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One For The Road

Trees. Why were there trees there? He was looking up at the sky, a beautiful blue sky through tall pine trees. He wasn't in LA? No, wait, he was coming back from San Fransisco with some seniors who wanted to see the Metro. (My God, they must be desperate, Cap). But now there were these dang trees.

The curly haired man on the ground tried to get up — stupid thing, lyin' on the ground in the middle of the day! Things to do, places to be. And then it hit. The small movement of trying to get his head off the ground caused the world to explode around him, pain blossoming through his sides, his arm and his head. The last thing he remembered before blacking out was 'But they're lovely trees, shame Hutch isn't here to see 'em'.

Later.

Starsky forced his eyes open a crack at the small noise from his right hand side. His vision blurry, he could just make out the shape of another human being standing over him. His first instinct was that the flakes who'd ambushed the car were back, come to finish things. In a rush of panic, he tried to go for his gun, but his left hand and arm just wouldn't work, and a wave of nausea took him and shook him. Pain rose red around his vision and exploded once more throughout his body. 'Oh God', he thought 'what have I done now?' And then, in a moment of humour, 'the docs aren't goin' ta like this a whole lot — its been 2 months puttin' me back together'.

The figure watched, as pain spread over the man's face, then slowly bent towards him and looked into his face.

'You're in a real bad way, but I'm goin' to take care of you. I have to move you, an' its gonna hurt a whole lot. I'm real sorry' .

With that, she turned and walked away, leaving Starsky alone again with his thoughts and the pain. 'Hutch, I need you, buddy. What have I gone and done now? Simple little thing. Go pick 'em up and bring 'em to LA. No problem. Get you back into working again. Yeh, right'

He rested his head back on the ground and mentally examined his body. There was certainly pain in his head — in fact it felt like there was a whole nest of woodpeckers in there, trying to burrow out of his skull. His left shoulder and hand had shooting pains in them and he realized his head was leaning over to the left. Peachy. Just peachy — a broken collarbone.

Raising his head as much as he could and looked further down his body. A patch of rapidly drying blood on his right side, just above his hip bone, accompanied by a neat little hole in his jeans showed him there was at least one bullet in him, but what he saw on his left side made him sick to his stomach. What looked like a thin branch of a tree was sticking out through his side, lower than his chest. It appeared to go right through. Oh my God, that's why I can't get up — I landed on it and I'm impaled! The sight and the thought were enough to plunge Starsky back into oblivion

And slowly, the outline of the trees began to fade, as day turned into dusk.

The girl hurried back to her shack. How long had it been since she'd had company, let alone male company? Since her Mom had died, she'd been alone in the forest, with just the birds and beasts for company. Sometimes she used to talk to herself, just to prove that she still had a voice.

That morning had started no differently to any other. She rose with the sun, and set out on one of her foraging trips for breakfast, and any herbs and roots she might find along the way.

She was a healer. Like her Momma before her, and she had learned everything about the forest from her Mom and Grandma -how this plant would bring down a fever- how that would set a bone. Little did she know how important that knowledge would become to one man from so far away.

This morning, she had collected her berries and was setting off back to her home, when the forest around her became unnaturally quiet. The birds stopped singing and all she could hear was the gentle rustle of her skirt brushing the leaves underfoot, and in the distance a sound she thought she would never hear again. It was a vehicle — a car, or truck, and it seemed to be going fast. Then suddenly the noise had stopped, and was followed by shotgun blasts and an explosion.

She gauged the sound was at least a mile away, and took a fix on the direction it was coming from. It was past her house some, and she hurried to get there. After over an hour of plunging through the undergrowth, she neared the scene. When she did eventually locate the cause of the noise, she saw a large red car with a white stripe. The car was tipped onto its roof, and was lying at the bottom of a narrow gorge, surrounded by trees. Keeping to the shadows, she crept forward and heard a low moan. Checking to see who else was around, she came to the conclusion that the man was on his own. Obviously alive, he was laid on his back, with his head facing downhill. There was blood on his clothing and his head and the healer in her took over and pushed to one side her natural instinct to hide. She slowly walked over to the man, who at first seemed unconscious.

He was a handsome man. He looked tall (as far as she could tell, as he was laid down) and he had a mop of dark brown curly hair, and a handsome face. His clothes weren't forest clothes. He wore jeans of pale washed out denim and a brown leather jacket that reached to his waist. It was open and she could see the denim shirt underneath.

As she was watching, the man's eyes cracked open a little and she caught a glimpse of dark blue eyes, shaded by the black lashes. The man tried to focus on her and move, but the pain he was in caused him to cry out. She leaned towards him and told him that she would rescue him, although she didn't know if he heard her.

And now she was on her way back from her shack once more. She brought with her 2 poles and a blanket, and her worn leather medicine bag. Through the gathering gloom, she once more found the man, who was now shivering and moaning softly. She kneeled beside him and looked into his face. He was too pale and his hands were cold from loss of blood. She looked down his body, and realized she would have to saw through the branch that held him to the floor before she could move him more.

Slowly she moved to his left side and, as gently as she could, wedged her small saw beneath the man, and started cutting. His eyes flew open and a scream escaped his lips before, thankfully, he passed out, and she could continue.

Once the branch was sawn through, she knotted the blanket over the 2 poles, making a bed of sorts for him. With all her strength, and in the hope she wouldn't damage him further, she dragged his body onto the blanket, harnessed herself to the rope at the front and set off for home, dragging the man behind her.

Starsky had never been so glad to see anyone in his life. Yeh, sure, if Hutch had come galloping through the forest to rescue him, that would have been just fine, but here was a different angel. She'd come back for him, and he tried to tell her how thankful he was. But his lips wouldn't form the words over the uncontrollable shivering. What made it worse was that the shivering made his body hurt more, but he couldn't stop. And then she produced the saw. At first, he had wondered what on earth she was going to do with it, then she kneeled by his side pushed it beneath him, and started. He knew she was trying to help him, but the added pain was more than he would bear. He remembered screaming one last time, then blessed oblivion.

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It took the girl more than 3 hours to drag the man through the forest, and although she was strong and used to physical hardship, by the time she made it back, she was exhausted. Throughout the ordeal, the man had remained semi conscious, and it wasn't until after she had laid him gently on her bed, that he made any signs of coming round.

She busied herself with her herbs. She knew the first thing to do was to remove the branch from his side. It was no wider than a dime, and fortunately it was a green branch, without offshoots, or gritty bark. However, she knew that once removed, the wound would bleed freely. Although this was something that would help to cleanse the wound, she couldn't allow the man to bleed any more — he had lost too much already.

She prepared a fire and pushed a clean metal poker into the bright white flames, then, whilst it was heating, she took down her medicine pots. In one, she added water and the roots of the datura plant. It deadened pain, reduced fever and induced a deep sleep, which the man would need, if he was to recover. In the other she used comfry leaves to make a poultice for his other wounds.

She turned to see him looking at her through unfocussed, pain filled eyes. She went to him, and gently stroked his hot forehead.

'You're safe now' she said 'you're in my home, and I'm going to see to your wounds and make you comfortable. I'm sorry I hurt you out there, but I have to hurt again — the branch is right through your side — I have to take it out'.

Starsky only remembered a little of the journey back through the forest. He knew it was growing dark, and he knew the further he went, the more it hurt. He passed in and out of consciousness, until the final time he awoke and found himself on a soft bed. He felt cold and spacy, but relieved to have made it this far.

He watched the girl busying herself with pots and leaves, and saw her put something into the fire.

She was slim, with a tanned, heart shaped face and long blond hair that looked wild and ragged, but clean. Not greasy and uncared for. Her clothes intrigued him. She wore a brown skirt that came past her ankles, boots, a pale pink, short sleeved blouse open at the neck. The arms that emerged from the sleeves were slim but muscular and brown as a nut and, when she turned to him, Starsky saw bright green eyes looking back at him. She had an air about her. She was someone he could trust. Someone who may look after him. He tried to relax a little, but the small movement brought back the pain.

She came towards him and spoke 'You're safe now' she said 'you're in my home, and I'm going to see to your wounds and make you comfortable. I'm sorry I hurt you out there, but I have to hurt again — the branch is right through your side — I have to take it out'.

He looked up at her, and knew what was coming. He desperately wanted to communicate something to her — to let her know he understood, and that the hurtin' was kind of OK.

Mustering all his strength, he managed to whisper 'I'm Dave, who are you?'

She looked down at him. With a slight, shy smile she said 'I'm Laurel'.

She turned away and went to the pot, spooned some liquid into a cup and brought it to him. 'Here, this will help the pain some. Once I've finished, I can give you more'.

Starsky lifted his head and drank some of the God-awful brew. It tasted like boiled forest, with an aftertaste of mud, but he was in no shape to argue.

Laurel put down the cup and, picking up a large cleaver, started to cut away Starsky's clothing, starting with the jacket. He wanted to argue, to say he'd had the jacket through good times and bad, but was too weak to put up a fight. He succumbed to her ministrations and finally laid in a puddle of his tattered clothing.

Now he was almost naked, the injuries looked even more terrifying. Laurel looked concerned and said 'The first thing I need to do is to take the branch out. I've cut it as short as I can at your back. I need to pull it out in one go. Are you ready?'

Starsky stared. 'Am I ready?' he thought 'Course I'm not ready, but it'll have to come out'. Out loud he managed to whisper 'Ready as I'll ever be'.

Laurel turned and brought from a table at the back of the room a basket with what looked like moss, some strips of clean cloth, and, ominously, the poker from the fire. She laid them down and kneeled beside Starsky. 'I won't start until you tell me, but once I start, it has to be all at once. Do you understand?'

Starsky looked grimly at the assemblage of materials, suddenly waking to what the hot poker was for. 'Oh my God, this is gonna hurt' he thought. He managed a faint smile and a minute nod, then closed his eyes and waited for it. He felt her stand and place her hands, one on the branch, one on his stomach. She paused for an eternity, then with one hellish tug, prized the branch from his flesh. He screamed, and sweat beaded on his forehead. He opened his eyes, then shut them again, tight. Laurel had picked up the poker, and with one movement, brought the white hot metal down to the gaping wound, cauterizing it cleanly. Starsky smelled a sickening barbeque smell, and realized it was his flesh, just before he passed out again.

And Laurel continued to work on the battered and broken body in front of her. She didn't know the man called Dave. She had no idea where he was from, but he was hurt and he needed her help. That was all that mattered, and her healing teaching took over, and guided her hands in a certain, gentle fashion.

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How long had he been unconscious this time? He seemed to be spending more time in the land of nod, than in the real world. C'm on Starsk, get with the plan. He made a conscious decision to swim his way back up through the blackness, and came to, just as Laurel was wrapping a 4 inch wide loop of hell around his mid section. She sensed he was awake and stopped.

'Its OK, its out now and the bleeding has stopped. I'm just binding it with comfry, then I'll start on your hip. I think you were shot, but can't find any bullet. I'll clean it, and dress it. Your shoulder and collarbone are both broken. Whilst you were unconscious, I reset them. Try not to move your left side. I've bound your arm over your chest, to stop it moving'.

Starsky lay still and after what seemed like an age, she finished, and brought cool water to wipe his face. He felt hot and knew he was feverish. He wished with all his might that Hutch was here. Damn it. Hutch didn't even know where he was. He wouldn't even realize anything was wrong until tomorrow, when he didn't show for work.

My God, Hutch........................find me, please.

CHAPTER 2

Back at the Metro, Hutch and Doby were sat in Doby's office drinking coffee, when Minnie put through a call. Doby took it, his big brown hands dwarfing the telephone receiver.

'Huh......yeh............no he isn't back yet. What do you mean he may not be?'

Silence, then Doby slammed down the phone and turned rroubled eyes to Hutch.

'You been in touch with Starsky since yesterday morning?'

'No Cap. He went off to San Fransisco 3 days ago. Last I heard from him he was setting off from his motel with the others, and should be back around lunch. Why?'

'That was HQ San Fransisco. They had a brief message from one of the VIPs on a cellphone sayin' they were being' shot at, then the line went dead.......Hutch,.....Hutch'. Doby shouted to the fleeing back of the blond detective.

Hutch was sick with worry. He remembered the day he went to get his partner from the hospital. Starsky had looked fit, but pale. Breathing was still a bit of an issue, and steps were definitely out, for a while. However, the hospital had assured both men that, so long as Starsky was sensible, and didn't over exert himself, things should settle down just fine. Fat chance now! Hutch couldn't get the memory of his partner lying by his car out of his head. The sight of the 4 neat bullet wounds, and the blood would forever be etched in his memory.

He ran blindly out of the precinct, stopping only at operations to retrieve a map of the San Fransisco area. Running to his car, he flung open the door and got in.

Looking at the map, he realised that Starsky would have taken the least obvious route to get back. No, surely not through the backwoods? He could be anywhere.

My God Starsk, hang on — I'm coming buddy.

Hutch set off, gunning the engine into life. Before too long he was turning off the freeway and making his way to the little motel where Starsky had last spoken to him. He wound his way up through juniper covered hills, along roads that got more narrow with every passing mile. At last, he came to the small town and found the roadside motel. Turning off the engine, he got out, and went into the motels small reception area.

A middle aged woman came from the back room and asked if she could help.

'I'm looking for a group of men who stayed here a couple of nights ago. One was tall and had dark curly hair. Do you remember them?'

The woman looked at Hutch with some distrust. 'What you want 'em for? They in trouble?'

'No Ma'am. One's my partner'. Hutch pulled out his badge. 'I just need to get in touch with him'.

The woman's face fell. 'I think you need to go over to the sheriff's office, young man. Some bodies were found up the mountain a way, and brought back to town this mornin'. Don't know if your friend was one of 'em. Kinda hope he isn't. he was cute. And he liked my cookin'.

But she was talking to Hutch's back as he ran from the motel, across the single street to the Sheriff's. Bursting in he shouted 'Who's in charge here?' A tall, pale man, wearing Sheriff's uniform and badge appeared, wiping tomato sauce from his moustache.

'Can I help you son?'

Hutch proceeded to explain about Starsky's disappearance and the information the motel lady had given him. To his credit, the Sheriff took it all in without too many questions, and a moment later was leading Hutch to the morgue. Although no more than 150 yards away, the journey was one of the longest of Hutch's life. On the way, the Sheriff explained that there had been reports of an explosion on one of the logging roads, and that 2 bodies had been recovered — both dead.

Hutch and the Sheriff went into the building at the back of the small clinic area, and found their way to a dark, dismal little room with large refrigerators down one side. A morgue technician checked off paperwork and opened the first door, pulling out a long metal gurney. On it lay a body covered in a white sheet. Hutch braced himself, nodded to the technician, and gazed down at the body of a short, balding man.

With a shaky sigh, Hutch shook his head. 'No that isn't him. Where's the next?'

The technician went to the next 'fridge. 'I have to warn you, Detective, this one is pretty badly mashed. Not sure if you'll be able to recognise him'.

Hutch once more braced himself and pulled away the sheet. He felt his knees go week and a sweat form on his forehead. He saw dark brown hair, a slim muscular body and blue jeans, but the facial features were badly mashed. Hoping against hope, Hutch looked down to the body's left hand, and a wave of relief washed over him as he saw no sign of the silver ring his partner always wore there.

Swaying slightly, and faint with relief, he turned to the sheriff and the technician.

'No, these aren't him, but they are the men who were with him. Was there no 3rd body?'

The Sheriff shook his head., and said gently 'No, son, just these 2. if your partner's still out there, God help him. There's all sorts of animals out there, and hardly any tracks to speak of, just loggin' trails. He'll be lucky to survive'.

Hutch smiled, a small wry smile. 'Oh, he's lucky Ok. Can we discuss search grids? Do you have any men? What can we do now?'

'I've got better then men, I've a chopper I can call, but not till tomorrow. Its too late now and going dark. Won't see diddly till its light again. Go check yourself into the motel and leave the arrangements to me'.

Hutch thanked the sheriff and (after telephoning Doby to update him) walked back to the motel. After signing himself in, the woman told him the only room available was the room Starsky had used and she hadn't had time to clean it just yet. Did Hutch mind?

He took the key and made his way over to the room, opened the door and let himself in. Closing the door behind him he flung himself down on the still rumpled sheets and thought he could still smell the aftershave his partner always wore. Worn out by the drive and the emotions of checking the bodies, and comforted by the memories of his partner, he fell into a fitful sleep. His last thought were — hang on buddy. I'm comin'

For David Michael Starsky, the night was one of the longest of his life. Once Laurel had finished dressing his wounds, she had given him the rest of the datura tea, and it had certainly taken away some of the pain, but his fever was up and nightmares shook him awake.

He was back by his Torino, going for his gun and feeling the white hot metal of the 4 bullets tearing through his body. He was looking down at the face of his partner, as he fought for each breath, feeling powerless to help. He was staring into the eyes of a beautiful girl as, his hands tied above his head, he tried to talk her out of cutting into his bady.

He knew he was in a bed, and in dim moments of lucidity, he thought he saw a figure watching over him. The figure had blond hair, but the eyes were the wrong colour. They were green like the forest, not sea blue. No, it wasn't Hutch, but he wished with all his might it was.

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Laurel changed the bandages each time they became soaked in Starsk'y perspiration, and was amazed at the scarring his body already carried. Not only were there 4 wounds in a diagonal line on his upper chest and back, there were long scars of recent surgery. A bullet scar on his right leg at calf height, and another bullet scar in his left shoulder. This man had certainly seen action, and she worried that, with evidence of surgery being so new, he might not have the strength to survive the night.

Throughout the night she battled to keep his temperature from soaring. She bathed the handsome face with cool water and was sometimes rewarded with a glance of those beautiful dark blue eyes. Over and over Dave screamed for someone called Hutch, and his right hand (the only one he could move) searched the air for him.

She held that hand often and it seemed to quiet him, and towards daybreak, the crisis came, and passed, and Dave became calmer and slept more peacefully.

Laurel finally rested, and suddenly realised just how tired she really was. The journey through the forest and the fight to save Dave's life had tired her more than anything she had done before. But now she sat back and enjoyed the sensation of having human company for the fist time in over 12 years. And slowly, she wondered. Can I keep him?

CHAPTER 3

Morning came with the sound of birdsong, and Starsky slowly opened his eyes. He felt sore and tired, but also at peace. His first thought was that Hutch had found him, and that everything was OK again. Then he looked down the bed, to the sleeping figure of the girl. What did she call herself? Oh yeh, Laurel.

His small movement woke her instantly and she came to his side and asked if he was OK.

'I think so', he managed to whisper, although his though felt like sandpaper, and the effort was great. But he smiled a lop sided smile at her.

Laurel stood and went to the embers of the fire. Taking the last amount of datura tea, she fed it slowly to Starsky, then checked on his wounds.

'Are you feeling strong enough to sit up a little?' she asked

Starsky would have been happy to lay where he was all day, but his (vast) experience of hospitals made him realise he had to start moving soon. 'Yeh, I'll give it a try' he said.

Between them, they managed to prop him up on blankets at his back. The effort cost Starsky dearly, and a deep throbbing pain started in his side. His hip was numb, and he wished his left shoulder was too. Each time he moved his head, or breathed, or did anything (it seemed) a sharp pain caused him to loose his breath.

'Are you on your own here?'

Laurel stopped and looked at him. 'Its been 12 years since Momma died. I've been here on my own ever since'. She looked defiant. 'They wanted me to come down off the mountain and live in the town, but I've been here my whole life'. She looked shyly at the injured man. 'But I could share with someone like you'.

Seemingly frightened by what she had just said, she turned away.

'Wonderful' thought Starsky. ' Rescued by a woman who wants to keep me as a pet!' And yet, she was gentle and certainly had medical knowledge. What a waste for her to be here on her own.

'Listen, don't think I'm not grateful for all you've done for me, but I have to tell my partner where I am. Is there a phone near here?'

Laurel seemed to mull the question over. Starsky could almost sense her arguing with herself. Should she tell him, or should she not. Finally, she turned and gazed into his eyes, sighing.

'Yes, there's one in the town. But it's a day's hike down the mountain. You can't go anywhere for a while yet. Just stay and get better. I'll look after you'.

'Laurel' he said, as gently as he could, 'I have people who will be worried about me, people who will be looking for me. I'm a policeman, and I have to get back to them. Do you understand? I have to get back to them soon.

Stunned, he saw tears in her eyes. 'Is he called Hutch? You screamed out for him last night in your sleep. You seemed to want him here with you'.

Starsky looked down. 'Yeh, he's my partner, my best buddy and closer than my brother. We've been through a lot together. He'll be sick with worry'. He looked up and smiled — 'I can't stay Laurel. I really can't. I hope you understand.

But he spoke to an empty room. Laurel had run out into the forest leaving Starsky alone.

True to his word, the Sheriff had got everything together and knocked on Hutch's motel door first thing the next morning. He was staggered at how the blond man looked. Unshaven, with dark blue circles under each eye. It was obvious he hadn't slept.

'What time is it?'

'It's a quarter after 9 and the chopper is fuelled and ready to go when you are. We have a fix on where the 2 bodies were recovered, so lets go'

Hutch pulled on his jacket and followed the Sheriff to a small cleared area at the edge of the town. Climbing in, he fastened his seat belt and put on the head phones.

The chopper took off and circled before flying north towards the tree line and a line of hills in the distance.

'Visibility is poor up there — can't see much for the trees' said the pilot. 'What car was your friend driving?'

'Red and white Torino' shouted Hutch over the noise of the rotors.

'Good, the colour should make it easier to spot. Just gotta keep lookin'

Hutch leaned out of the helicopter as far as his belt would allow, and together, they started their search.

Starsky had been on his own now, in Laurel's home for at least half a day. He dozed, and he could feel the fever rising in him again. He didn't know where the girl had gone, and he felt alone and confused. The pain throughout his body had redoubled and the medicine she had given him had worn off. He was thirsty and disorientated, and was beginning to hallucinate.

At one point, he thought he heard someone calling his name, and tried to get up to answer. But the wound in his side prevented it, and he collapsed back onto the bed.

The sun was beginning to set again, and Laurel had not returned, when he heard a noise outside. It wasn't a natural noise, it was mechanical. At first Starsky dismissed it as just another figment of his imagination, but it seemed to be coming closer.

With a superhuman effort, he dragged himself from the bed, grunting in pain and made his legs take him to the doorway. Above, he could see tree tops blowing and bending in a breeze that was getting stronger. Suddenly overhead, he say a helicopter. Without regard for his injuries, he took the white blanket from round his shoulders and stumbled into the clearing on front of the shack, waving the blanket a hard as he could.

Tye helicopter circled for a moment, then flew away, and Starsky collapsed to the ground in unbearable pain.

As the darkness started to fall, the pool of blood he laid in got bigger and bigger.

In the helicopter, Hutch's eyes were sore with staring out at the vast stretches of trees. He used to like trees, now he hated the fact they were hiding his buddy from him.

'It's getting late' shouted the pilot, 'We'll do one more turn, then we'll have to head on back'.

Just then out of the corner of his eye, hutch saw something white flapping behind the trees.

'Circle right again will ya? I thought I saw something'

The pilot brought the bird round in a long right handed sweep, and there, in a clearing in front of a wooden shack was the body of his partner.

'He's there, he's there' he shouted, 'put her down now'.

The pilot turned and found a small clearing 100 yards away. Before the chopper had hit the ground, hutch was out and running through the undergrowth, mindless of the thorn scratching at his face and hands.

Racing into the clearing he fell to his knees beside his fallen friend. Starsky's eyes were closed and his breathing laboured, but he was alive. And he looked like his injuries had been doctored. He had a sort of bandage round his middle and his left arm and shoulder were strapped,

Taking him gently in his arms, he whispered 'Hey buddy, are you there?'

Starsky's eyes fluttered and opened. He stared, unfocussed at Hutch, then his face fell into a shadow of that lop sided grin Hutch knew so well.

'Hey yourself' he whispered 'what took you so long?' and passed out.

Hutch shouted over to the pilot. 'Need some help here. Fetch a stretcher, now'.

The pilot and Hutch man handled Starsky on to the stretcher as gently as they could. Starsky's eyes opened a crack. 'Laurel' he whispered 'What about Laurel?'

But Hutch was too busy giving orders and getting his partner safely on his way to yet another hospital.

He didn't see the figure of the young girl, hiding in the bushes, and crying for the only friend she knew.

End