know?"

Hutch laughed. "Starsk, it's after ten o'clock!"

"Like I said, crack of dawn."

"Well, get going! And don't you climb back into bed with what's her name, you hear?"

"Yes, Cap! You've been hanging around Dobey too long, you know that?"

Hutch laughed again and hung up. Starsky handed the phone to Andrea, who smiled seductively at him as she hung it up. He groaned. "We're already running late, you know."

"Well, if someone hadn't kept us up half the night..."

He smiled cockily at her, but his heart wasn't in it. He leaned over and gave her a quick kiss, pulling away before she could deepen it. Taking her hand, he stood up. "Come on, if we're gonna have a decent breakfast before Hutch tries to give us rabbit food, we'd better go."

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

Starsky and Andrea wandered up to Hutch and Abby, and though he tried to keep his voice light, he could tell it had already happened. The couple was sitting together on the blanket, but there was too much space between them, and Hutch was looking at Abby as if she'd been speaking in some language he couldn't understand. Starsky babbled on about his baseball cards, but he knew neither of them was listening. He watched her kiss Hutch and walk away, his own heart aching with his friend's pain. Still in a daze, Hutch stood up beside him.

"Starsky... Starsky. She's going away."

He couldn't look Hutch in the eye. "I know that."

Hutch stared at him. "What do you mean you know that?"

He raised his hands, palms up, still clutching his baseball cards. "She told me."

Hutch stared disbelievingly for a moment longer and then moved toward her retreating figure. Starsky stopped him, gripping his arm tightly. "Doesn't mean she doesn't love you."

Hutch narrowed his eyes, anger taking hold over disbelief. "Just when did she tell you?"

"This morning. She called me."

"She called you? Why would she call you?"

Starsky did his best to ignore the accusatory tone in Hutch's voice; his friend was hurting and lashing out, he had to remember that. He also knew he'd have to tell the truth – or most of the truth – about Abby's call, or things would get even uglier. "She called me to ask me how to tell you – she didn't want to hurt you."

"Well she's doing a bang up job, then."

"She loves you, Hutch," he repeated firmly.

"Hell of a way of showing it."

"She's just scared – the kid just scared her, is all. She needs some time to herself, and then, she'll probably be back, you'll see."

Hutch glanced at him. "You really think so?"

Starsky couldn't do it. He couldn't look in those baby blue eyes, so hurt but still so full of hope, and lie. Slowly, he shook his head. "I doubt it, buddy."

Hutch nodded wearily. "Yeah, me too."

They stared at each other for a moment, and then Starsky clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, I'm sorry, Hutch."

"Yeah. Thanks." Hutch scrubbed his good hand over his face. "It's my fault, Starsk. If I hadn't provoked that little creep – "

"Then it probably would have been someone or something else, sooner or later. She doesn't blame you, you know that. She just can't deal with what you do. And you can't change that – "

"Can't I?" His eyes flashed with defiance.

Starsky stared hard at him. "Could you? Really?"

Hutch stared back. After a moment, he shook his head in defeat.

"This is us, Hutch."

Hutch sighed. "I know, Starsk. Damn. I just wish... This means he won, doesn't it?"

"Solkin? No. Creeps like him don't win, Hutch. Nobody won here." Starsky sighed and gestured weakly at the blanket spread with food. "You hungry? Maybe if you eat something..." He trailed off as he realized how stupid that sounded. He sounded like his mother. You angry? Eat. Tired? Eat. Sick? Eat! Heartbroken? I know just the recipe for that! If they'd eaten every time she'd said to, they'd weigh nine hundred pounds. Each.

Hutch shook his head. "Nah. I think I'm just gonna... pack up my stuff and go. You guys should stay. It's a beautiful day." He dropped his head, his shoulders slumping. "Someone should enjoy it."

He knelt down and began gathering his things, and Starsky crouched next to him. "You need help?"

Hutch waved him off. "No, no. You... you two eat. I'll be fine."

Starsky sat down and halfheartedly grabbed a sandwich from the spread Andrea had been laying out. She was looking between them with wide eyes, curious but not necessarily concerned. He gave her a half smile and then his gaze was drawn back to Hutch, who was fumbling awkwardly with the picnic basket. He bumped his injured hand and stifled a curse.

Moving quickly across the blanket, Starsky grabbed the basket from him. "Hey, we'll clean up, okay? You head on home, and I'll drop your stuff off tonight." Hutch glanced at him and Starsky hastily added, "Unless you wanna stay and eat with us. You can, you know."

Hutch smiled gratefully at him. "Thanks, Starsk, but I think I'll go home."

"Okay... well... good. If that's what you wanna do. I'll take your stuff by later, and we'll... we'll go have a beer." He glanced at his girl, who looked briefly annoyed before she nodded grudgingly.

Hutch smiled. "Sounds good." He squeezed Starsky's arm with his good hand. "Starsk... well, thanks." He got to his feet, smiled at Andrea, and headed off toward his car after one last glance in the direction Abby had gone.

Starsky watched him go, sighing heavily. After a minute, he glanced down at the blanket, scattered with food and dishes and baseball cards.

"Pick a card?" he said with a shaky smile.

Her answering smile was soft as she plucked the cards from his hand and pulled him into a comforting kiss.

"He'll be all right," she murmured when she pulled away. "You'll make sure of it."

He nodded, resting his forehead against hers. "Yeah, I guess he will. Thanks, sweetheart. Now... about lunch..."

She tangled her fingers into his hair and pulled him closer. "Forget lunch..."