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Wuemsel's Fanfic Corner

Ordinary Things


Home

The moment Hutch entered his house, he knew something was wrong.

He could feel the remains of a stranger's presence. He could see marks on his carpet. Strangers had been in his home. But what for? And for how long? He'd left on Friday to spend the long weekend in the quiet peace of the woods. Fishing. Reading. Just enjoying some time away from the city. Some time on his own. Today was Tuesday. What had happened here in the meantime? The scent of fear hung in the thick air. The vague echoes of voices seemed to have been absorbed by the walls.

Something was terribly wrong.

Instinctively reaching for his gun, Hutch slowly took another step inside the living-room, when he suddenly tripped over something and looked down.

A spoon. Dried blood on it.

The hairs in his neck rose, he bent down to pick the spoon up and froze in motion. There was a whole line of things, ordinary things, like a trail on the floor, leading to the bathroom.

A pencil.

A candle.

A cup.

A record, broken.

A belt.

A small bottle without a label on it, empty.

A wire.

Slowly following the trail, not quite understanding what the hell was going on, Hutch swallowed dryly when he made out spots of dried blood on most of the items.

What the hell...?

He came to a sudden halt at the sight of the last thing, and gasped in shock.

Ollie. Blood on his outstretched paw that pointed at the closed bathroom door.

It was only then that Hutch heard the water running inside the room. Gun still in hand, he pushed the door open. The first thing he saw was the greeting on the mirror.

"Welcome back!" written in big red letters.

"Oh my god!"

The second was his partner, huddled in the shower, fully clothed, soaking wet, bleeding, shivering. "Starsky!" Within a second, Hutch had holstered his gun and was on his partner's side, quickly turning off the water with shaky hands. "Starsk."

Completely unaware of the fact that the water soaked through his jeans, Hutch knelt next to Starsky, ever so carefully lifting the shivering man's chin from his chest, wincing at the sight of the many cuts and mottled bruises on the swollen features. Now that the water didn't rain onto the battered face anymore, it was quickly replaced by blood still running out of some of the gashes. Others looked older, already beginning to heal.

What happened here?

"Starsky. Hey buddy, it's me, it's Hutch. Starsk?" Hutch brushed a gentle thumb over a relatively untouched area on Starsky's cheek when he noticed a slight flicker of his partner's eyelids. The tiniest of moans escaped the split lips. "Yeah, that's it, buddy. C'mon, wake up for me," Hutch encouraged. "Please open your eyes, c'mon."

As the stirring increased, Hutch let go off Starsky's head and gingerly placed his hands on his partner's that were cuffed in front of him, his wrists carved and bleeding from ineffective struggles.

The moment Hutch's fingers touched his, Starsky flinched violently, even hitting the wall of the shower behind him, and if possible curled up more, until his forehead was practically buried between his drawn up knees. If it could have, his shivering would probably have increased too.

"N-n-n-n-no," he whimpered so faintly Hutch had to strain to hear him. "Pl-plea-please..."

"Shh," Hutch hurried to soothe him, reaching out to gently force his face up again. "It's okay, babe. It's me. No need to be afraid."

He finally managed to lift Starsky's face out of the nook created by his knees again, brushing back the mass of soaked curls that clung to the clammy forehead. Starsky was so wet his skin felt almost rough to the touch, like his clothes. Again, the smaller man flinched at the touch. His eyes were open now, but only to slits, and he avoided looking at Hutch.

"Starsk, it's me. You're safe now. I'm here now. Starsk -- you hear me?" Hutch desperately tried to reach his friend, but once more failed.

Instead of recognizing his partner, Starsky tensed up under the caressing hands, his shoulders so drawn Hutch could see it under the wet shirt, and slowly as if not wanting Hutch to notice, he gingerly cradled his cuffed hands to his chest. It tore Hutch's heart apart to watch his normally so brave partner's feeble attempt at protecting his obviously injured hands, and he once more bowed his head to look into the dull, fear filled eyes.

"Hey. Look at me, buddy, hm? Please, Starsk, it's me."

But the other man seemed to have shut down his senses. The way he simply sat there in his misery, breathing in tiny, scared gasps, he looked almost like he'd... Submitted, Hutch thought in horror, his eyes widening at a sight he thought he'd never see. A defeated Starsky. A Starsky who'd given up, who would accept whatever his torturers had in mind to do to him next.

A soft whimper escaped him when Hutch drew his hands back from where they'd rested on Starsky's hair, but he instantly bit his quivering lip to keep himself from uttering more sounds. Desperate, Hutch raised his hands in front of his chest as if to show that he was unarmed, and continued to assure his friend that he was safe now, all the time wondering what on earth had happened in those few days he'd been gone. Who had been in his home? Who'd done this? And why?

The only one who could give him at least some answers, had still not moved, except for his shivering, and since giving him space hadn't worked either, Hutch reached out to gently stroke the curly head again.

God, he's freezing cold. Gotta get him someplace warm.

This time, however, Starsky's head snapped up, his eyes were wide open now, staring at Hutch pleadingly. "No!" he exclaimed hoarsely, the urge to protest so strong that he even managed to get it out without stuttering.

Using the chance, Hutch let his hand remain where it was, despite Starsky's weak attempts at shrugging it off. "Buddy, it's me. Hutch. I'm here now. Okay? C'mon, snap out of it."

Slowly, agonizingly slowly, the fog of fear cleared in the deep blue eyes and was replaced by a mixture of disbelief and hope. A slight frown crawled over drawn features. "Hu-Hutch?" the injured man finally asked, his voice merely a whisper, his eyes wandering from Hutch to the background as if scanning the room.

"Yeah, it's me. It's okay, everything's gonna be okay."

Life seemed to rush back into the abused body; cuffed hands were raised to ever so softly touch Hutch's face. Wincing as he saw that even that little movement hurt his friend, Hutch placed his own hand over Starsky's, noticing for the first time, that some of his fingers were broken.

Starsky, though, was too relieved to actually feel the pain; the flinch when his battered hands were touched was automatic. But the pain didn't matter. Broken bones didn't matter. Hutch had come. Hutch had finally come.

"Y-y-you rea-real..." he started to ask, and closed his eyes briefly in frustration as he couldn't force the words out.

Hutch understood, anyway. "Yes, babe, I'm really here," he said. "You're safe now. It's over," he added, though he had no idea what it exactly was. Whatever it is, it's over. I won't let anyone hurt you again, partner, I swear.

Starsky sighed in relief, his gaze fixed on Hutch as if he was afraid his friend would vanish once he took his eyes off him.

"Starsk, we need to get you warm," Hutch continued, relieved that he'd finally reached his friend. Now he had to turn to more obvious needs, though. "Can you walk?"

Fear flickered through blue eyes, ever so briefly, and was quickly replaced by determination. "'C-c-c-cour..."

"'Kay," Hutch nodded, and placed a hand on Starsky's waist to gently help him to his feet. Once they'd made it out of the shower, though, the curly-haired detective winced, his knees buckling so hard Hutch couldn't hold him upright. As gently as possible, he eased his friend back on the ground, casting him a questioning look. Starsky bowed his head almost ashamedly, avoiding Hutch's look.

"What?"

"F-f-f-feet," Starsky whispered, lifting his bare feet just high enough for Hutch to see long, nasty gashes on both his soles. Though they belonged to the category of older ones and weren't bleeding anymore, they still looked extremely sore.

A very effective alternative to ropes. Hutch closed his eyes briefly. "Aw, Starsk, why didn't you say so?"

A flinch shook the slumped shoulders at Hutch's tone, and was followed by a whispered, "'M so-sorry."

Hutch frowned, again finding himself bowing his head to look into Starsky's eyes. He'd sounded almost... No, you're not... afraid of me, are you? God, what the hell have they done to you, Starsk?

As if he'd heard his partner's thoughts, Starsky looked up now, a slight hint of dry humor in his eyes. "Wou-woulda t-t-take-taken too long," he stuttered.

Hutch smiled, but still couldn't shake the feeling that he'd just gotten a glimpse behind the mask. Anyway, he'd worry about all of that later, he decided. Right now the important thing was to get his partner warm and in a hospital. He'd get all the answers he wanted then.

"Well, 'kay then. Come here," Hutch said and carefully lifted his partner off the ground, cradling him like a child.

Starsky didn't protest, but didn't look too happy about being carried, either. Hutch smiled slightly amusedly at the unnerved look on his friend's face, but grew concerned again once he felt the freezing cold seeping through the too light body. He almost shivered himself just from feeling it against his own skin. He hurried to get out of the bathroom and to the couch, where he gently laid his burden on it, frowning when he caught a glimpse of Starsky's look that seemed to be fixed on something on the ground. Following it, Hutch saw the trail of items still neatly in place. "Starsk?"

His partner didn't hear, but kept staring, his hands once more cradled to his chest. Pulling a throw off the back of the couch, Hutch positioned himself between Starsky and the things and carefully wrapped the blanket over the shivering body, wincing at the violent jerk that followed his touch. "Shh," he soothed. "It's okay. Just me, remember?"

The ghost of a smile crossed Starsky's lips, and he relaxed a little, snuggling up in the blanket, feebly using his injured hands.

Frowning, Hutch suddenly recognized some sort of pattern in the ugly blue bruises that covered both hands. They were circle-shaped, and all in the same place right above the knuckles.

Oh my god. The cup.

He couldn't help looking over his shoulder at the cup that sat in the trail of horror, completely unaware it'd been used as a weapon. When he looked back at Starsky again, his partner had hid his hands under the blanket.

Get a grip, Hutchinson. We deal with all of that later, Hutch thought, clearing his throat. "D'you know where the keys to the cuffs are?"

A sympathetic look flickered through Starsky's eyes. He looked like he almost thought it was better not to tell. "Y-y-yours," he finally said.

Hutch closed his eyes. My cuffs. My place.

"Okay, I'm gonna get it and some dry clothes for you, and call an ambulance. Be right back," he promised, giving Starsky's shoulder a little squeeze, but was startled by a sudden violent flinch and a weak grip on his arm.

"No!"

Confused, Hutch was about to reassure his friend he'd be gone only for a second, when realization dawned. "No discussion, Starsk. You're going to the hospital."

"Pl-please Hutch," Starsky begged, his grip tightening, until he couldn't bear the pain in his broken fingers anymore and had to let go. "Please. N-no doc-doctors. I... I d-don't wanna..."

"Buddy, you're bleeding all over, you're probably in shock, you're... What am I doing here? You're going to the hospital and that's that," Hutch said, almost sternly, but with his fingers softly brushing Starsky's.

"Please. J-just need to g-get w-warm a-and..."

"No, you need stitches," Hutch interrupted him, placing his hand on Starsky's face to brush his thumb over a particularly long gash on his temple.

"Plea..."

"Starsky!" Hutch couldn't help snapping. He knew Starsky loathed hospitals, but this was ridiculous. His anger vanished immediately, though, when Starsky flinched at his voice and curled up in one corner of the couch. "'M sorry, Hutch. D-don't be m-mad."

Mad?! Furious' more like it! But not at you, buddy, Hutch thought but didn't say a word, just bent forward until his forehead touched Starsky's. His partner flinched at first, but relaxed quickly, closing his eyes, absorbing the comfort of the gesture.

"Be right back," Hutch whispered after a moment and left to produce the key to his cuffs, a sweater and sweat pants from the bedroom. When he returned, he found his partner still huddled in the corner, his eyes squeezed shut. "Hey," he said softly so as not to startle him, and sat down on the couch. "Starsk?"

"Yeah," Starsky answered quickly, snapping his eyes open. Hutch couldn't fight the thought that he looked like he'd been caught red-handed. Looking down at where his partner's hands were hid under the blanket, he winced inwardly at the image. Consider the irony.

"You okay?" Hutch asked, not failing to notice the fear that still flickered in Starsky's eyes through the obvious efforts of pushing it back inside, out of Hutch's sight.

"Yeah, s-sure," was the quick response. "J-just still c-cold," he added, forcing his quivering lips into a slight smile. Answering it with a sympathetic one, Hutch rubbed his friend's shoulder and turned to get the key from where he'd laid it on top of the clothes next to him on the couch.

"We'll have you warm in no ti..." he started to reassure, but stopped and frowned when he saw what it had been Starsky had seen from the corner he sat in.

The trail of horror.

Clearing his throat, he finished his sentence, turning back to face Starsky, who once more looked down. You're scared to death, aren't you, buddy? he thought, but of course knew his partner would rather bite his tongue than admit it. It's okay, partner. You're okay. No more pain. No more fear. I promise.

As if he'd heard the assuring words, Starsky relaxed, stretching out his hands, so Hutch could get the cuffs off him. He winced when the steel finally came off and instinctively started to rub the sore spots on his wrists, but was stopped by the pain in his fingers.

Gently pushing Starsky's hand away, Hutch carefully inspected the injuries himself. "How long were you cuffed?"

"Wh-what d-day is it?" Starsky replied wryly.

Not sure whether his friend was joking, Hutch sighed deeply, mumbling "Tuesday," while he started to unbutton Starsky's shirt, not missing the by now all too familiar flinch this caused. God, he's so cold.

"How long you've been sitting in the shower?" he asked.

"N-not that long," Starsky lied, sensing his partner's distress. Though he longed for the comfort of his friend, his instinctive aim was to keep the truth from Hutch, to not let him know how miserable he truly felt, how much he was hurting.

Yet, once he'd dragged the soaked shirt from where it clung to Starsky's body, Hutch could easily imagine the pain his partner had experienced and was still feeling. He gasped in shock. "Starsk."

Starsky once more bowed his head, ashamed, feeling guilty for the pain he saw reflected in the caring blue eyes. He didn't have to follow Hutch's gaze, he could feel every bruised or bleeding spot Hutch was staring at with such dismay.

There didn't seem to be an area untouched on his body, and though most of the more obvious wounds were rather small, there were so many of them and they looked so angry and severe that Hutch wondered how long it had taken to inflict them.

The distinct shapes of most of the items that still sat neatly rowed up on the ground were visible on the pale skin. When he turned to cast an unbelieving look at them, Hutch almost thought he saw them straightening as if proud. They seemed to have suddenly built personalities. Evil ones. Looking back, he found himself trying to figure out which thing had done what.

Sickly grey color surrounded nasty gashes.

The pencil.

Black splinters were embedded in others.

The record.

Burns. Small ones. But bad.

The candle.

He swallowed dryly. A few looked different than the others.

The wire. Oh god.

"You don't have to go to the hospital, hm, babe?" he finally asked, running his index finger along an almost black bruise on Starsky's chest. The spoon.

"I-it's n-not as b-bad as..."

"Sure," Hutch nodded softly, no sarcasm evident in his voice, but only pure sympathy. Starsky knew his friend hurt almost as much as he did himself, and so he tried to grab the sweater still laid on Hutch's knees, his injured hands giving him some problems, though. "C-c'mon, 'm free-freezin' here."

"Yeah," Hutch mumbled, of course knowing exactly what Starsky was trying to do. "Sorry." As careful as he could possibly be, he helped Starsky in the sweater, casting a last look on the horrible signs of violence before they were covered by the warm, soft material.

Starsky sighed with relief, surprised at how good the warmth felt on his skin.

It took a little longer to get the sweat pants onto him, or better to rip the soaked material of his blue jeans off him, but thankfully there weren't as many injuries on his lower body, so this was much less painful.

Once he had gotten his friend into dry clothes and wrapped in the blanket again, Hutch stood to call an ambulance, but was held back by a weak, pleading hand.

Starsky was tiring quickly, the welcome, unfamiliar warmth surrounding him lulling him to sleep, yet he wouldn't give up that easily.

"No," he mumbled, his eyes already half-closed.

"Buddy, don't start," Hutch replied sternly, but didn't shrug off his partner's hand. "Not after I saw... You need to go."

"'Kay," Starsky nodded weary, "b-but you drive me, alright? No sirens." At Hutch's doubtful look, he made a clumsy looking attempt at getting his feet back on the ground. "I promise I'll walk." He cringed when pressure was inflicted on the tender area of his soles, yet didn't draw his legs back up again, looking at Hutch pleadingly.

"All right," his partner nodded, "I'll drive you." Gently, he reached out to lift Starsky's legs back on the couch again. "But no walking." Before his unhappy friend could even open his mouth in protest, Hutch raised his index finger. "It's either that or an ambulance."

After a moment's thought, Starsky reached out to place his arm around Hutch's neck. "I take that as a yes," Hutch smiled.

****

The drive to the hospital left the injured detective dozing off. He sat slumped in the passenger seat, the blanket still wrapped around him, his hands cradled against his chest in a way that made anger rise in Hutch. It looked sickly familiar to the injured man, this gesture, as if sprung from the need to desperately protect his hands even in sleep.

Fighting the urge to reach out and comfort Starsky, for he knew it would only startle him, Hutch clenched his jaw, speeding up.

When they'd finally arrived at the nearest hospital, Hutch sighed, casting his sleeping friend an apologetic glance. His fears proved to be grounded when Starsky jumped in fright at the slightest touch, curling up on the seat instantly, with his face buried somewhere between his drawn up knees and his chest. The softest of whimpers escaped him despite his efforts to just vanish, melt into the seat.

"Easy, babe," Hutch soothed, holding out his hands once more until he could see the tension fading from his partner's muscles. "Easy, 's just me. You fell asleep, remember?"

"Hutch?" came the tiny voice from somewhere of the haven of arms, knees and curls. It wasn't until he'd received a positive answer that Starsky finally looked up, carefully at first, than with visible relief.

"You okay?" Hutch asked, gingerly caressing his trembling friend's neck.

"Yeah," Starsky nodded, "I'm fine. We there?"

"Yes. And now I'm gonna go inside to call for a stretcher, because there's no way I'm carrying you all the way inside, you big lug. And you're not walking," he added with his index finger raised once more.

"'Kay, Mom."

"I'll be right back," Hutch promised, opening his door. "Don't go anywhere."

"I won't," Starsky assured, but held his friend back after a second. "Hutch?"

"Yeah?" Hutch asked, concerned at his partner's tone of voice, turning on his way out.

"Uhm... nothing."

"Starsky."

"Just... wh-when you call the, uh, the lab guys," Starsky said, looking down on his hands, "don't... don't let them take Ollie with them, okay? He didn't do anything."

What did they do, babe, huh? What did they do to you?

"Yeah," he heard himself say in a dull voice, for the first time not trying to look into the pain filled blue seas. "Yeah, I promise."

****

Almost an hour had passed since Starsky had been sent to an examination room when a young doctor released Hutch from the all too familiar displeasure of having to sit in an uncomfortable plastic chair, waiting, worrying.

He had used some of the time, though, to call and fill in Dobey who would take care of lab guys being sent to Hutch's house. After that all he could do was think -- excessively -- about possible suspects. Possible motives. Possible scenarios.

Did they keep you in that shower all the time? Did they threaten you before they acted? Did they show you what they were going to use on you? What other innocent ordinary thing?

It was obvious this had been a hit, an ordered one probably, but against whom? Starsky? In Hutch's house? That didn't make much sense, and who would have known that Starsky would be alone over the weekend?

The blond couldn't help shudder at the thought that his friend might just have been taken by surprise in the real target's, Hutch's, house. Oh god, what if it was me they were really after?! What if he just stepped in there to water the damn plants or whatever and they jumped him thinking it was me?! What if he went through all of this because of me?!

"Detective Hutchinson?"

Please don't let him have been hurt because of me!

"Detective Hutchinson?" the young doctor spoke to the unresponsive detective for a second time, lightly touching the other one's arm to get his attention. "Detective? I'm Dr. Martin. I'm here to infor..."

Hutch was on his feet within a split second. "How is he?"

The young man smiled warmly, but motioned for him to follow him outside of the waiting area. "Well," the doctor started once they were standing on the hallway, and leant heavily against a wall as if exhausted, "physically I guess he's been better, but he should make a full recovery. Fortunately none of the injuries were anywhere near life-threatening. Probably extremely painful, though," he added with a sympathetic smile.

Hutch let out a little sigh of relief. Though he'd anticipated that, it felt very comforting to hear his first diagnosis confirmed by a doctor.

"What about his hand?" he asked.

"Three fingers were broken," the younger man nodded. "And two of his ribs too. Also he's developing a slight fever at the moment due to infection from the, uh, gashes that still held... splinters in it when we treated them. But that should be easy to keep under control," he added quickly at the blond's widening eyes. "It's a minor worry compared to..." A short pause occurred as Dr. Martin seemed to figure out what to say next.

"Compared to what?" Hutch finally asked, dreading the answer. "What else is wrong with him?"

"He was drugged," the man said flatly, but in the next instant hid behind facts again, looking down on an almost empty chart he held in his hands, clearly on the purpose to avoid the taller man's shocked gaze. It was obvious he hadn't been the messenger of bad news very often during his short career. "Repeatedly over the past few days. Fortunately the mixture he was given doesn't seem to have any lasting physical effects, but..."

Hutch hadn't even heard anything past "D-drugged?"

"Yes," the young doctor nodded, getting a little nervous at the detective's reaction. "But as I said..."

"He didn't seem drugged when I found him," Hutch interrupted him once more.

"He'd been sitting in freezing cold water for a considerable amount of time then," Dr. Martin pointed out with a sympathetic smile. "The momentary effects had already passed."

"But... he didn't say anything about..." Hutch stuttered, then stopped as if he just then had heard Martin's words, and frowned. "Mixture? Of what? What exactly are the effects of... whatever it was they gave him?" The frown deepened a little, his way of thoughts was almost visible in his worried eyes. "What is it you're not telling me? My partner's not going to... uhm," he couldn't bring himself to say it and just let the pause itself fill the gap in his sentence. "Is he?"

"No," Martin hurried to assure him, dismayed at what his inability of telling the detective straight had done. "No, no, he's not. Calm down, detective. Your partner's going to be just fine. He's just a little... uhm... Let me explain. See, the drug he was given consists of a variety of others, it is an artificial one if you want to call it that way. I'm sure you're more familiar with what's running on the streets than me, anyway."

Hutch nodded slightly, a tight knot forming in his throat. Yes, he knew what was running on the streets and that fact didn't actually help him to calm down.

"Anyway, this particular artificial drug was obviously produced in order to stimulate certain emotions," Martin explained, trying to keep the med talk out of his words as much as possible.

The frown never left Hutch's forehead as he tried to understand what he was been told. "What d'you mean? Like in it leads to physical reaction tow..."

"Like in it makes you scared," the young man interrupted him. "It forces the body to produce more adrenalin than it can actually take and that leads to the consumer getting extremely scared. Or happy. Or sad. Everything the circumstances allow," he added and bowed his head sadly. "In Detective Starsky's case however..."

"Wait a minute, doc. What you're telling me is that they used drugs on him to scare him?!" Hutch asked in disbelief. "That doesn't make any sense! He was tortured! They held him captive for God knows how long and beat him up and... Don't you think that would scare anyone enough already?!"

"Yes," Martin sighed. "Yes, you're right, it would."

"But then wha..." Hutch started to yell, but hushed himself instantly as realization hit him like a slap in the face.

Martin watched in sympathy how those shocked, concerned, sad blue eyes dropped to the ground as if what they'd seen had exhausted them.

It took Hutch a while before he looked up again, hopefully. "You said there were no lasting effects..."

"Physically," Martin nodded. "Right."

Hutch clenched his jaw, searching the other man's eyes for something, he didn't really know what. Hope?

"Can I see him now?" he finally asked, his voice not entirely steady.

"Better," Martin replied with a small smile. "You can take him home. Since his injuries are not that severe I think it'd be better to release him as soon as possible. But I have to be sure he won't be... alone for at least a few days. Does he have any family living nearby or friends who could..."

"Yeah," Hutch replied quickly. "Yes, he has. Don't worry." He was visibly relieved at the doctor's words.

"Okay then. I'm going to prescribe him something for the pain and a slight sedat..."

"He won't need sedatives," Hutch said with a slight laugh in his voice, that was pure nervousness actually.

Martin looked up from where he was writing down the medication on the chart, his eyes narrowing a little. "I'm going to prescribe them, anyway, okay? Just in case."

Hutch opened his mouth to protest again, but at Martin's look closed it again and just nodded. Somehow he trusted that young man. He seemed really concerned, really interested; and it bothered the blond that on the contrary Martin didn't seem to trust him.

"He shouldn't be walking too much," Martin continued, looking up at the detective again. "The gashes on his soles have healed rather nicely, considering they weren't treated, and I thought it wiser to not re-open them, but he should avoid putting any pressure onto them for at least three more days. Also he should keep meals light for some time, a day or two. He's a little undernourished. Not to the extent of creating a real concern, but add it to his general condition..."

Hutch nodded, looking -- and feeling -- like a kid who was given instructions for an over-night stay at his friend's.

"Okay," Martin nodded, satisfied with Hutch's reaction, and reached into his coat pocket to produce a small notebook. Writing down a name and a number, he explained, "If his condition should get worse," he shot a brief glance at Hutch to make sure the detective understood what sort of condition he meant, "you should consider sending him to," he handed the confused detective the small paper, "Dr. Keyes. He's a..."

"Psychiatrist?" Hutch asked in disbelief. This can't be happening.

"Yes, specialized in post-traumatic distress and drug abuse."

Hutch stared at the man, his voice seemingly coming from a great distance. "Drug abu... Starsky doesn't need a psychiatrist."

The glance he earned for that made him once more feel like the enemy, as if the young man thought him to be the problem. "I... I mean..."

He tried to make a late save, but was interrupted by Martin's serious reply, "I hope you're right, detective. And you might be. But if, if, you're wrong, denying won't help anyone." With that he gave Hutch's arm a parting pat and turned.

Hutch stood where he was left, looking at the piece of paper in his hand.

Welcome home, Hutchinson. Welcome back.

Inwardly wincing at the words, he stashed the paper in his pocket and headed for Starsky's room.

Welcome back. Just a greeting. Something you just say. Just words. Ordinary words.

Entering the room his friend had been examined in, he found him sound asleep on the examination table, curled up on his side, his by now bandaged hands hid in the narrow space between his drawn up knees and chest. A few bruises and gashes on his face had required bandages, but most of them were still visible, and he was wearing Hutch's sweater and sweat pants again, looking like a little boy who was wearing his older brother's clothes. His slightly strained features, a twitch around the corner of his mouth only added to this image. A boy who had been playing too rough, had gotten hurt, and was now seeking the comfort of too big, warm clothes, snuggling up in the collar of the sweater until his nose barely peeked out from under it.

Feeling a little stab in his heart at that picture, Hutch quickly banished it from his mind. His friend might look small, vulnerable, broken, but he wasn't. This was Starsky, one of the toughest men he'd ever met and it wouldn't help anyone, especially not his friend, especially not in this situation, to forget that.

As if I ever could, the blond reprimanded his inner voice. Yet -- he looks so... small... As he slowly, carefully approached the sleeping figure, Hutch briefly looked around the room. An ordinary examination room. Medical instruments everywhere. Other things too. Spoons too. Pencils on a table too.

Ordinary things. Everywhere.

A small whimper drew his attention back to his partner who frowned a little in his sleep and curled up more as if trying to make himself a smaller target. For what?

"Starsk," Hutch whispered, reaching out to touch his friend, but stopped inches away from him. He didn't want to look into those terror-filled eyes again, didn't want to be responsible for another flinch again. "Starsky," he said a little louder. "Buddy, wake up."

Starsky flinched, drawing up his shoulders to hide his face. Fighting almost overwhelming resignation, Hutch braced himself and shook his partner's shoulder, not letting go even when the anticipated flinch followed.

"Starsk, wake up, it's me. Starsky, c'mon, time to go home now."

The already tensed muscles under Hutch's fingers tensed a little more, just for a moment, then the small voice he seemed to be hearing way too often this day came from the also too familiar haven of darkness and warmth the injured and considerably disturbed man sought somewhere hidden in the heap of curled up limbs.

"Hutch?"

"No, Gordo, Santa Clause," Hutch replied, too soft to let the sarcasm really kick in, yet it felt extremely satisfying to tease his partner again and most of all to see him respond to it, as his head came up from where he'd hid his face a lot faster this time, and there was even a smile in his eyes, that vanished quickly, though, when he looked around.

"You're at the hospital, Starsk," Hutch hurried to explain. "Remember?"

"I'm not senile, Hutch," Starsky shot back, but sighed a split second later, smiling again. "Just edgy, I think. Sorry."

"It's okay, I'm used to getting snapped at when pointing out the obvious."

"Hm-hm. So -- what did Kid Doc have to say? How long this time?"

Chuckling at the precise description of young Dr. Martin, Hutch shook his head. "You're coming with me. He said you're not his type, doesn't want you here."

That brought a wide grin to the battered face. "Really?! -- You wouldn't kid about this, would you?"

"Never," Hutch replied seriously, raising his hands in front of him. "We're just waiting for the wheelchair. That is unless you'd rather have me carrying you out of he..."

"I love wheelchairs."

"That's what I thought," Hutch smiled, but got serious a moment later when he watched Starsky sit up on the table, careful as to not use his broken fingers that had splints on.

"Starsk, why didn't you tell me you'd been drugged?"

Starsky didn't look up, seemingly busy shoving the too wide sleeves up his arms. "Didn't seem important at the time."

"You think so?" Hutch asked innocently, reaching out to help his friend's feeble hands, but drew his own back instantly when Starsky flinched at the sudden touch.

"I can manage, okay?!" the curly haired detective exclaimed a little irately, though Hutch could see the clear signs of embarrassment in his eyes.

Taking two steps back to give his friend the space he obviously needed, Hutch quietly apologized and watched with the almost unbearable urge to help out again. Agonizingly slow, Starsky rolled up the sleeves, suppressing a wince of pain more than once. Eventually he gave up and just let the left sleeves roll back all the way over his arm. Pushing himself away from the wall he'd leaned on, Hutch slowly approached his friend silently, holding out his hands as if to show he wasn't going to hurt him and rolled up the sleeve for him. When he was about to draw his hand back from the other man's arm, Starsky slowly bowed his head to softly rest it against Hutch's chest, drawing in a shaky breath. Hutch let his hand remain were it was and lifted his other one to gently drive it through the unruly curls. I'm here, partner. I'm with you. All the way.

The contact lasted for just a few seconds, yet when they looked at each other again hope met newly found confidence. Hutch smiled warmly. It's going to be alright. I promise. He didn't have to say the words.

****

The pain pills Starsky had been given, before he was finally allowed to be wheeled out by Hutch, made him sleepy; and after the painful experience of having to make the short way from the wheelchair to the passenger seat, he instantly fell asleep in the seat and woke just before they reached his apartment, much to Hutch's relief since he didn't have to wake him up again.

"Hey, how was your trip, anyway?" Starsky asked sleepily, trying to blink open his eyes.

"Great," Hutch mumbled, while parking in front of Starsky's house, next to the Torino. "Just great. Very relaxing. Hey, what's your car doing here?"

"I live here."

"No, dummy, I mean how'd you get to my pla..." As Starsky looked away from him, down on his hands, Hutch's eyes widened in dismay. They seemed to do that a lot recently.

"Oh my god, they took you to my place?!"

"I was going to go there some time that day, anyway," Starsky said wryly, looking up at Hutch again. "You know water those stupid pla..." He stopped, when this time Hutch's gaze wandered down, and bent forward to look into the blond's eyes. "Hey, c'mon, Hutch, look at me." When his friend obeyed, he gently squeezed his arm, ignoring the pain in his bruised fingers. "It wasn't like that, okay? I don't think this was about you."

"And how d'you figure that?"

Starsky shrugged casually. "They didn't say so."

Hutch frowned, pushing his guilt aside. "D'you know who it was?"

"No," Starsky shook his head. "No idea."

"Anything you recognized? Voices, faces..."

"Hutch, could we continue this inside, please?" Starsky asked with a wry smile. "I'll tell you everything, I promise, as long as you don't make me sit in this... thing any longer than necessary."

Shooting his partner an apologetic look, Hutch nodded, leaving the car to help his friend, just to be met by him already trying to climb the stairs to his building. "Starsky, you shouldn't wa..."

"What then, fly?!"

Hutch sighed and reached out to steady his friend, who jerked his arm away before Hutch had even touched him.

"I had my share of being carried around today, alright? Leave a guy some decency, please!"

Rolling his eyes, Hutch placed himself slightly behind Starsky so that he could catch him if he should fall. "As if you ever ha..."

"And don't tease the defenseless ones!"

"I thought I was teasing you," Hutch replied just a second before he had to catch Starsky, who'd lost his balance on the last step due to the pain in his soles.

"I did that on purpose," the smaller man panted when Hutch placed an arm around his waist to steady him on the rest of the way.

"Sure you did, Gordo."

****

Hutch had hoped Starsky would finally tell him everything that had happened when they were in the apartment, but since the injured detective had succumbed to a drug-induced sleep as soon as his head had touched the pillow on his bed, Hutch had decided to let him get the rest he obviously needed.

He'd called Dobey once more, and filled him in on what Dr. Martin had told him. They had thought about some cases he and Starsky had been working on lately, but among them there'd been no one Hutch would think responsible for this hit. It had to be someone who knew them. And who had enough time or reason to build up such a hate.

Deciding he would probably get more answers once Starsky was awake again, Hutch had promised Dobey to keep him updated and then called a friend of his from the lab to make him promise to hide the teddy bear until he would come to collect it later that day. Then he had prepared some soup for Starsky to eat when he woke up, and was just about to look for some more spices when he heard a yelp behind him and jumped.

"Starsk!"

"Uh..." his friend mumbled from where he stood in the kitchen entry, leaning heavily against the doorframe. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you."

"Which part of 'don't walk around' did you not understand?!"

V'ing his brows, Starsky looked aside as if thinking. "Oh, was that don't walk around? I thought it was..."

"Oh shut up! And get back to bed!"

"But I don't wanna eat in bed," Starsky whined, limping away from the doorframe towards the table he grabbed just before he lost his balance again. "It makes me feel like I'm sick or something."

"You are sick or something."

"Okay, I'll just walk back in the bedroom then," Starsky shrugged and turned, only to be held back by a firm hand leading him to one of the chairs and pushing him down onto it.

"Sit down," Hutch ordered and turned back to the soup.

"Smells good," Starsky said after a few seconds, sounding like a child trying to make up for a prank.

"Hm hm. I called Dobey." Hutch thought he heard a small moan from behind him and turned to be met by an original Starsky puppy dog look.

"Can't we just... eat first and then I tell you?" he pleaded. "I'm hungry."

"Starsk..."

"And I can't concentrate when I'm hungry."

Hutch smiled at that, and looked away at the soup again. "Okay. But you're really planning on telling me, buddy," he turned his head ever so slightly, just to catch Starsky's desperate glance. "Right?"

"There isn't much to tell, okay?!" Starsky said irately. "I came home from your place, got jumped and..."

"From my place?" Hutch interrupted, confused. "When was that?"

"Friday," Starsky answered, much calmer this time, avoiding looking at Hutch since he knew what he found find in the blond's eyes.

"Friday?! Right after I left?!"

"Uhm... uh huh."

"What, you were with those goons for five days?!"

"Four and a half."

"That's not funny, Starsk!"

Sighing deeply, Starsky looked up pleadingly again. "Can't we just eat? Please?"

Hutch was about to yell just a little more, when he suddenly caught something in Starsky's gaze that made him frown, put aside the bags of spices he was still holding and approach his friend slowly, sitting down next to him at the table.

Starsky was looking down again.

"Starsk?"

When there was no reaction, Hutch gently tipped his finger under the other one's chin, lifting his head a little. "Hey, buddy, look at me."

Hesitantly, Starsky obeyed, forcing an unnerved look in his otherwise fear filled blue eyes.

"You're not scared of me, are you?" Hutch asked.

"Don't be ridiculous," Starsky murmured, jerking his head away from Hutch's hand.

"'Kay, tell me what happened." Before Starsky could even open his mouth, he raised his index finger. "Then we'll eat. But first I want to hear the whole story. They jumped you and...?"

"I woke up at your place and you know the rest. C'mon, I'm starving."

"I bet you are," Hutch said quietly, looking directly at Starsky who just then noticed he'd made a mistake.

"Hutch, please, I don't want to..."

"How many of them were there?"

"Five. But one left on the first day and didn't return."

"But the other four were always present?"

"I think so."

Hutch raised his brows questioningly.

"Well," Starsky explained wryly, "you could say that I wasn't always present. And before you ask -- they all wore ski masks. And no, I didn't recognize any voices. They didn't talk that much, anyway," he added in a lower voice as if speaking to himself.

"They didn't tell you what it was all about?" Hutch asked confusedly.

"Nope."

"They didn't want to know anything?"

"Nope. Nothing."

"But..."

"They didn't talk to me, okay?!"

Starsky's outburst was followed by a short pause Hutch used to get his emotions under control.

"They didn't... Nothing? Not a word? Not..."

Starsky silently shook his head. "No. If they wanted me to move or something they had... other ways of communication," he finished, absent-mindedly rubbing a sore spot on his chest.

Instinctively, Hutch reached out too, but drew back again when Starsky flinched at the mere prospect of being touched. "Were... were you in the shower all the time?" the blond finally asked, his voice unsteady.

"No. In the kitchen mostly."

In the kitchen. The cup. The spoon. Oh god.

When Hutch remained silent, Starsky added in a whisper, "Under, uhm, under your... the table."

My kitchen. My table.

"Most... most of the time they left me alone," Starsky continued, not looking at Hutch. But at least he was talking. Finally.

"But they had some sort of... schedule," he said with a wry laugh, "whose turn it was to, uhm... beat me up." He drew in a deep breath, and Hutch noticed how his good fingers curled around the fabric of the sweater. "With... anything." He gave another short pause and finished, "Eventually I stopped asking what it was all about. Just wanted... wanted them to stop. And they did," he finished with a bitter laugh. "Even let me clean up. Wasn't that nice?"

Hutch didn't reply, just stared at his friend in dismay, the image of Starsky curled up under his table, in his house, bleeding, in pain, drugged, scared, too much for him to bear.

"Hutch?"

My house. My table. My spoon. My cup. My record. My things.

My best friend.

"Hutch?"

I'll have to move out.

"Hey, blintz, you okay?"

Blinking as if waking from a dream, Hutch nodded quickly, reaching out to squeeze Starsky's shoulder, though only for his own comfort, and asked, "What about the drugs?"

"Yeah," Starsky whispered, his gaze dropping again. "Right. Uhm, they put them in the, uh, water."

Hutch frowned, remembering the small bottle in the trail of horror.

"I know," Starsky's voice drew his attention back to him. "I should've known better, but..." His voice trailed of, his gaze found Hutch's and he drew in a deep breath as if to brace himself before he told his friend, "They made me swallow salt. And I really tried to not drink the stuff, but I couldn't help it." He looked almost disappointed at himself, as he continued, "After the first time they didn't need any salt anymore. I mean," there it was again the soft laugh as if he was mocking himself, "I got so damn freaked out after that I probably would have drunk one of your scruffy drinks if they'd told me to."

A long silence followed, Starsky's words seemingly echoing in the small kitchen.

Finally Hutch cleared his throat and stood to check on the soup, stopping behind Starsky to lay one hand on a by now slightly trembling shoulder. "I'm so sorry, buddy."

"What for?" Starsky asked surprised and turned so he could look at his friend. "It's not like any of this was your fault, Hutch."

"I shouldn't have left you alone. I should have..."

"Stayed here to look out for me in case some spoon-armed fruitcakes might show up on my doorstep?!" Starsky shot back angrily.

"No, but our job can be dangerous and I'm supposed to..."

"You're supposed to?!" Starsky interrupted him, furious now. "Supposed to what, Hutch?! Protect me?!"

"Yes," Hutch answered softly, not the least bit irritated by his partner's anger. He'd feel the same way. But he knew Starsky would too. So he just looked at his friend who was about to yell at him again, but fell silent at what he saw in Hutch's eyes.

You'd feel just the same way, buddy. You know you would. Go on, yell, that won't change a thing. And you know it.

"If you don't check on that soup sometime soon now it'll vaporize."

"I'm on it," Hutch assured, and turned, feeling weak fingers squeeze his just for a second before letting go of him again.

"Okay, dinner's ready," he announced and placed a plate in front of his friend.

"I sure hope it's worth all the waiting," Starsky mumbled dryly.

"Stop complaining and ea..." Hutch replied while he turned back towards the table again, a spoon for Starsky in his hand.

"Starsk?" he asked worriedly as all color seemed to drain from his friend's face and he visibly started to shiver.

"Hey, what's wrong?"

"N-nothin'," Starsky mumbled, so softly Hutch had to strain to hear it. "'M fine."

Yet he looked everything but fine. And as Hutch took another step towards the table, Starsky flinched back so violently he literally fell from the chair, letting out a loud yelp of pain when he tried to brake his fall with his injured hands.

Hutch was at his side instantly. "Buddy, hey, what's the matter? Starsk?"

"I'm fine," Starsky assured him weakly, though Hutch thought he sounded almost angry, and shoved back Hutch's hands that were trying to help him sit up.

"You're shaking like a leaf on a tree," Hutch replied, ignoring his friend's efforts and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, not letting go when he'd managed to get him into a sitting position. "Hey," he said when he received no reply and gently forced Starsky to look at him. "Talk to me, Starsk. What's wrong?"

"I told ya," Starsky shot back, but closed his eyes in frustration. "The spoon," he whispered.

"What? What spo... Aw shit," Hutch murmured as he noticed the spoon he'd placed on the table when rushing to his partner's side.

"I'm sorry, babe," he said softly, cradling his still trembling partner a little closer.

"Don't babe me," Starsky replied, his voice still no more than a whisper, and leaned his forehead against Hutch's chest like he had in the hospital. "I'm fine."

"I just didn't think," Hutch said apologetically, and looked down at the mass of dark curls, resisting the urge to touch his still shaken friend, afraid to startle him. "Sorry I scared you."

At that Starsky head snapped up, and he pushed away from Hutch.

"I'm not scared of a spoon! See?" he added and grabbed the spoon from where it lay on the table, holding it in front of him like a magic wand. "Just a spoon. And just Hutch," he added, pointing at his partner with the spoon. "Nothing scary around here."

Hutch smiled warmly, taking the spoon out of Starsky's hand. "Right."

But the second Hutch held it again, Starsky started trembling once more and he swallowed repeatedly as if he was about to be sick.

Quickly laying the spoon behind his back so that it was out of sight, Hutch tried to place a steadying hand on Starsky's shoulder, but grabbed only empty air when his partner let himself fall back on his back, looking up at the ceiling.

"Buddy?"

"I think I'm going nuts, Hutch."

"You're just messed up right now," Hutch said softly and after a moment's thought lay down beside his friend on the kitchen floor. "It'll get better."

"Do you think I'm going nuts?"

"No, dummy."

They were silent for a while, and Hutch already feared his friend had fallen asleep on the hard ground, when he heard a terror-stricken whisper next to him.

"I'm scared, Hutch."

"I know, babe."

"I'm scared of being scared."

"I know," Hutch repeated and rolled onto his side, so that he was facing Starsky now, who stared at the ceiling with wide eyes that were bright from unshed tears.

"But you don't have to be. We'll get whoever did this to you and you'll see that you're still in control."

"I don't feel in control," Starsky whispered, sounding more scared than ever. Like a frightened kid. No, Hutch thought, not like a kid. Worse. Like an adult. Like Starsky. A scared Starsky. It was the worst sound he could imagine.

"Give it some time," Hutch said, propping up his head on his elbow. "It'll get better."

"I hate being scared."

"I know, Starsky. Think you can get up now? You really need to eat something. I could make you something else," he added.

"No," Starsky hurried to say, and sat up. "Give me that spoon." Hutch smiled proudly and reached out for it.

"No, wait," Starsky's voice held him back.

Hutch turned to look at his friend questioningly.

"I'll get it myself," Starsky murmured ashamedly and quickly grabbed the spoon before he dragged himself off the ground again, avoiding looking in his friend's worried eyes.

****

"How is he?" Dobey asked when Hutch entered his office a few hours later.

Starsky had assured him he'd been just fine laying on the couch, watching one of his much loved classics on tv. And though Hutch hated to leave him for even a second, the urge to find out whoever ordered and organized the hit was so overwhelming that he couldn't resist it. As if it was going to make everything okay again if he knew who it had been. As if knowing that whoever hurt him was locked away would stop Starsky from being scared anymore.

Sighing, Hutch sank down on one of the chairs in front of Dobey's desk. "Okay," he replied, not very convincingly, and at Dobey's frown added, "I don't know."

Since that was a rather unusual statement for one of the two detectives to give when it came to the other one's condition, Dobey frowned even more, but decided to leave the topic. Whatever was going on with Starsky right now, Hutch was the only one who would be able to help him anyway, so there was no point in forcing the blond to reveal information he obviously didn't want to share.

"Does he know who did it?" the Captain asked further, getting back on professional ground.

Frustrated, Hutch shook his head. "No. Not a clue." He made a short pause, before looking up at Dobey, his eyes reflecting his own emotions. "They wore masks and... he says they didn't talk to him."

"Didn't talk..." Dobey muttered and briefly closed his eyes, drawing in a calming breath. "So where're you gonna start?"

"I don't know," Hutch snapped, his features softening immediately as he glanced at the other man apologetically. "I've no idea. I just can't think of anyone who would want to do this and who'd have the opportunity to organize it. It's just... It doesn't make any sense!"

He stood to pace now, his too long suppressed anger reaching the surface.

Dobey just watched, knowing the detective well enough to not disturb the much needed outburst.

"What the hell's the point of torturing him like that?! Why my place?!"

"Vengeance?" Dobey asked.

Hutch stopped in mid-step, shooting the Captain a doubtful look. "Without letting us know who's? Not likely."

"Well it has to be someone who knows you," Dobey pointed out. "And who knew you'd be away for the weekend."

His words were cut off by Hutch's palm slamming against the wall next to the door. "Why did I go?! Damn! I should've kno..."

"Hutchinson!" Dobey barked. This was his cue. Pacing was okay, raving too, yelling -- but the moment his detectives let their unreasonable guilt take over, it was his task to yell some sense into them again. A well working routine.

"Get a grip, will you?" he continued, standing behind his desk now, looking much angrier than he actually was. All part of the routine. "Blaming yourself won't help anyone! Now what do you have?"

Hutch's shoulders slumped, but only for a second, then his gaze snapped up again. "Ollie!"

"What?"

"Ollie! They must have known about Ollie! Maybe someone who knew Terry. Someone who..."

"Who's Ollie?!" Dobey asked with irritation.

"Uhm... I'll tell you later, Cap," Hutch smiled sheepishly as he opened the door. "Gotta go now."

"Hutch!" Dobey called after him. "Keep me up..."

The door banged shut.

"...dated." He kept looking at the closed door for a few seconds, before he sat down again, rubbing his face tiredly.

They're gonna be okay. Always are. But somehow he couldn't really believe himself this time. The look in Hutch's eyes when he'd said he didn't know how his partner was... Aw bullshit! He's just exhausted, that's all. You know they'll get through this. They always do. Always do.

****

Hutch collected Ollie and drove to his place to pack some stuff for his stay at Starsky's, and of course to clean up the stuffed bear.

Glancing at it where it sat on the passenger seat, he shuddered slightly at the sight of the dried blood that covered one paw. It looked so dark by now that only one who knew about it would have taken it for blood, but then he knew.

He didn't do anything, Starsky's voice echoed in his head, and he had to draw in a deep breath to keep his emotions under control.

What sort of sadist would use a stuffed animal to hurt another human being?! Somehow it was even more perverted than using other ordinary things like spoons or cups, for teddy bears were... they symbolized childhood. Safety. Comfort.

Misusing a teddy bear to inflict pain was definitely one of the sickest things he had ever come across, Hutch decided. Instinctively, he reached out and brushed Ollie's soft fur as if to smooth away the distress and sadness and guilt the teddy was feeling.

How long he stood before his closed door, just staring at it, holding Ollie tightly in his arms -- he didn't know. Probably just a few seconds, but it felt like he needed an eternity to finally be able to open the door, just like he'd opened it not that long ago, to take a tentative step into the room, like he had before.

To breathe in the sent of fear still hanging in the air. Even stronger than before, now that he knew what had happened in there.

The trail of horror was gone, taken by the lab guys, who had left hours ago, obviously having tried to leave as little evidence of their work as possible.

Yeah right, as if I could return like nothing had happened...

Still holding on to Ollie for comfort, he slowly made his way to the kitchen, stopping at the door to look at the table.

There were small spots of blood visible underneath it, and a few tiny black splinters too, probably from the record having been broken in two.

In slow-motion, not really knowing what he was doing himself, he stepped nearer, until he stood right in front of the table and sank down to his knees, never letting go off Ollie as he did so. After another short pause, he sat the teddy down next to one of the table's legs and crawled under the table. Turning when he reached another leg, he leaned against it so that he sat right under it. Then he grabbed Ollie again, cradling him to his chest and drew his legs up to his nose, looking ahead at what he could see of the kitchen from this position.

It felt scary right away, sitting under a table. He'd never been a child that would hide in such places, but instantly felt like a little kid again, clinging to a teddy bear, feeling small, helpless. The kitchen suddenly seemed incredibly wide, big, threatening, and he couldn't see the other rooms anymore, only a glimpse of the door. He couldn't see any windows, either. Only the kitchen.

A cage, he thought. The sides are open, but it's a cage. He turned Ollie in his arms to look at the teddy's face. They held him in a cage.

The teddy looked back lifelessly, but somehow Hutch see sadness, pain, in the brown eyes. Just like when he'd brought Ollie home for the first time.

He had tried to leave the teddy to Starsky, knowing what a precious reminder of Terry it was. That morning after their Monopoly session, he'd left it behind, but Starsky had stopped him when he was already sitting in his car, bringing him the teddy.

"You forgot Ollie."

"Uhm..." Hutch had stuttered, not taking the bear, just staring at it. "Starsk..."

Starsky had simply ignored him, went around the car and sat Ollie down on the passenger seat.

"See you, Ollie," he'd said to the teddy, stroking the soft material of the teddy's fur, before looking up at Hutch again. "You look out for him, you hear?"

"Yeah," Hutch had replied flatly. "Sure."

And he had.

At first he'd kept it on the window sill in the living room, and more than once Starsky would get it in the night when he slept on Hutch's couch, right after Terry's death. When Hutch would get up in the morning, he'd find his friend curled up on the couch, tear stains still visible on his face, holding Ollie in a tight embrace, just like a kid seeking comfort from its beloved stuffed animal.

But after a while that had passed, and now Ollie had his place on a chair in Hutch's bedroom. Hutch would see him first thing in the morning, and from time to time the blond would even talk to the teddy, wishing him a good morning or joking around when he was getting ready for the day. It mostly was just like talking to oneself, only with a teddy present. Over the few years, that had passed. Since then, Hutch had come to deeply love the bear. It was a constant reminder of his love for Starsky and his duty to look out for him, as if Terry was watching over him to make sure he wouldn't let Starsky get hurt again.

Yeah, and look how well I managed.

Fighting tears of frustration, he leaned his forehead against the soft one of the teddy. "I'm sorry," he whispered, not knowing whether he meant the bear, Terry or Starsky. It didn't matter, anyway. "I'm so sorry."

A tear cascaded down his cheek despite his struggles to keep from crying, and he quickly wiped it away, looking up at Ollie's face again, forcing an ironic smile on his face.

"Well, pal, looks like you could use a bath, huh? C'mon." With that, he crawled out from under the table, taking Ollie with him.

****

The lights were on in Starsky's kitchen, when Hutch returned. Closing the door carefully so as not to startle his friend, he placed the bag of clothes he'd brought for himself next to the couch. He sat Ollie on it, then made his way to the kitchen.

Starsky sat at the kitchen table, his back facing Hutch. His shoulders seemed tensed, and he wasn't moving at all.

"Starsk, it's me," Hutch said quietly.

His friend nodded slowly. "I heard you."

"What're you doing in here?" Hutch continued, a little more firmly now and approached the table. "You're not supposed to walk arou..."

The words trailed off when he stepped close enough to see what lay on the table. A cup. A pencil. Two pieces of a broken record. A spoon. A candle. A small wire. The bottle was missing.

And Ollie.

Gulping past a quickly tightening knot in his throat, Hutch slowly sat down at the table across Starsky, looking at his friend staring at the items, he'd neatly placed on the table.

"Talk to me, buddy," Hutch finally said, when he couldn't bear the silence anymore. "I'm here."

"I am not losing my mind," Starsky said as if he'd been accused of just that. "I'm perfectly fine. I can handle this all by myself." He made a short pause, before looking up into his friend's concerned eyes. "And I'm not afraid of spoons."

For a proof, he picked up the spoon and held it out for Hutch to take it.

The blond obeyed, noticing how hard his partner tried not to flinch as their fingers briefly touched.

"See?"

Hutch didn't answer, his gaze dropped to the items again. "Abby Road," he read out the title of the record and looked up again. "And you say you're not losing your mind."

Starsky smiled slightly, reaching out as if to touch one half of it, but drew his hand back quickly.

"I'll buy it again," he said quietly.

"You can have mine," Hutch offered.

"No, I can't."

"Oh." A small frown crawled over Hutch's forehead. He'd never checked what record it'd been. "Something's missing," he then stated.

Starsky let out a short, bitter laugh. "Yeah, well, I'm short on drugs this week, so..."

"I didn't mean that," Hutch interrupted him and stood. "Wait a second."

He quickly went back to the living room to bring Ollie with him, and sat the teddy next to the cup on the table.

Starsky instantly reached out to grab it. "Ollie," he exclaimed happily. "You thought of him!"

"Sure," Hutch smiled. "What d'you think?"

Starsky's smile even grew. Gently he caressed the soft fur between his fingers. "You cleaned him up. Thank you."

"You're welcome, buddy," Hutch replied, and added after a short pause, "Tell me about Ollie."

"Huh?"

"How did he end up bloody, anyway?"

"Oh." Starsky's gaze dropped again. "I touched him." He shrugged. "And I was bloody."

"You sure there isn't more to it?" Hutch gently pushed. "How did he get into the kitchen?"

"They, uhm..." He stopped, sighed, looked up. "I don't wanna talk about this, Hutch."

"I know, babe," Hutch sighed and placed one hand over Starsky's that were still holding the teddy. "But maybe it'll help us to find out who did this."

That brought a frown to the smaller man's face. "How d'you figure that?"

"They must have known about Ollie to use..."

"They didn't do anything with him," Starsky interrupted him quickly and hugged Ollie closer as if to protect him from Hutch's false accusations.

Now it was Hutch's turn to frown. "But somehow he got into the kitchen. They must have known what he means to you."

"No, they didn't."

"How do you know that?!" Hutch shot back. It irritated him that his first reasonable theory should be destroyed that easily. It was the only clue he had.

Starsky closed his eyes. "Please, Hutch, don't yell," he whispered, but swallowed past his fear and forced himself to look at his partner again, before Hutch could apologize. "I asked them for him," he said in a normal voice again, then looked down, embarrassed.

Hutch's jaw traveled south. "What?"

Starsky never looked up when he quietly, flatly told his friend. "It was after they gave me the, uh, the water, and then they... used the wire on me. And it just... it hurt so much, and I was..." He swallowed dryly. " ...scared. I think I cried, I don't remember, and I asked them for Ollie." He looked up again, meeting his friend's shocked gaze. "I begged them for the teddy in the bedroom. They didn't know anything about it."

Hutch just stared at him, his theory forgotten. After a moment he simply reached out and pulled Starsky into a hug, more to his own comfort than Starsky's.

"Oh God, Starsk. I'm sorry. I didn't..."

"Hey," Starsky mumbled against the fabric of Hutch's shirt. "It's okay. I mean, the theory was good. You couldn't know."

"I'm sorry I made you tell this," Hutch continued, but let go of his friend, looking at him apologetically.

Starsky shrugged awkwardly, a bitter smile crossing his lips. "No sense in hiding my childish side from you, anyway." The smile faded. "You know, after a while... I was..." He stopped, then winced.

"What?" Hutch encouraged.

"Nothin'. 'sjust... No, forget it."

"No. What? What were you?"

Again, Starsky closed his eyes. It seemed he couldn't say anything about the incident with his eyes open. Like he couldn't really face it. "Scared of Ollie."

When he opened his eyes again, they were fixed on the teddy on his lap. He smiled apologetically. "I thought they might... use him," he finished, glancing up at his friend with a wry smile. "And so I threw him aside, somewhere, into a corner I think. They must have found him after they... dragged me into the shower today. "Sorry, pal," he muttered to Ollie, turning him around so he faced the bear's face. "Didn't mean it."

Hutch smiled as Starsky shot a glance at him. "So I'm not the only one talking to a stuffed bear here. That's a comfort."

Starsky laughed slightly, handing the bear over to Hutch, then slowly stood up.

"Hey, what..."

"I'm tired. I'm going to bed."

"Wait," Hutch said quickly, grabbing Starsky's arm and stood. "You shouldn't walk around."

"Oh no! No carry..."

"I won't carry you, Gordo. You know, this idea of yours, that I enjoy dragging you around every day, definitely needs an update. But I'll help you to the bedroom. So stop whining and move."

Starsky sighed dramatically, but complied.

It wasn't until Hutch had made sure Starsky wouldn't need to go anywhere in the next few hours and turned to leave, that the curly haired detective called after him, "Oh, by the way, I called Dobey to let him know I'm on the job again tomorrow. Sleep well, blondie!"

Hutch turned around to face his partner in slow-motion, almost threateningly, and raised his brows. "I beg your pardon?" He could clearly see how hard Starsky fought, to not shrink back in the cushions.

"I feel okay. I don't see why I shoul..."

"You feel okay?!" Hutch snapped, and this time Starsky flinched in earnest.

"Hutch, please, don't get mad. I just want to..." He drew in a deep breath as if to gather the strength he would need to face his friend. "You said I need to see that I'm still in control."

Hutch stared at him as if he'd lost his mind, and shook his head, laughing despite his anger. "Starsk, you can't even walk!"

When Starsky's gaze dropped, as if he was ashamed of his momentary handicap, Hutch made his way over to the bed and sat down on it next to his partner. "Hey."

At the very first brush against his shoulder, Starsky flinched violently, making Hutch draw his hand back away instantly. Their eyes met for a split second, and Starsky hit the blanket in frustration. "Shit!"

"Aw, come here," Hutch whispered, his voice reflecting his on pain. But again Starsky jerked away from the offered hand. It was almost an instinctive reaction. "I won't hurt you."

"I know that, Hutch!" Starsky snapped.

"But you're afraid of me."

"I'm not!" the smaller man yelled, but stopped as if listening to the echo of his own words. He looked so much like a confused little boy that Hutch had to fight the urge to just pull him into a much needed bear hug.

"A little maybe," Starsky finally admitted quietly, and looked up into the other one's loving, caring eyes. When he spoke again, his voice was merely a choked whisper. "Hutch, what's happening to me?"

Instead of an answer, Hutch allowed himself to reach out at last and gently force Starsky's head to rest against his chest.

"I can't stop it! I... I keep thinking that... that it's not over," the shaken man said, fighting back tears. "And that you too might... might..."

"Hurt you?" Hutch asked softly when the sentence didn't end, and felt a small nod against his chest. "But you know I won't, right? I would never hurt you. And if I find the ones who did, they're going to pay for it. I'll make sure they're never going to get near you again, buddy, I promise."

"But that's exactly the point," Starsky stated, lifting his head to look at Hutch, his eyes pleading. "I want to get them for this. I want them to get near me again so I can book them." He was about to say more, but didn't. He just looked at Hutch, knowing his friend heard the words anyway. I need to know I can take care of myself. I need to feel in control again.

After a long silent conversation, Hutch finally sighed. "Okay, listen, here's what we'll do. We stay here tomorrow." He quickly raised his index finger to keep his ever impatient partner from protesting. "And we'll make a few calls, get a few snitches working, do the starters. And if you don't walk around at all for the whole day--" he made a pause to emphasize that part of the deal "--and if your fever's completely gone, you can go back on the job the next day. Deal?"

Starsky tilted his head to the left as if thinking. "Uhm, what about going to the john?"

"We'll work that out tomorrow," Hutch answered, relieved to see his partner joking a little as he widened his eyes in mock shock. "Okay, Starsk?"

"Okay," Starsky nodded and lay back in bed, stifling a yawn. "But we've to talk over the john-thing."

"You don't have to go now, do you?"

"No. But..."

"We'll deal with that in the morning, partner," Hutch said firmly, but smiled warmly as he made a big show out of tucking Starsky in. When he was done, he looked down at him with his best mother hen-expression and asked: "You okay to go to sleep now? Need anything?"

"No," Starsky replied, rolling his eyes.

"'Kay then. Sleep well, buddy," Hutch smiled and turned.

"Yeah. Uhm, hey, Hutch?"

"Yeah?" the blond asked from where he stood at the door, and looked back. "What?"

"I'm not afraid of you."

Once more their eyes met for a second, then Hutch frowned in mock confusion. "Course not, Gordo. Why would you?"

As Starsky nodded with a wide smile, Hutch left, closing the door behind him.

****

Starsky's couch was the most uncomfortable one that had ever been built, and Hutch was used to waking a couple of times in the night when he was forced to sleep on it, so he wasn't really surprised when it happened that night.

But the more the fog of sleep released its grip on him, the more he realized it hadn't been the couch that had awakened him, but a soft sound, movements to his right, and when he lifted his head, he could make out a distinctive shape in the dark of the room.

"Starsk?"

The second his sleepy whisper was uttered, all hell broke lose.

Startled, and already half-way off balance, Starsky stumbled over his aching feet, fell backwards and landed on Hutch heavily.

"Ow!!! Shit!!!" Hutch yelped as Starsky's back hit his chest.

Instantly, the weight rolled off him, and a low thud could be heard as Starsky hit the floor.

"Starsky!!!" Hutch yelled, jumping to his feet to switch the light on. He was furious, the pain in his chest only adding to that. "God damn it, what the hell are you doing here?! How many times do I have to tell you that you are not to walk around?! Ow, damn it!"

Rubbing his aching chest, sure he'd be pretty bruised up and sore in the morning, Hutch finally blinked against the light to find the object of his fury huddled against the wall across from the couch.

Starsky had drawn his knees up to his nose again, leaning against the wall sideways, his terror-filled eyes focused on Hutch. He was visibly shaking, and winced a couple of times from a pain that Hutch couldn't see the origin of.

Concern quickly replaced anger. The blond made a tentative step forward, but stopped when he saw Starsky's muscles tense immediately.

"Starsk?"

"I'm sorry, Hutch. I didn't mean to... I'm sorry. D-did I hurt you?"

Winking, Hutch slowly crouched down where he stood as to be on eye-level with his friend. "I'll live." He waited for Starsky to reply something, but was rewarded with silence, filled only with his partner's panting. "You okay?" he finally asked softly.

"Yeah," Starsky hurried to answer, and forced a small smile onto his lips that vanished the second Hutch started to move forward. "J-just stay there for a second, 'kay? Just... let me be, okay? Please?"

His heart breaking at Starsky's fear-filled plea, Hutch eased himself down slowly, crossing his legs. "Anything you say, buddy. Take your time."

Starsky smiled gratefully, a little bitter though, as he tried to get his breathing and fear under control again. He obviously was about to make one of his covering smart-ass replies, but was kept from it by a sharp pain shooting through his back, where it had collided with Hutch's chest.

Wincing at his friend's small gasp, Hutch forced himself to remain where he was. "You sure you okay? Maybe you broke some stitches."

"No, 'm fine," Starsky mumbled, but squeezed his eyes shut against the pain. "I'm sorry," he added after a second and opened his eyes again. "I thought I could sneak in and out without waking you."

He winced once more and reached out slightly, a sign that it was okay to approach him now; Hutch's cue. Relieved, the blond complied instantly, sliding over to Starsky and placing a comforting hand on his shoulder while gently probing his back with the other one. Starsky yelped as Hutch's fingers found the sore spot, and grabbed the blond's shirt, a reaction that somewhat eased Hutch's concern a little. To seek physical contact when he was hurting was a very Starsky-like thing to do, and any Starsky-like behavior relieved Hutch immensely at the moment.

"Sorry, buddy," he muttered and drew his hand back, pushing Starsky forward a little to lift his shirt and take a look at his back. "No stitches broken," he informed his friend after a short examination. "I think you hit a bruise, though. Pretty painful, huh?"

When he got no response, he backed away a bit, trying to look into Starsky's eyes, a task he found extremely frustrating now. It seemed like he couldn't recall the last time his partner had actually looked him in the eyes.

"Hey, babe," he said questioningly, taking his hands off Starsky to give the man some space. Starsky's fingers, however, were still entangled in Hutch's shirt. "Starsky?"

But his friend just kept staring at the ground, his shoulders still trembling slightly, as Hutch noticed. Slowly as to not startle Starsky, he leaned back to reach behind him and gather his blanket from where it lay next to the couch.

It was then he saw Ollie lying behind the couch.

Picking him up too, he turned to Starsky again, gently covered him with the blanket and sat Ollie in front of him.

"Starsk," he asked, when the smaller man made no attempt at picking up the teddy or reacted in any way to the blanket being wrapped around him, "did you come out here to get Ollie?"

At first there was nothing, and Hutch already started to panic, when a small nod finally answered his question.

"I'm sorry I stumbled," Starsky added after a second, but still didn't look up. "You startled me."

"It's okay," Hutch winked. "Why didn't you tell me you wanted Ollie with you?"

"I didn't at first. But I..." He bowed his head even more. "I couldn't sleep."

Hutch couldn't resist the urge to comfort his partner anymore, and slid over to sit next to him, wrapping one arm around him. With the other hand he gently lifted Starsky's chin to look at him. "Did you have a nightmare?"

"No," Starsky smiled slightly, looking away again. "No, I just couldn't sleep. -- It was too dark," he added.

"Too dark?"

"Yeah, uhm..." He drew in a shaky breath, snuggling up on Hutch a little, but never looking him in the eye. "Wh-when it got dark in, you know, in your kitchen, they'd go." He laughed nervously, his fingers clenching and unclenching the fabric of Hutch's shirt unconsciously. "Not that that wasn't good, I mean, at least they wouldn't... hurt me anymore, but..."

"They left you alone under that table in the dark kitchen?" Hutch completed the sentence when it became obvious Starsky couldn't.

"Yeah," Starsky whispered.

"And you were scared?" Hutch continued. It was a statement rather than a question, though.

"Yeah," Starsky whispered again, his head dropping even more until his forehead almost touched Hutch's chest.

All this shame, the blond thought as he began to softly stroke his partner's dark curls. Is there anything harder for you than admitting you were scared? "You know that that was just because of the drugs they'd given you, don't you?"

"Yeah," Starsky nodded, "but still..." Once more, he let out a short, bitter laugh. "Some hot shot cop, me, huh? Being afraid of the dark."

Instinctively, Hutch cradled him a little closer, feeling there was more to come. "You couldn't help it, buddy." He made a short pause, before asking: "Did you have nightmares then?"

"Uh huh," Starsky nodded, and Hutch could feel him tense up against him.

"Wanna tell me about it?"

"I woke up screaming one time, and it... I guess it woke them up and they... punished me. Taught me a lesson to never disturb their sleep again. I didn't really sleep much after that," he finished wryly.

"What did they do?" Hutch asked softly, trying hard to not let the fury he felt be heard in his voice.

Starsky whisper was so soft, the blond had to strain to hear it. "Broke my fingers."

Hutch closed his eyes, hugging his shaking friend tightly. To have one minute with those... "Why didn't you tell me you were afraid of the dark, babe, huh? I could have left the light on." There was no answer, but suddenly Hutch could feel the warmth of tears on his shirt. "Hey," he soothed, dismayed. It was extremely rare for Starsky to cry, and the sight of his normally so tough partner huddled in his arms, weeping, made Hutch's heart wrench. "Buddy." He was shocked at how helpless his own voice sounded. Carefully caressing Starsky's neck and head as if to make sure he wasn't hurting him, he continued to try to soothe him. "Starsk, talk to me. Please."

But all Starsky could manage to say between quiet sobs was "Hutch".

"Yeah, I'm here," Hutch assured him. "I'm here, babe. I won't go. I won't leave you in the dark. Shhh, it's going to be okay."

It seemed like an eternity to Hutch, that they sat there on the ground, Starsky crying in his arms. He didn't even notice the wetness on his own face.

Finally, finally, Starsky sniffed, murmuring, "Sorry about your shirt."

Hutch laughed slightly, rubbing his partner's back. "Don't worry, buddy. It's yours, anyway."

"Oh great. -- I hate feeling like this, Hutch," Starsky said, and after a pause pushed away from his friend.

Hutch nodded, realizing with immense relief that this would be the first sentence of the whole story. "I know, babe. I hate seeing you like this too."

"I just can't stop being afraid. A-and I know you won't... do anything to me, and I know I'm safe, and I know this is silly, b-but I..." His voice broke again, badly.

Hutch was just about to soothe him some more, when all of a sudden Starsky raised his already injured hand to smash it into the wall next to him. Thanks to his partner's reflexes, it was caught in mid-air by Hutch.

The men's eyes met briefly. Then Starsky's dropped again, his clenched fist going limp in Hutch's grip. "I'm so scared, Hutch."

Hutch remained silent, but softly stroke the cold fingers he held in his.

"Of you, of the dark, of going out on the streets again, of not going out on the streets again. Of being scared. -- Of waking up one morning and finding myself in a loony bin for real this time." He was about to say something else, but stopped himself, his gaze wandering to Ollie who still sat on the ground, facing him.

"And what're you looking at?" he muttered, reaching out to pick up the teddy, holding it close to his face.

Hutch watched, knowing, understanding that his friend needed a moment of comic relief after having revealed his greatest fear. It didn't last long, though. Suddenly, the small smile on Starsky's face vanished, leaving an almost scaring, heart-breaking emptiness in wide blue eyes behind.

"I'm so screwed up," the detective stated, hugging the teddy bear to rest his chin on top of its head.

Hutch winked, smiling slightly. "No, you're not, Starsk. You're exhausted and confused and..."

"Scared," Starsky interrupted him sarcastically.

"Right. You're scared. And that's okay. It'll pass. But you have to give it some time, buddy. I found you in my shower this morning. This morning. It was probably not even 24 hours ago that you were drugged for the last time. You've got to give it time."

Starsky sighed, nodding softly against the teddy.

Hutch watched for a second the asked: "Want me to help you back to your bedroom?"

"Hm-hm."

"'Kay. C'mon. Take Ollie with you."

Slowly, they made their way back to the bedroom. Starsky had grown awfully quiet, and the moment his body touched the bed, he curled up on his side, hugging Ollie to his chest. "Shall I leave the light on?" Hutch asked, but received no answer.

After a moment's thought, he rushed back to the living-room, gathered the blanket he had wrapped around Starsky there, and returned to crawl into the bed next to his partner's still form. "I'll leave the light on, and I'm right here," he whispered, lying down a little distanced from his friend.

Starsky remained where he was, and Hutch thought he heard another small sob. Eventually, though, the exhausted man fell asleep; rolling over to Hutch after a short while to unconsciously seek comfort in his friend's presence as he snuggled up to him.

"I'm here," Hutch assured him quietly, caressing Starsky's head. "Right here, babe. I won't go anywhere."

****

When Starsky awoke the next morning, he was momentarily confused, blinking against the bright daylight. Bed? Why am I... What... But before he could wonder any further, or maybe even panic, he heard his partner's voice in the living room, quietly talking to someone on the phone. Hutch. Right. Home, I'm home. Safe.

Drawing in a deep breath to calm himself, he sat up in bed with a low groan as his bruised body protested against any movement in its own way.

"Uh, listen, I'll call you back, okay?" he heard Hutch say instantly in the other room, and smiled slightly at the image of his ever protecting friend catching even the tiniest of sounds that was uttered in the bedroom.

Yep. I'm home.

"Yeah, thanks, Hug," Hutch said and appeared on the doorstep a second later, the frown on his forehead easing slightly when he saw Starsky wide awake and smiling. "Hey, good morning," he greeted and approached the bed. "How d' you feel?"

"Morning," Starsky replied and shrugged. "Okay."

"Hungry?"

Starsky's smile widened to a grin as he nodded and he struggled to crawl out from under his covers, only to be stopped by Hutch's hand gently but firmly pushing down on the sheets again. "Ah, ah, ah."

"But..."

"What did we agree to yesterday, pal? No walking around. You stay put and I'll get you some breakfast."

"But..." Starsky started again, but at Hutch's look slumped back, submitting.

"Good boy," Hutch grinned and turned. "Be right back."

Starsky grumbled something in reply, before calling after Hutch: "What did Huggy have to say?"

"Tell you in a minute," Hutch called from the kitchen, and Starsky sat up a little straighter.

"What? He knows something?"

"I said I... Ow! Damn it!"

"Hutch?"

"Nothin'," came the muffled reply. "Burnt my finger. I said I'll tell you in a minute!"

Chuckling, Starsky waited until his partner returned to the room again, carrying a tray with some light toast and juice on it. Hutch carefully placed onto the bed in front of Starsky, before sitting down in a chair next to the bed.

"Okay, shoot."

"You recall some college kids who were at The Pits when we were there on Thursday night?" Hutch asked.

Starsky frowned. "No. Why?"

"Well, according to Huggy... Will you eat this stuff now, please? I nearly sacrificed my finger to get it here."

"That's why I'm waiting. -- So what about these kids? I didn't notice any college guys."

"Me neither. But Huggy says after we left, they followed us."

The frown on Starsky's forehead deepened even more. "I didn't notice anyone following us. You?"

Hutch shook his head. "Uh-uh. But then why pay attention to a bunch of kids?"

"Yeah, okay, but why do it now? I mean maybe it's just a coincidence or something. Is that all he got?"

"No, there's more," Hutch replied. "Obviously they'd been there a lot for the past couple of weeks. That's why Huggy remembered them in the first place. They became regulars, and then didn't show up there again since..."

Starsky swallowed dryly. "Friday?"

"Exactly."

A short silence occurred, before Starsky raised his voice again. He still hadn't touched the food or the juice on the tray.

"I don't recall ever having busted a college kid. You?"

"No."

"How does he know they're students, anyway?"

"They all wore the same jackets from the local college. Starsk," Hutch added after moment's thought, "Huggy says there were five."

He waited for his partner's reaction, before continuing. "Do you think it could have been kids? Early twenties? I know you didn't see their faces, but maybe you recall something else."

"I don't know, Hutch. But yeah, I guess it could have been kids." He smiled wryly, playing with a piece of the toast he broke off. "From where I sat, everyone looked tall."

Hutch let out a frustrated breath and squeezed his friend's shoulder briefly.

"But what motive would they have?" Starsky asked after a second, letting go off the toast again. "It doesn't make any sense, does it?"

Hutch tilted his head a little to the left, thinking. "I don't know, Starsky. Maybe we're not looking for someone we came across and busted, but for someone who was affected by us doing so to..."

"...his parent," Starsky finished, his eyes meeting Hutch's.

Hutch raised his brows. "Maybe."

"A kid seeking revenge for his father?"

"Or mother."

Starsky looked like he listened to the echo of this, then frowned. "Pretty dramatic, huh?" Hutch shrugged. "Maybe he's a student of classic literature."

"What, I've been scared by a bunch of bookworms?"

At his partner's dry comment, Hutch laughed, patting his arm reassuringly. "Classic literature can be pretty scary, buddy."

"Don't tell me, you should have seen my English teacher in high school. What're we gonna do now?"

Standing, Hutch picked up the glass of juice and firmly pressed it into his partner's hand. "While you're going to have breakfast now and then rest, I will call the precinct and get the names of all the fathers and mothers we busted lately."

Starsky sighed, but nodded. Under Hutch's supervising look, he drained the glass and picked up the toast.

"What?" Hutch asked at the unhappy glance Starsky shot him.

"It's cold," Starsky murmured and lifted the toast.

Rolling his eyes, the blond turned. "Just think of it as pizza. And eat the other slice too, Gordo. I'll check."

With that he left the room, grinning at the muttered "Yes, mom!" that followed him.

****

"Isn't it scary how many people have kids?"

At Hutch's sarcastic question, Dobey looked up from the file he'd been reading, frowning at his detective's expression. "Found something?"

"Forest," Hutch stated, holding up the folder he held. "One son. Who'd have thought?"

The Captain winced inwardly at the memory this name forced up to the surface again, but just barked, "And?"

"Huh?" Hutch looked up from the lines he was reading as if disturbed in his thoughts, then shook his head. "Oh, no. Too old and he lives in Michigan. Obviously he and his father don't get along too well," he added with a wry smile. "Says here the boy called the cops once when he witnessed a fight between his father and one of his... girlfriends. You go, boy."

At the muttered comment, Dobey smiled dryly, but took the folder out of hutch's hands, throwing it onto the "done" pile that had reached a pathetic height over the last two hours, compared to the "not done yet" pile next to it.

His gaze resting upon the huge stacks of paper, Dobey sighed tiredly, and rubbed his eyes. When he looked at Hutch again, he smiled at the understanding, though equally beat, look the detective shot him. "Isn't it scary how many people have kids?"

Hutch laughed, sliding down in his chair, until his head rested on the backrest.

A long silence followed, filled only by Dobey's occasional turning of a page as he kept on reading, while Hutch just sat there, staring at the ceiling.

Starsky had once more assured him he'd be okay as long as he was allowed to slowly make his way over to the couch and watch tv while Hutch was away. And so Hutch had agreed to it, watching with relief how his partner managed to get to the couch on his own without falling down or even wincing that much. Obviously, the gashes on his feet healed faster than Kid Doc had predicted.

Yet Hutch was worried. Looking at his watch, he stood to call Starsky, but was held back by Dobey's voice.

"Hutch."

"Yeah?" the blond asked, his head snapping up at the Captain's tone of voice, and replaced the receiver, while trying to see whose file his superior was reading. "What, you found something?"

"Linley," Dobey said and looked up, but didn't hand the folder over to Hutch. "Brain Linley. Ring any bells?"

Hutch frowned. "Linley... Yes!" he exclaimed, snapping his fingers. "But it's John Linley. He killed a waitress a few years ago. Starsky and I found him in a... I think it was an old gallery. He hid there from the aliens so they wouldn't give him any more orde... Oh my God, that man has kids?!" Unbelieving, he reached out and snatched the folder from the Captain's hands. "That's impossible!"

"Nope," Dobey shook his head. "Isn't it scary how ma..."

"I don't believe this!" Hutch cut him off, not listening. "Says here he had two sons, but one was killed in an acci..." As he read on, he swallowed dryly, his voice dropping a little. "An accident. John claimed he'd seen a UFO and had to... drive into the next rock so that the aliens wouldn't get him. Oh my God."

Dobey just watched silently as Hutch winced in sympathy, once more amazed at his detective's soft spot he so rarely saw, but was well aware of.

"But Brain's alive," the Captain stated after a short pause, meeting Hutch's gaze. "He's alive, twenty-one and just dropped out of the local college."

Briefly closing his eyes, Hutch gave Dobey the file back and sat down in his chair again. "But why would he...? We helped his father!" he interrupted himself, almost yelling. "I mean, we..."

Suddenly a shadow rushed through the blue eyes as they looked up directly at Dobey again. "He died in that psychiatric institution, didn't he?"

Slowly, the Captain nodded.

"And Brain might think... Oh my god."

"Hutch..."

"You didn't see what his father did to that waitress," Hutch interrupted him, as he jumped to his feet and grabbed his jacket.

"Hutch!" Dobey called after him.

"I'll call you!" came the reply. The door banged shut behind the blond, leaving his worried superior behind.

"Yeah," Dobey muttered, picking up the file again, studying John Linley's profile. "You do that."

****

Though Hutch was immensely relieved at the sight of Starsky sitting on the couch when he rushed into his partner's apartment, the overwhelming feeling that something was wrong made the hairs on his neck raise instantly.

"Hey," he greeted Starsky, who sat huddled in one corner of the couch like he'd had the day before, wrapped in a thick blanket, his hair wet, and his bare feet peeking out from under his covers.

"Hey," Starsky muttered, not looking up at his friend, but shrinking back in the blanket instead. "Found something?"

"Yeah," Hutch nodded and approached his friend with a questioning look, reaching out to ruffle the damp curls.

"Uh, I took a shower," Starsky said, moving away from the touch ever so slightly, as if not wanting Hutch to really notice.

The blond sighed in frustration. "Starsky! Why didn't you wait 'til I was back? What with your feet you could have slipped or something."

Looking up slightly from where he sat staring at the blanket covering him, Starsky smiled a little cockily. "Couldn't wait for you, dummy. You wouldn't have let me walk at all."

"Ha, ha, smart ass." His angry expression softened by a wry smile, Hutch sighed dramatically. "I swear, Starsk, you're the worst patient on the planet!" Touching his partner's forehead lightly, he stated, "At least I think your fever's gone. Though that's surprising considering..."

His gaze wandered down to his friend's bare feet, and shaking his head in his best mother hen-way, he turned towards the bedroom.

"Care to tell me what you found out?!" Starsky's voice followed him to where he produced a pair of extra thick socks from the bedroom.

"Yeah," he called back, turning to get back to the couch, when a small red spot on the floor caught his attention.

"Tell you in a second," he added, squatting down next to the spot and touched it lightly.

Blood.

And it's fresh. What the...?

Looking over his shoulder at what he could see from the couch, he frowned. He couldn't make out any more spots, but the dreadful feeling that tightened inside his stomach like a knot led him to quietly enter the bathroom, careful as to not draw Starsky's attention towards his actions.

"Hutch?"

"Yeah," he quickly answered the call, while drawing back the shower curtain. "Be right ba..."

At the sight that met him there, his voice trailed off.

Several small spots of red surrounded a slightly larger one on the back wall of the shower. Thin stains had run down from the connection points, and it was obvious someone had tried to clean up the mess, to rub away the evidence of an angry and very painful outburst.

"Starsk," Hutch whispered, swallowing past the tight knot in his throat. He touched the large spot, wiping through it. The sickly familiar feeling of Starsky's blood on his hand left him fighting back tears and fury, and he softly hit his own fist next to the remains of the blow the wall had received earlier.

Shower, the sickening realization hit him as if the wall had revealed the reason for his partner's action to him through the contact. He's afraid of the shower. Of course he is. Aw buddy...

In an almost caressing way he once more wiped through the blood with one finger, seemingly stroking the abused wall. What must it be like...? What you're going through...?

After a moment's thought, he left the bathroom to get the socks and return to his friend, noting the nervous look in the blue eyes that were fixed on the tv-screen.

This can't go on, Hutch thought. No more fear. I promised. And I'm gonna keep it.

The innocent expression on his face betraying his emotions, he raised his brows questioningly when Starsky ever so slowly turned his head to look at the socks Hutch held out for him to grasp.

"Hutch..." he started, not taking the offered clothes, but finally pushed back the blanket enough to reveal the hand that didn't have splints on it, and grabbed the socks.

Hutch winced slightly, gently reaching out to touch the bloodied and bruised knuckles. Still silent, he then took the socks out of the shaky grip and put them onto his partner's bare feet himself. Starsky sat slumped in his corner as if trying to black out everything that was going on around him.

His heart wrenching at the image his mind presented him with, Hutch wondered if that had been the other man's expression back then, back there, under that table, caught in fear.

But knowing this wasn't the time to lose himself in sickening speculations, he ignored the urge to assure his friend that he was safe and just pulled the blanket over Starsky's feet, then rose to get a wet cloth and Band Aids.

It was only after he'd settled next to Starsky on the couch and had placed the injured hand on his knee to gently wash away the already dried blood, that he finally spoke, ever so softly, as if afraid he might hurt Starsky's ears.

"Okay, tell me."

"There's nothing to tell."

Hutch didn't react to that ridiculous statement, but repeated in the same tone of voice, "Tell me."

After a second, Starsky looked up slightly, and the love and care he saw reflected in the other's blue eyes made his throat tight. "I didn't mean to hurt myself, Hutch, 's just..."

"What?" Hutch encouraged gently when Starsky didn't go on.

He was done with putting a Band Aid onto the only spot that acquired one and carefully placed the hand back under the blanket.

A dry smile crept over Starsky's face as he followed his partner's actions. It grew into a sarcastic laugh when he exclaimed, "I really showed that wall."

Hutch winced, but Starsky shook his head. "No, I mean it. It made me feel less defenseless. Like... in control," he concluded with a grin. "Made me feel in control."

The blond was about to reply something, but as a sudden realization hit him, closed his mouth again, tilting his head to the left, eyeing his partner thoughtfully.

"Don't look at me like I'm completely n..."

"No, no," Hutch hurried to cut off his partner. "No, it's not that." With a thoughtful frown, he looked over his shoulder briefly, then back at his partner. "You hit the wall before you stepped into the shower?"

"Uhm... Yeah. Why?"

"You weren't scared of stepping inside?"

"No. I guess... I was scared of being scared," Starsky said, embarrassed.

"But after you hit the wall you managed to shower, right?"

"Yeah, but what..."

"That's it!" Hutch decided and dragged the cover off his partner, strictly forcing himself to ignore the flinch this caused.

"That's what? What're you..."

"Can you walk?" Hutch interrupted him again, looking him directly in the eye. "The truth, buddy."

Starsky stared at his partner with his mouth open for a second, obviously fearing the blond had somehow lost his mind over the last few minutes.

And then all of a sudden he understood himself. I was in control. In the shower I was in control. I can manage!

A corner of Hutch's mouth twisted when his partner shot him a knowing glance and unfolded his legs to put his feet on the ground, applying pressure on them as he sat up straight.

"Okay," Hutch nodded. He'd noticed a slight twist in the other ones features. Of course it still hurt, but he chose to ignore it. He wasn't as concerned about Starsky's feet as he was about his soul, anyway. "No more laying around, lazy pup. Get up and put on some decent clothes."

Starsky obeyed as quickly as he could. When he returned from the bedroom, wearing his usual blue jeans and shirt, Hutch shrugged. "Well, okay, yours'll do."

Sneering at his partner, Starsky limped back to the couch again, carrying his sneakers with him. Without any word having to pass between them, the blond helped him into the shoes, then leaned back to let him tie them by himself.

"Ready to hit the streets again, tiger?"

"Depends," Starsky replied in his usual manner. It was an act, but they both knew it, and they both needed it. "Where're we going?"

Unconsciously enjoying his cop-modus kicking in, Hutch grew serious. "You remember John Linley?"

Starsky frowned. "He's dead, isn't he?"

"Yep."

"You're not telling me that that man had kids, are you?"

"Sure am. Two sons. But one died in a car accident John caused."

"Figures."

Starsky was done tying his shoes and leaned back again, the effort of the small action obviously catching up with him. Secretly, he rubbed a sore spot on his chest, knowing that since there had occurred something like an agreement between him and his partner, Hutch wouldn't fuss for once.

Hutch nodded sadly. "That poor bastard. Never had a safe day in his life I bet."

"Aliens, right?" Starsky asked as he checked his memory.

"Right. That's why he caused the accident too. Anyway, his other son, Brain, he's alive."

Starsky remained silent, looking at his partner in anticipation.

"He dropped out of the local college this year."

A short silence occurred, before Starsky raised his brows questioningly. "Like father, like son?"

Hutch shrugged. "It's worth a try."

"I don't know, Hutch. John, he was crazy as hell, but he didn't... torture anyone. Actually," he added sarcastically, "he wanted to protect people by killing them."

"Starsky, we helped to get John into a looney bin when Brain was barely fifteen. And then he died in there. The kid's been all on his own for over a year now. Who can he hold responsible for that, hm? What d'you think?"

The smaller man didn't reply.

"It's the only clue we've got so far," Hutch added after a few seconds.

"I didn't know John had kids," his partner said instead of an answer, peeking up at Hutch from where he'd studied the floor.

The blond could have sworn he'd seen a flash of guilt rushing through the blue eyes.

"Me neither," he replied. "But would it have changed anything if we'd known?"

"Guess not."

"No, guess not. -- C'mon, buddy," Hutch finally broke the silence. "Let's go get back on the streets. If it was Brain..."

"...He needs us finding him as much as I do," Starsky stated.

"Exactly."

****

On the campus, the small room that Brain Linley had lived in as long as he'd been a student there, was opened by a young and rather exhausted looking man in shorts. From what Hutch could see of the room itself behind the disheveled figure, he assumed the guy had to use beer bottles as a bed, for they seemingly covered every inch of the ground.

"'Mnyeah?" the young man asked, rubbing his eyes, before leaning against the doorframe, eyeing the detectives questioningly.

"Morning," Starsky greeted him cheerfully. It was almost three pm.

"Mornin'," the boy replied, lifting his bare arm as if to look at his watch, then noticed he didn't wear one and shrugged. "I guess. What d'you guys want?"

For an answer Hutch produced his badge from his pocket.

Before he could say anything, though, the boy stepped back inside his chaotic room, leaving the door open. "Just don't make too much noise, okay? And don't wake me when you go."

Catching Hutch's confused look on his way to the bed (that stood behind the door and was indeed the only spot free of bottles in the room), he grinned wryly. "What? Would you really believe me if I swear there isn't any stuff here? You think I never learn or what?"

"We're not looking for drugs, kid," Starsky assured him, carefully pushing two empty bottles out of his way as he stepped inside the room, making a face at the sticky air that met him.

"Oh?" The boy sat on his bed now, searching for a cigarette on the ground.

"Nope," Hutch said, following his partner. "We're..." He stopped as he tripped on something and, bending to pick it up, produced a small empty plastic bag from the ground. Shooting the kid an almost amused look, he threw it onto the bed and continued, "We're looking for Brain Linley. We've been told he used to live here."

"Brain?" the kid asked, shoving the plastic bag under his pillow, then looked at the detectives again, narrowing his eyes. "He ain't no dealer. What you want from him?"

"Just tell us where he is," Starsky said.

"France," the kid said. "He left the country a few days ago. What d'you think I've been celebrating all week?"

Hutch's eyes widened. "Uhm..." he started, raising his brows questioningly at the kid.

"Seth," he introduced himself. "Seth Kinnear."

"Seth," Hutch nodded. "Just so I get this straight -- Brain dropped out of college and went to France?!"

Seth shrugged shortly. "Yep."

"Why?"

"Celine," Seth replied. He'd finally found a crummy looking cigarette on his crummy looking floor and was just about to light it when he suddenly stopped, sniffed at it and put it away, close to his pillow.

"Who's Celine?" Starsky asked unnerved, while Hutch picked up a real cigarette and, noisily stepping through a bunch of bottles, handed it over to Seth who accepted it gratefully. "His girlfriend?"

"Yep."

Sensing that his partner was about to grab the kid and throttle him, Hutch quickly picked up the joint next to the pillow and rolled it between his fingers.

"She, uhm, she was accepted at this university over there," Seth hurried to inform the detectives, "and she asked him to come with her. But he didn't have the money, and they had a huge fight."

"When was that?" Hutch asked, still playing with the joint.

"Dunno. Three weeks ago or four. I don't know. But Brain, he was real down, you know, and then one day he just quit college and got himself a full time job. To be able to fly to France. And he did. -- Hey, I really don't know who's that is, okay?" he added after a split second, pointing at the item in Hutch's hands.

The blond ignored the statement. "What was Brain like?" he asked.

Seth frowned. "What d'you mean? Did he do anything? What happened?"

Rolling his eyes, Starsky picked up one of the numerous bottles and placed it inside the sink in the small kitchen area, while Hutch just continued looking at the kid questioningly.

"He was a fucking nerd," Seth finally said with a shrug. "I don't know what you wanna hear. I mean he was so boring the air he breathed fell asleep in his lungs."

"So he was a quiet guy," Hutch said.

"No, not quiet, just -- boring. I mean he didn't drink and he didn't... Well, let's say he was a party pooper, okay? The only one he had anything to do with was Celine, and she was even worse. They spent their Sundays studying in the library. I mean come on..." He raised his hands in a "What more can I say?" gesture.

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a quick look.

"Okay," Hutch said, giving the joint back to Seth, who put it under his pillow this time. "D'you have the exact date of Brain's flight?"

"Yeah, he noted the flight number I think," Seth nodded and jumped out of bed over to the table in the kitchen area. Shoving a few bottles and empty pizza boxes aside, he revealed a phone and a small notepad next to it. Grabbing the pencil that lay next to that, he used it to shade the letter indentations that had been put onto the paper under the sheet they'd been written on.

"Yeah, here it is," he exclaimed and tore off the paper to hand to Starsky, who stood closer to him.

When he turned, though, he still held the pencil in his hand.

Out of pure reflex, Starsky stumbled back, hitting bottles behind him and lost his balance. Fortunately, Seth reached out instinctively and caught the detective who was a little smaller than he, before he could fall down into the heap of bottles.

"Whoa there. Caref..." he said in a friendly manner, but frowned as all color suddenly drained from Starsky's face. "Hey officer, you okay?"

Starsky hurried to nod, his gaze fixed on the pencil in the kid's hand, then suddenly tore his arm free and managed to reach the sink just in time as his breakfast decided to make a re-appearance.

Hutch had followed the scene, but missed seeing the pencil in Seth's hand. Only when he was at the receiving end of a very helpless look from the kid, he saw the meaningful item in his hand. He quickly stepped between Seth and his partner, who was done emptying his stomach and holding onto the sink until his knuckles went white.

"Uhm, sorry for that," Hutch said with a dry smile and took the piece of paper. "Thanks a lot. You've been a great help."

With that he turned, gently grabbing his friend's shoulders and shoved him out of the room, pulling the door shut behind them.

He guided Starsky around the next corner, then stopped, leaned the still trembling man against the wall, and took a good look at him. Starsky was as white as a sheet and shivered slightly. His eyes were squeezed shut, and a fine sheen of perspiration had appeared on his forehead.

For a few seconds, Hutch just stood in front of him, not touching him, just letting him calm down. Finally Starsky straightened a bit, looking up at his partner with something reflected in his eyes that looked almost like... fear? No. Shame. Anger. You're furious at yourself, aren't you?

"You okay now?" Hutch asked, careful as to not let his voice get too soft and worried, and also forcing himself to not reach out and comfort the shaken man.

"Yeah, 'triffic," Starsky muttered, pushed himself off the wall and started to head for the exit. "Don't stand there, blintz. We gotta check out this flight."

Hutch followed him a few steps behind, not missing the flinches that shook Starsky's shoulders now and then as he angrily walked along, his sore feet protesting against heavy steps.

Just let him hit the wall a little longer, the blond ordered himself when he entered his car, noticing the drawn expression on his friend's face. Eventually it won't be necessary anymore. He started the car just as he heard a soft mumble next to him.

"I bet I wasn't the first one to puke into that sink, anyway."

Laughing out loud, Hutch patted Starsky's shoulder, then drove off to the airport.

****

Not only had Brian Linley indeed bought the ticket for the flight he'd noted down, but one of the stewardesses also remembered his face.

"Don't you feel like the meanest asshole of all snobby assholes too?" Starsky asked when they sat in Hutch's car again, staring ahead, out of ideas for the day.

"Yep."

"I mean, that kid's as innocent as a daisy, and just because his father was a fruitcake we instantly take him for one too. He probably had his share of folks like us already."

"Yep."

There was a short pause, before Starsky quietly went on: "And the worst thing is, I'm not even happy for him. If he was that crazy kid, hell he should be, it'd be easier for us. Kids," he added after a sarcastic sigh, "you can't ever count on them!"

Shooting his friend a look, Hutch laughed, patted him on the shoulder and started the car.

"And where're we going now?" Starsky asked, leaning back in the seat with his legs drawn up to his chest. The effort of hiding his increasing pain from his partner become a little too much for him, and since they didn't have any other clues anyway, he allowed himself to utter a soft groan. It had been several hours since he'd taken something against the pain, and it was catching up with him quickly now.

Having noticed the subtle changes on his partner's features, the strained expression that spoke volumes, Hutch decided that at least Starsky should call it a day and headed for his friend's apartment.

"Home," he answered the other one's question, smiling warmly when he was met with relief. "I think you could use a little rest. In the meantime I'm gonna call Dobey and fill him in about the... case," he finished after hesitating.

The case, Starsky thought and glancing at his partner found the same uneasiness he felt in the bright blue eyes. My case. Right. You're the investigating officer. I'm the case. Terrific. "Yeah," he said flatly and closed his eyes. "You do that."

****

Hutch had left Starsky on his own this time, after having been practically thrown out of the apartment. He'd observed his partner taking his pain medication and settling on the couch, once more in anticipation of a classic horror movie.

He had headed for the kitchen in order to prepare some light dinner when his partner had softly said, "Uhm, hey, Hutch, you don't have to stay, you know? I'm gonna hit the hay early today I think, and your snoring will just keep me up another night. No offense, but I need rest. Doctor's orders."

Deciding that it was better to not reveal that someone staying with him was also doctor's orders, Hutch frowned. "You sure?" he asked softly. It was a huge effort to not just wince at this, but recalling the incident in the shower he thought about what being alone, or rather managing to be alone, would mean for Starsky's healing process.

Starsky sneered. "Sure I'm sure. Stop fussing, blintz, I'm fine!"

Hutch smiled a little sympathetically, brushing back a stray curl from his partner's forehead, meeting his nervous glance. You don't have to do this, buddy, you know that.

As if he'd heard the blond's thoughts, Starsky caught the gentle hand that was stroking his hair and held it for a second before placing it on Hutch's knee, away from himself. He didn't look at his friend when he spoke, but his voice was steady and determined. "Please, Hutch," was all he said.

And all he needed to say.

Nodding shortly, Hutch stood, squeezing Starsky's shoulder before grabbing his jacket and turning. "If anything happens, you call me," he ordered when he opened the door.

Starsky nodded, gratefulness clearly written all over his face.

"I'm gonna call you later to make sure you're alright."

"Okay."

"Okay. There's still soup left in the kitchen. Eat it. All of it. And don't walk around too mu..."

"Hutch."

Grinning sheepishly, the blond shrugged in a "can't help it" manner.

Starsky rolled his eyes with glittering amusement. "I'll eat the soup, and I'll stay on this couch through the whole movie, and I'm gonna call you if it gets too frightening, and when I turn in I won't forget my good night prayer. And now go, before I miss the opening credits."

"Okay, okay. And don't forget to brush your teeth," Hutch added and quickly slammed the door shut behind him as he already saw a shoe flying in his direction.

****

The dial tone rang for the tenth time when Hutch finally put the receiver back on the phone, a dreadful feeling tightening his throat.

Still sitting on his couch, wearing sweat pants and a T-shirt as he had taken a shower when he'd gotten home, he stared down on the phone resting on his knees as if trying to will it to ring, then looked up at a plant that stood on a stool next to him.

"Maybe he just didn't hear the phone, hm?"

The plant remained silent.

"Yeah, that's it. He probably..." Hutch started, hushed himself, and jumped to his feet, grabbing his car keys off the couch table. "Oh, who am I trying to kid?"

Turning towards the plant again as he put his jacket on quickly, he raised his index finger warningly. "And don't look at me like that! I'm NOT paranoid. I'm... concerned. Terrified," he added in a mutter and jumped at a sudden knock on his front door.

Hutch reached out to open it, when a small voice from outside stopped him in his tracks.

"Hutch? 'S me."

His throat tight again, the blond jerked the door open.

"Starsk! You're alright? How did you..." he started shooting questions before he'd even opened fully, but stopped, his voice trailing of when he met his partner's nervous gaze.

"I took a cab," Starsky told his friend, one corner of his mouth twisting in amusement at Hutch's worried face.

"What're you doing here, anyway? Why didn't you call?" Hutch continued, not calmed down at all.

"D'you mind maybe going inside? I feel kinda strange standing in the hallway."

"Oh. Uh, sure, Sorry," Hutch said with an apologetic smile and stepped aside, holding the door open for his friend who entered slowly, glancing around with nervous eyes as if scanning the room he knew so well, yet had come to fear.

When he looked at Hutch again, his eyes were bright with unshed tears, and his lower lip was quivering a little.

"Hey," Hutch asked in dismay, grabbing a slightly trembling shoulder. "Hey, buddy, you okay? Starsk?"

"No," Starsky replied softly and sniffed. "No, I'm not okay. Nothing's okay."

He quickly wiped away a tear that had escaped from his eyelids. "I puked on a witness today," he said in a child-like tone of voice that made his partner chuckle sympathetically.

"Well, almost," Hutch corrected softly, zipping open Starsky's jacket to gently pull it over his shoulders.

"I was scared of a kid, Hutch! A fucking kid!" Starsky's outraged yelling stood absolutely contrary to his allowing Hutch to lead him over to the couch, and resting his head on his friend's shoulder, he lowered his voice to a whisper immediately. "I'm screwed up, right? I'm toast, I'm never gonna be in control again."

"Shhh," Hutch soothed, sensing how close to tears his friend was, and stroked through the dark curls. "You know that's not true, buddy."

"Oh yeah. Some guy points a pencil at me and I lose my lunch?! Last time I checked... You know, you can't even check on that, it doesn't have a category! Or -- wait -- nuts! That's it! I'm nuts!" He let out a short almost hysterical laugh, and had to wipe away a few more tears cascading down his cheeks.

"You're not nuts, babe," Hutch assured him firmly. "Hey. Hey, look at me."

Hesitantly, Starsky obeyed.

"You're not nuts, you're not screwed up, and you're not toast." He made a short pause for emphasis, before adding, "You're scared."

"No shit," Starsky said through a chocked sob. He couldn't keep back the tears any longer and started sobbing in earnest now, wincing at the pain this caused his ribs.

Hutch wrapped him in a comforting hug, one hand intertwined in his hair, the other one gently rubbing his back.

"Pain still bad, babe, hm?" he asked soothingly and felt a small nod against his shoulder. "You want something for it?"

"No," Starsky shook his head. "I don't want no drugs."

"But you're hurting."

"I already took that stuff. It makes me jumpy." A strange sound followed as the injured man had to laugh through a sob. "Not that I'd notice, anyway."

Hutch sighed slightly, but didn't respond to the comment. Somehow this time it felt right to hold his partner while he struggled to get through a crisis. Maybe because he came to me. He chose to get help. It's all gonna be okay. As the thoughts rushed through his mind, Hutch suddenly frowned.

He came to me. To... my place.

Looking down he saw that Starsky had almost fallen asleep in his arms, occasionally a small whimper would escape him. The effort of crying had upset his healing ribs enough to wipe him out.

Hutch softly brushed away traces of tears with his thumb, and shifted his position slightly so that Starsky could rest more comfortable with his head on Hutch's lap, his bruised and broken fingers weakly clutching the blond's sleeve.

"Just rest, babe" Hutch whispered, when a small frown crawled over Starsky's face and he sniffed, snuggling up on Hutch, seeking comfort. "It's all gonna be okay. You'll see."

Hutch returned to the living-room a few hours later after having prepared a light snack in the kitchen. He'd decided to wake his friend from his slumber and tuck him in his bed properly, but he found Starsky sitting up on the couch, fully awake.

"Hey, you feel like eat..."

"What's this?" Starsky interrupted him, turning to face him. He held a newspaper in hand that Hutch had left lying on the coffee table.

"It's called a newspaper, Gordo. Maybe one day you should decide to join our world of worldwide information. It's fun."

Starsky was obviously not amused.

"I mean this," he said, pointing at a few red circles that had been made around a few real estate advertisements.

Hutch smiled sheepishly, and nervously scratched his temple. "Ahm... I-it's... I mean... You know, this neighborhood has seen better days and..."

"You're moving out?" Starsky asked unbelievingly.

"I thought about it. I... Yes. Yes, I'm moving out."

"Because of me?"

"No," Hutch said calmly. "Not because of you."

"Because of what happened to me?"

"Yes."

"T'riffic," Starsky muttered in frustration, throwing the paper over his shoulder while turning around again.

An untidy heap of paper landed in front of Hutch's feet. "Buddy..." Hutch started, but Starsky remained unresponsive, his back facing his partner. "Starsky."

When he still received no answer, Hutch let out a deep breath, pushed himself off the doorframe and turned around the couch.

"Starsky."

"What?" the smaller man snapped. He had curled up in a corner again, a habit Hutch had come to loathe over the past two days.

"It's bothering you that I'm moving out."

"Oh really?! How d'you figure that? Just because I know you love this place and because I was with you when you saw it for the first time and drove me half-nuts with all this 'find a house to spend the rest of my life in it'-crap?! Where d'you wanna go, anyway, huh? Venice Place?!"

Tilting his head to one side, Hutch shrugged slightly. "I like Venice Place."

Starsky stared at him angrily, then dropped his gaze to his feet.

"Starsk," Hutch said in a gentle voice, though he felt impatience setting in slowly. How dare he? How can he assume for one minute I could stay here?!

"Nah, 'sokay," Starsky winked contrarily. "You move to Venice Place if you like. It's your place."

That did it.

"You're damn right it is!" Hutch replied sternly, anger flashing through his eyes. "It's my place. How can you think I could stay here? Huh? What if it was me who... Would you stay? Could you?!"

"Hutch..."

"No, Starsk!" He was actually yelling now, ignoring the frightened expression on his friend's face. "You were tortured in here, Starsky! And you expect me to live here?! You expect me to sit at the table every day knowing..."

He couldn't bring himself to say it and closed his eyes briefly.

"Hutch..." Starsky's voice was so small, Hutch couldn't even hear it.

He had calmed himself a bit and lowered his voice. "I'm really glad you're not afraid of the place, Starsky, but... but I am. I'm afraid of my own kitchen. I'm afraid of..." Once more he couldn't finish the sentence and instead yelled again, though not at Starsky this time, but at no one in particular while he turned away to return to the kitchen.

"I have to live here for Christ's sake!"

Starsky flinched at his partner's sudden movement and shrunk back in his corner when he sensed Hutch stepping away from him behind his back.

After a few seconds he heard a muttered "Damn it!" and rattling of plates from the kitchen. He was just about to uncurl himself and maybe follow his upset partner, when the phone rang. With a few steps Hutch was back in the room again, avoiding Starsky's gaze, and answered it.

"Hutchinson. Captain. No, he's here. Yeah. We..." A deep frown appeared on his forehead and he shot Starsky a glance, worry evident in his eyes. "Why?"

As he listened to the answer, his eyes widened a little, and he turned away slightly as if wanting to keep his answer from his partner, who strained to hear, curious.

"D'you think that's wise? But... Capt... Yeah. Yeah, okay. We... yeah, we'll be there in a minute." With that he hung up and looked at Starsky, who eyed him questioningly.

"Think you're okay enough for another trip today?"

"Sure," Starsky answered confusedly. "What was that all about?"

"I'm not sure," Hutch replied hesitantly. "But Dobey thinks it might be important."

"What might be?"

"Just get ready," Hutch said and already turned again, stopping at the door to his bedroom, when Starsky's voice held him back.

"Hey Hutch, I... Venice Place's nice. Lots of room for all your greens."

Smiling wryly, Hutch shot a look at him over his shoulder, and entered the room.

****

Squad cars surrounded the small house. Policemen crowded the area; hurried in and out, cleared the paths for the lab guys and coroners.

"You wait here," Hutch ordered Starsky when he parked his car near the centre of the chaos.

"Huh?" his partner frowned confusedly. "But..."

"Sit. Tight," Hutch repeated firmly, raising his warning finger and left the car.

A dreadful feeling creeping up his spine, Starsky watched the blond hurry over to the house and enter it. What the hell's going on?

"Hutchinson," Dobey barked when he saw his detective arriving at the scene of the crime, and approached him quickly, aware of the effect the sight might have on him. "Where's Starsky?"

"In the car," Hutch answered absent-mindedly. His gaze was fixed on a row of items on the ground in the large living-room that led to the open door of the bathroom. A few paramedics and the forensics team stood around, but they hadn't touched any of the things yet.

"What is this?" Hutch whispered desperately, slowly stepping forward, his eyes never leaving the trail of horror that was so sickly familiar to him.

"They're exactly the, uh, the same items," Dobey informed him, following him.

Hutch didn't listen. He didn't need to, anyway. He saw the cup, the pencil, the bottle, the spoon, the broken record -- Abby Road -- the candle, the wire.

No teddy bear. No Ollie.

Instead of that an old blanket lay in a small heap at the end of the trail, bloody at the edges, and one of it had been evened to form it to a sort of arrow that pointed at the bathroom.

Pictures of Ollie's outstretched paw flashed through Hutch's mind and he closed his eyes quickly as if he'd been hit.

"Hutch?" Dobey asked and laid a heavy hand on his shoulder.

"Where... where's the, uh, body?" Hutch asked, not looking up at his superior. "In... in there?" he added, weakly pointing at the bathroom.

"Yes," Dobey nodded. "He's in pretty bad shape."

Hutch didn't listen. He'd already entered the small bathroom.

The crumbled figure that sat in the corner of the shower did not shiver, did not whimper, did not live. The man's eyes were half-closed, yet his features didn't look peaceful, but drawn, strained. Scared, Hutch thought as he bent down to take a closer look at the body. He looks scared. "What..." the blond started but had to clear his voice, before he could finish his question. "What killed him?"

"They drowned him," Dobey informed him quietly.

"Drowned?" Hutch asked in dismay.

"Looks like someone held his head in a vise grip for quite some time. Face upwards."

"Oh my god," Hutch sighed, running a trembling hand over his face.

"What... what's going on?" a small voice from behind him made him jump.

"Starsk! I told you to..." As he followed Starsky's gaze he hushed himself and got to his feet, exchanging a worried look with Dobey. "Starsky..."

But the smaller man didn't listen. Slowly he passed his partner and crouched down before the body, his eyes wide with shock.

"I saw the... I saw the things outside," he told no one in particular. "They're the same..." His voice trailed off. Ever so slowly he reached out and lifted one of the dead man's feet.

Deep, bloody gashes ran from sole to toes.

Gently placing down the foot, Starsky then picked up a grey, cold hand. The marks of the cup were visible on the slack fingers.

Still holding the hand in his, the detective looked up at Hutch and Dobey, his face so pale they feared he might pass out any second.

"I... I don't understand," he said, his voice nearly a whisper. "Who...?"

"His name's Finnley Holden," Dobey said, obviously relieved to be useful in some way. "He's a student at the local college. English literature."

"A student?" Hutch asked, his head snapping up.

"Yep," Dobey nodded, exchanging a glance with Hutch, before looking down at Starsky again, who hadn't stood up.

"He was 19," the Captain said sadly and shook his head. "Bastards."

"Hutch," Starsky said, ever so gently placing Finnley's hand back on his chest and stood up. "Did you see the record?"

"Yeah," Hutch nodded. "Abby Road."

Starsky nodded. "And the blanket? It's a child's blanket. A comfort blanket."

Hutch frowned. "You're right. Like..."

"Like a teddy," Starsky finished the sentence. Cop-modus kicking in, his expression changed amazingly quick, his shock forgotten, though his hands were still shaking visibly.

"He studied what? English lit?"

Dobey nodded.

"The pencil," the two detectives said in union and looked at each other, knowing they both thought the same.

"Maybe the candle too," Hutch suggested. "Romantic heart or something."

"Hm-hm. Passionate coffee drinker," Starsky said, looking at the kid's fingers. There was a short pause before he added: "Probably anxious kid. Still has his comfy blan..." As a thought came to his mind, he turned to Dobey excitedly. "Cap, whose house is this?"

"It belongs to a Jack Wyler, but he bought it for his son, Keith. He's a..."

"Student here?" Hutch interrupted.

"Yep."

"Let me guess," the blond asked further, "Keith and Finnley were friends?"

"Best buddies?" Starsky added.

Dobey nodded. "He's at the precinct."

"'Kay, we're going to talk to him," Hutch decided, and gently pushed his partner out of the room.

****

"You're okay?" Hutch asked when they parked in front of the precinct. Neither one of them had said anything since they'd left Keith Wyler's house.

"No," Starsky replied quietly. "You?"

"No."

"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" Starsky asked after a brief pause.

"Yep."

"They practiced."

"Yep."

"They fucking practiced! You know what?"

"What?"

"I'm not scared anymore."

Hutch looked at his partner. "Furious?"

"I'm gonna kill them. I'm gonna kill those..."

Angry beyond words, he raised his bruised fist to hit the dashboard, but decided against it before his hand made contact with the hard material.

Instead, he placed it on Hutch's shoulder and squeezed slightly. Their eyes met briefly, a conversation took place without a single spoken word. They both dreaded facing Keith Wyler, and they knew it.

"C'mon," Hutch finally muttered and opened his door.

"Yeah," Starsky nodded and left the car, following Hutch inside.

****

Keith Wyler was a good-looking young man around twenty. He had short brown hair and fine-boned cheeks that lacked all color right now.

He sat slumped on his chair, his hands folded in his lap, his head bowed, and didn't look up when the two detectives entered the room.

"Mr. Wyler?" Hutch asked softly as he placed a cup of coffee in front of the kid.

The young man looked up, his chocolate eyes bright with unshed tears. Dark smudges lay under them as if he hadn't slept in days. Hutch didn't know how the kid had looked like before his friend had died, but he was quite sure Keith Wyler had aged decades this night.

Exchanging a quick glance with Starsky, who stood a little distanced to the table in the centre of the room leaning against the wall, the blond sat down across Keith, folding his hands on the table.

"I'm Detective Hutchinson," he introduced himself, "and this is Detective Starsky. We'd like to ask you a few questions if that's okay with you."

The kid sighed deeply, closed his eyes briefly, and opened them again, this time looking directly at Hutch.

"Keith," he said. His voice was raspy and he cleared his throat. "You can call me Keith. Thanks for the coffee."

Hutch nodded and waited a few seconds before asking his first question. "I understand that you and Finnley Holden were friends?"

Keith nodded, and rubbed his eyes with his index finger and thumb. "Yeah. yeah, we were friends. Good ones," he added, his gaze dropping.

Hutch smiled sympathetically. Though he couldn't count all the times he'd done this, it still made him feel helpless, sick, mean. Like he was hurting the poor kid on purpose.

"How did you two meet?"

"In high school," Keith answered. "Finnley wrote for the school magazine, and I was the quarterback of our high school team at that time. We had an interview one day. That's how we met."

"You're older than him?"

Keith nodded. "Two years." A quick smile crossed his lips as he added: "He was a real baby. Used to call him Linus. He hated that."

"Linus?" Hutch asked.

"That's the Peanut who carries his comfort blanket around with him everywhere he goes," Starsky explained.

Keith nodded. "Right." He wanted to say something else, but a shadow appeared on his face, settling in his eyes.

"His stupid blanket. Did you see it?"

Hutch nodded softly.

"God," the kid whispered, once more covering his face with his hands. "Why would anyone want to do this to Finn? He'd never done anything!"

"Keith," Hutch spoke again, trying to keep the shaken man calm until they were finished. "How would you describe Finnley? Was he shy? Maybe a little anxious? Did he go out with girls?"

"Did he have a thing for the Beatles?" Starsky added.

Surprised, Keith looked at him. "How d'you know that?"

"The record," Starsky explained quietly. "Abby Road."

"Really?" Keith said flatly. "I didn't even check. -- Wait a minute," he continued after a pause, frowning at Hutch, "d'you think all those... things have a meaning? Like the record?"

"Yes, we think so," Hutch nodded. "And maybe you could help us out a little."

"There was a cup, right?"

"Yes."

"Finn, he loved hot chocolate. He was addicted to it. I told you, he was a real baby. Except that he was one hell of a writer."

"He wrote? Stories?"

"Yeah. Short stories. Great ones. He really had talent," Keith said sadly. It was obvious he was on the edge of crying now, but he quickly straightened in his chair and drew in a deep breath as if ashamed of his weakness. "Guess that's what the pencil and the candle were for, huh? He wrote at night. He loved television too."

Looking over at his partner, Hutch asked: "The wire?"

Starsky shrugged. "Maybe. Keith, how did Finnley's blanket get to your place?"

"He was staying there for a few days while I was with my parents. See, his place an insult to human needs, so most of the time he was at my place anyway. And when I'm away he stays... he stayed there almost always."

"Who knew you'd be gone?" Hutch asked.

Keith shrugged. "Dunno. Everybody, I guess. It's not that I'd make a secret out of it, you know."

"Keith," Starsky started, pushing himself off the wall and sitting down next to Hutch, so that he could look directly at the kid, "do you have any idea who might have done this?"

"No," came the quick answer. "No, not a clue. I don't understand it. Finnley kept to himself, he was very shy though it didn't show, and he... You know, whoever did this must have known an awful lot about him. Like... They... I was told they drowned him in... in the shower?"

Hutch nodded, his heart reaching out for the struggling young man who so desperately tried to appear calm and in control, but looked so much like a child. "Yes, that's right."

"When Finn was like six or seven he almost drowned in the tub. He was goofing around and somehow got stuck, I don't really remember the details, but it was pretty traumatic. He was afraid of the water."

Hutch thought about this, then asked: "You said he tried not to show that he was shy. What did people normally think of him? Would they take him for a tough guy?"

"Yeah," Keith grinned wryly. "As long as he hid his blanket and pretended to drink strong coffee..."

Hutch smiled warmly, Starsky's features tensed. "Was he... afraid someone might find about him being easily scared?"

"Yeah, you could say so," the kid nodded. "He was very aware of what people thought about him, and it mattered to him a great deal. I guess you could say he was scared of... being scared. In public, I mean. Does that make any sense?"

"Oh yeah," Starsky nodded.

"Really?" Keith muttered absent-mindedly. "Most things about Finn don... didn't."

Sensing the kid's increasing distress, Hutch pushed his chair away from the table and stood up. "Thank you, Keith. You helped us a lot. You can go now."

Keith nodded slowly and stood up. Even full sized, he looked pathetic, his long arms hanging uselessly at his sides, his boyish features seemingly forced into an old man's expression.

"Hey," he said, "when the... the lab guys are through with everything, could I... can I get the blanket? Finn's blanket?"

Quickly exchanging a glance with Starsky for he feared he wouldn't make it through the scene without backup, Hutch nodded reassuringly.

"Sure you can. You can come and get it next week. Someone will call you."

"Okay. Thanks. It's really... it's important to me," the kid added as if to justify his request.

"I understand," Hutch said and opened the door for Keith. "If there's more you might want to tell us, maybe something you forgot, you can call us any time, okay?"

The kid nodded and left.

Hutch watched after him until he'd vanished behind a corner, then turned to see Starsky still sitting at the table, staring down at it. Sighing, the blond closed the door and sat down on his chair again, reaching out to place one hand on Starsky's arm as if to reassure himself of his presence.

They sat in silence for a long time.

****

Finnley Holden's apartment justified Keith's description of it as the toilet appeared to be broken and of the three bulbs hanging from the ceiling two had obviously stopped to produce light months ago.

"Wow," Starsky stated when he and Hutch fully entered the small flat, scanning it. "I dare say this is the worst looking dump I've ever seen. And the last place I honored with that title was what you called a room in the academy, so..."

At Hutch's gaze, he shrugged casually, closing the door behind them. "Don't be disappointed, blintz. You still got your garbage can on wheels, you know." He was about to add another precise description of his partner's car, but was kept from it when he felt something soft crumble under his right foot.

Slowly following Hutch's amused gaze he saw that he stepped into days-old pizza and grimaced, wiping his foot on the filthy carpet. "Okay, I admit it," he muttered, when Hutch raised his brows at him challengingly. "This is even worse than your car. Oh yuck."

"At least now we know why he stayed at Keith's most of his time," Hutch said, approaching a small table that was covered with pieces of paper, books and spots of wax.

"Hm-hm," Starsky nodded, while picking up a few magazines that lay on the bed, mostly Sports Illustrated. Suddenly he froze and smiled. "Hutch."

"Hm?" Hutch asked from where he was searching through the first drawer of the table.

"Look at this."

A few pieces of paper in hand, the blond turned to look at the old, bashed looking paperback Starsky held out for him to see. "'The three musketeers.' Well, the kid had taste."

"It's the children's volume," Starsky informed him with a warm smile. "It has pictures in it. And he kept it under his pillow."

Shrugging slightly, Hutch looked down at the papers he held in his hand. "Maybe it had a meaning for him. Or maybe he just liked it. I loved that book when I was a ki..." As he caught a few words of what had been written on the piece of paper he looked at, his voice trailed of.

"What?" Starsky asked, when a frown deepened on Hutch's forehead, and he stepped over to his partner, the book still in hands. "Found something?" he asked again, when Hutch failed to answer, and bent over the taller man's shoulder to get a look at what he was reading.

"Maybe," Hutch answered, leaning back against the table, as he continued reading. "This is an article for a newspaper. Probably the college one."

"Figures," Starsky shrugged. "Keith said Finnley wrote. What's it about?"

"An underground club of students," Hutch answered and looked up to meet his partner's gaze. "It says they believe in something Finnley calls 'the elimination of fear'."

"Sounds fun."

"They believe in the strength of the fearless, and to get that feeling they create fear. In others."

"Simply speaking they get their kicks out of feeling superior."

"Simply speaking they get their kicks out of scaring people."

There was a short pause, before Starsky quietly asked, "And killing them?"

Hutch raised his brows as if shrugging. "If they want to publish articles in newspapers..."

"Does he say anything about something like this happening before? Any incidents or..."

"Not like what happened to... you two," Hutch replied, going through the pages, "but here's a paragraph about a girl who was held captive in her room at the college for two days last year. They didn't hurt her, though. Just..."

"...Scared her."

"Right. A few students received scary letters and stuff like that. Finnley says that most of them left the college because of the threats."

Starsky frowned. "What sense does all of this make, though? Scaring people? I mean whatever for?"

"There are certain philosophies that say that the feeling of superiority is in fact a human need. To possess another human being by making him first dependant on oneself, and then by placing oneself in the position of either taking his life or letting him live, would thereby be a... way of assuring ones own survival. Psychologically speaking."

Starsky stared at him blankly. "Did you know people like this in college?"

"Uhm, sort of," Hutch answered, grimacing. "I guess those ideas spread more among students than in other environments."

"Because most students are complete whackos?"

"Because most students are young and inexperienced in life, and if they grew up in a cold, rich, affluent society that failed to teach them any values at all..."

"Suddenly I'm so glad I was drafted," Starsky commented, crossing his arms in front of him. Something fell out from between the pages of the book he was still holding, and he bent down to pick it up. "So there are psycho kids on the loose in this town," he continued while picking up what turned out to be a photo, and came back to his feet. "But d'you really think Finnley would tell them he was working on..." He glanced rather briefly at the photo, already opening the book to put it back between the pages, when suddenly he froze, all color draining from his face. "Hutch."

But his partner had already snapped the picture from his hands, since he'd gotten a glimpse of it too, and now stared at it in disbelief.

"That's Brain Linley," he stated unnecessarily, looking up to meet Starsky's gaze then down at the photo again that showed Keith Wyler, Finnley Holden and Brain Linley, all three grinning in the camera and sitting with their arms over each other's shoulder on a table. They were holding beer cans, and behind them in the dark a piece of a banner could be seen. "'Congratulation class of...'" Hutch read and looked up at Starsky.

"The three musketeers, huh?" the smaller man said wryly, taking the picture back from Hutch, shaking his head as he studied it.

"I don't believe this."

Hutch nodded, glancing down at the article, then suddenly lifted his head slowly, a dreadful expression on his face. "If Brain got involved with those freaks, Keith and Finnley would have known about it."

"Right," Starsky nodded. "And Brain would know that they knew."

"Right."

A brief silence followed, before their eyes met again.

"Keith," they said in union, and Hutch turned instantly to the phone on the table, finding the number he was looking for written on the wood of the table next to it.

After a few seconds, he turned to shoot Starsky a not very surprised look, shaking his head. "He's not answering his phone."

Throwing the book behind him and stashing the picture in his pocket, Starsky turned to head for the door, Hutch closely behind him. "Oh, damn that kid!"

****

This time they didn't knock at Seth Kinnear's door, but kicked it in with a force that sent it crashing into the wall.

"Hey!" the kid called out surprised, literally falling out of bed, but only to be dragged to his feet by a furious Starsky a split second later. "Wha..."

"You got one chance to tell us where Brain Linley is or this time you'll throw up in your sink, understood?"

"I... I don't know what you're talking about!" Seth yelled frantically, struggling uselessly against the detective's grip.

"'Kay, so you did not understand," Starsky said coldly, dragging the kid over to the sink while he spoke. Hutch leaned against the open door, his arms crossed in front of him, watching. "But that can be changed," Starsky continued, holding Seth's collar with his good hand, while trying to turn the water on with the other one. "Aw, Hutch, don't just stand there, gimme a hand here, will you?!"

Sighing as if he was always called for tasks like that, Hutch strolled over to the sink and turned the water on. "Here you go."

"Thanks," Starsky said, then looked at the kid again who'd grown awfully pale.

"H-hey c'mon, man, you're not gonna..."

"What?" Starsky interrupted him with a sweet smile. "Drown you? Hm," he mumbled, looking at the ceiling as if rethinking his plan. "No, maybe I'll break your fingers first, how does that sound?"

"Please..." Seth whimpered, his voice shaking badly.

"Where is Brain Linley?" Hutch asked quietly.

"I... I don't know! I swear I don't know!"

"Too bad. Hutch, could you get me a pencil, please? I don't have one here."

"Sure buddy," Hutch replied politely and searched his pockets, but found none. He shrugged apologetically, and Starsky sighed dramatically.

"What good are you?! You believe him?" he asked Seth, whose knees were practically shaking by now.

"I can't think of everything!" Hutch defended himself, and studied the kid as if thinking. Finally he drew his gun, holding it out for Starsky. "Maybe that'll do too."

"Oh god..."

"You think?" Starsky asked doubtfully, ignoring Seth's fear-filled moan. "I thought about something more original."

Hutch shrugged casually. "You could play Russian Roulette."

At that his partner grinned brightly. "Oh, I'd like that! Good thinking, partner. What d'you say, kiddo, two bullets to start with?" As he took the gun from Hutch with one hand, he pushed Seth out of his grip over to Hutch, who stood like a guard with his arms once more crossed in front of him.

Seth looked from one to the other. He was trapped.

Slowly, so Seth could clearly see what he was doing, Starsky let the bullets from Hutch's gun fall into his open palm. "One..." he counted.

Frantic, Seth whirled around to face Hutch. "He's not really gonna do this, is he?"

"Where is Brain Linley?" Hutch asked instead of an answer.

"I don't know!" Seth was on the edge of tears and grabbed Hutch's shirt, pleading with him. "Please I don't know."

Dragging the kid away from his partner by his shoulder, Starsky forced him down to his knees, his face to him, as he pointed the gun to his head. "Tell us where he is and maybe I just shoot your kneecaps."

Seth arched his lips into an almost hysterical grin. "C'mon, y-you're a cop! You can't shoot me! You..."

"Oh haven't you heard?" Starsky cut him off coldly, looking directly into the kid's wide eyes. "I'm a victim now. And victim's do crazy things. Like hunting down the ones who hurt them." He drew back the trigger as he spoke. "Who degraded them."

A few tears cascaded down Seth's cheeks as he pleadingly lifted his hands as if to grasp the material of Starsky's jeans. "Please! Please, I'm sorry..."

"Apology not accepted," Starsky answered, his voice lacking every emotion, and he took a small step back, so that Seth's forehead was dead centered again.

"No!" Seth yelled, turning to Hutch on his knees. "He's hiding in a cabin his father told him about! I don't where it is I swear!"

Exchanging a glance with his partner, Hutch raised his brows. "Not good enough, Seth."

"It's an old cabin, somewhere outside the city. I don't know where, honest! Brain... Brain said that his father once killed someone there. A woman. He told me his father killed a woman in that cabin, and that he gave him the key before he was locked away! I've never been there, Brain never took anyone there!"

"Keith would know," Starsky said quietly and lowered the gun. He walked past the kid's shaking form on the ground without looking back.

Hutch, though, tilted his head to one side, smiling sweetly at Seth. "Thank you so much for your help," he said, before grabbing the back of Seth's shirt and dragging him through a mass of empty beer bottles to the desk.

"Get under it," he ordered coldly, and when Seth obeyed immediately, secured his wrists to one of the legs. "Don't go anywhere before our colleagues come to collect you," he said, pointing a warning finger at him, and then turned, leaving the door open as he left.

****

They didn't need to call the precinct to find out just exactly which cabin John Linley had bequeathed to his son; they'd been there to take a look at his first victim years ago. The sight of the poor, innocent young woman who'd been so suddenly, so unnecessarily, so cruelly robbed of her life had been made of the stuff that left lasting memories, and so Hutch found the small service road off the main drag leading out of the city to the hidden cabin, despite the time that had passed.

A tensed silence had settled in the car, both detectives not only lost in their individual battles against the memories, but also in their growing fear, the almost overwhelming scent of dread that hung like smoke in the air between them. Their eyes met for a second, and a silent communication took place, something much deeper than words, a feeling, an exact understanding of what they'd be forced to face at that place that seemed to be predestined for giving home to evil.

They both knew what they would be seeing in Keith Wyler's face. They both dreaded it. And they both knew the other one knew.

The Three Musketeers, Hutch thought when he looked back on the street again. Seems so unreal. Has all you need for great drama: betrayal, friendship, death, revenge... Would make for a real bad book...

A sudden gentle squeeze on his shoulder drew his attention back to the present, and he realized Starsky had watched him losing himself in sarcastic thoughts from the corner of his eye.

Nodding shortly as if acknowledging he'd "heard" his partner's advice to stop thinking and concentrate on the bumpy road, he smiled grimly and felt Starsky's hand resting on his shoulder just a moment longer, before it was drawn back again.

"Think we're going to make it in time?" the smaller man finally broke the silence, glancing at Hutch, who hesitated briefly, before he shook his head.

"Yeah," Starsky replied quietly, "me neither."

****

Two cars were parked on the side of the road where a small path led through uneven ground to the cabin. The building's roof peeked out between the tall trees surrounding it.

Though Starsky was the first to leave the car, the pain in his chest, and his still hurting feet, slowed him down considerably, so that Hutch, shooting his partner a worried glance but deciding to deal with the problem on hand first, passed him quickly and was the first to come to a halt at the cabin's entry.

A frown crawled over his forehead when he noticed that the door was half open. Slowly, carefully, he entered the small house gun in hand.

It was dark inside despite the time of the day, due to the shadows thrown by the trees. The scent of blood hung in the air; red spots were visible on white dusty sheets that were draped over almost every piece of furniture in the small room.

A faint sound coming from a room to his left made the detective jump slightly, but it took him only a split second to recognize the sound as weeping. Slowly, he approached the door of the room it had come from.

"Keith?" he asked, surprised at how unsteady his own voice sounded. He wasn't even sure the kid had heard him. "Keith, it's me, Detective Hutchinson," he said a little louder this time and reached out for the door knob. "I'm going to come in now. Okay? Keith?"

When there was no answer but only the continuing soft sobbing, he drew in a deep breath as if to brace himself and carefully opened the door until he could fully see inside.

It was a bathroom, as small as everything else, containing only a toilet, a sink and a shower, and not much space between them. "Keith?" Hutch asked again, not taking down the gun he'd lifted when entering the room.

Keith Wyler didn't turn to look at him. He kneeled in the shower, facing Brain Linley, whose lay sprawled in the basin of the shower, his bloody feet hanging over the edge of it. He was still alive, as Hutch registered with relief; his chest was moving slowly but steadily, still pumping air into his body. Blood caked the right side of his face, where Keith had obviously knocked him out with something, but other than his head and feet he seemed to be unharmed.

You wanted to, didn't you, Keith? But you couldn't. You couldn't.

"Keith..." Hutch started again and began to move a little, but froze in mid-step when he suddenly noticed the large knife the kid was holding. It hovered above Brain Linley's upper chest. Right above his heart.

Raising his gun again, Hutch softly said, "Keith, put the knife down."

There was no answer. The kid still didn't look at him, but Hutch could see tears falling from his face onto his fingers that were cramped around the knife. His knuckles were white.

"Come on, kid," Hutch tried again. "Don't..."

But when Keith turned his head ever so slowly, their eyes met. Only for a second, before Keith looked back at his former friend again.

To Hutch it seemed like a lifetime. Like he had seen into the kid's soul, seen the whole of his life, the whole of this moment.

And he couldn't finish the sentence.

As if he didn't have control over his hand anymore, he felt it lower his gun.

"Keith!" a sudden loud voice from behind him startled him, and whirling around, he saw Starsky limping inside the room, past him. He was pale, panting, obviously in pain from the sprint to the cabin, but still he managed to order in a steady voice, "Put the knife down!" as he too raised his gun, aiming at Keith's shoulder.

Keith tilted his head to one side in slow motion, looking at the unconscious figure before him almost tenderly.

"Finn was like my brother," he finally said in a very calm voice, a little edged from his crying, but steady and clear nevertheless. "My baby brother."

"I know," Starsky said, taking a tentative step forward but freezing as Keith lifted the knife a little higher until it almost touched Brian's throat. "I know, Keith. I know you loved him, but..."

"Do you?" Keith interrupted him coldly. "Do you know? Do you have any idea what it feels like to..." His voice had risen to a yell, and he calmed himself quickly, adding, "Do you know what it feels like to not be... complete anymore? To..." He couldn't go on as another sob wracked his body.

"Yes, kid," Starsky said softly, but didn't make another attempt at approaching the young man. "Yes, I know."

He shot Hutch a quick glance, looking for help from his partner, but found the blond only staring, his eyes wide, his gun hand still lowered.

Hutch! I could use a little help here, buddy! Hutch!

But Hutch didn't look at him, his gaze was fixed on Brain Linley's still form.

"What am I gonna do?" Keith whimpered, the desperation in his voice wrenching both detective's hearts. "What am I gonna do without him?"

"Keith, put the knife down," Starsky said instead of an answer he didn't have. "You don't really want to do this. You know that."

"He killed Finn," Keith replied as if he'd suddenly found the reason to live again. Revenge. "He killed my best friend!"

"There was a time when he was your friend too," Starsky hurried to say, reaching inside his jacket to produce the picture that he threw into the shower so that Keith could see it.

The kid glanced at it briefly, than back at Brain.

"Finnley kept this," Starsky informed him, and looked at Hutch again who still hadn't moved.

Hutch, God damn it!

"Finn kept this, Keith. In his book. The Three Musketeers. You remember that? You remember how it was when you three were..."

"...Complete?" Hutch finished the sentence. Starsky shot him a glance, not sure what it was he saw in his partner's eyes.

"Yes," he said, though, playing along. "When you were complete. You remember that time, Keith? I know you do. That's why you can't kill Brain. You just can't. You knocked him out so that you wouldn't have to look into his eyes, right? Right? How long you've been sitting here, trying to do it? One hour? Two? You can't kill him."

Keith didn't answer, but pressed the knife against the tender skin of Brain's throat a little harder. A tiny drop of blood cascaded down the pale, wet skin.

"Keith, don't! Come on, kid, don't... don't ruin your life, hm?" Starsky said, knowing he was losing him, knowing he was rambling, using the wrong phases. Again his searching, helpless looks weren't answered by Hutch.

I need some help here, pal!

"Ruin my life?" Keith asked with a sickening laugh. "Think I could?"

"No," Hutch whispered. It was too soft for Keith to hear it, but Starsky next to him had heard it, and he snapped his head to look at his partner in complete surprise and shock, therefore missing Keith's sudden movement when he drove the knife into his old friend's throat, killing him in an instant.

Hutch had seen the tiny movement, though, and lifted his gun fast enough to fire the second Keith drove the blade home.

A yelp of pain echoed through the room, then there was only silence left.

A pool of blood covered Brain Linley's still body and the crumbled form of Keith Wyler lying sprawled over him.

"No," Hutch whispered, rushing to his knees, dragging Keith away from Brain, turning him on his back, cradling him like a child.

"Keith! Hey, Keith, come on, open your eyes, kid. Keith."

Starsky stared at the scene in front of him with wide eyes, the blood that slowly soaked Hutch's clothes as it seeped out from Keith's back.

The kid's eyes fluttered open.

"That's it, kid," Hutch encouraged. He was close to panic. "That's it, you just keep breathing, you hear. Keep breathing. For God's sake, don't stand just there!" he snapped at his partner. "Call an ambulance!"

But Keith's weak voice held Starsky back before he even reached the door.

"No... don't... don't wanna breathe."

Shocked, wide eyes met over the head of the dying man.

"Oh come on, kid," Hutch said, forcing himself to look into the pale, contorted face again. "Hang in there, Keith. It's gonna be okay, kid. Hang in there."

"Whatever... for?" Keith whispered, a thin line of blood running down his chin as he arched his lips to a wry smile, his eyes already closing. "What...whatever f-for....?"

His eyes fell shut, his head lolled into the crook of Hutch's arm.

"Keith! Keith! Hey, kid, don't do that to me... Keith!"

"Hutch," Starsky said quietly, grimacing as he crouched down next to his partner, laying a gentle hand on his arm. "He's dead."

Slowly, Hutch lifted his gaze to look at his friend, his eyes bright, and, hesitantly, he nodded. Starsky watched silently as his partner gently laid the dead man's body on the ground, on his back, ever so carefully as if not to hurt him. He still sat next to the body on the ground when he looked back up at Starsky, who held out a hand to help him to his feet.

Hutch took it gratefully, but instead of releasing it when he stood again, drew Starsky into a hug, clinging onto him. Feeling his partner trembling, Starsky wondered if Hutch was going into shock and rubbed his back comfortingly.

"It's okay, buddy," he said softly. "It was your duty. You couldn't have acted otherwise. It's okay." But somehow he sensed that this wasn't what made his friend shake like a leaf, made him hold onto Starsky as if he was a lifeline, made him stifle a small sob against Starsky's shoulder. It was something much more frightening, and as sudden understanding hit him, Starsky hugged his shaking partner even tighter, gently stroking the back of his head.

"It's okay, babe, I'm here," he whispered reassuringly. "I'm here, Hutch. It's okay."

His gaze fell onto the two corpses on the floor, the blood surrounding them running together to one large pool.

"I'm here, Hutch. I'm here."

****

"So, what d'you say?" Hutch asked with a bright smile when he almost jerked the door open for his friend, who peeked into the room tentatively as if he expected to be attacked by wild animals any second.

"Wow," he finally stated unimpressed, and entered after grinning at the look he'd received for that.

"Honest, Starsk," Hutch tried again and closed the door of his new apartment, then grabbed his friend's arm and dragged him to the center of the living room, gesturing broadly after having released Starsky's arm. "Isn't this great?!"

"Yeah," Starsky nodded innocently, scanning his surroundings. "It's amazing. You know, from the outside, you'd never guess how many plants fit in here."

"Don't judge a book by its cover," Hutch replied wryly and produced two beers from his fridge, handing one to Starsky, who took it with a thankful nod, then strolled over to the window.

"And you have a great view of Main Street too."

"Go on grousing, smart ass, that won't change the fact that I love this place," Hutch stated as he sprawled on his sofa, looking around with a contented smile. "Besides, it's closer to work," he added.

"Funny you'd mention that. Did you know that 60 percent of all the burglaries that happened last year took place in your new neighborhood?"

"Is that so?" Hutch asked, unimpressed.

"Oh yeah," Starsky nodded innocently, turning around to face his friend, leaning against the window sill. "And 40 percent of the robberies."

"Seems like it's a good thing there's a cop living here now, hm?" Hutch said, chuckling as his friend rolled his eyes. "Oh come on, Starsk, I know you like it too. When we looked at it for the first time you said you wanted to move in here yourself!"

"Yeah, but that was before I found out that the realtor's secretary who showed us around wasn't included."

Looking back ahead again, Hutch raised his brows innocently. "Who said she isn't?"

Starsky's chin traveled south. "You didn't," he finally stated, tilting his head to one side to search his partner's face suspiciously.

"No, you're right, I didn't," Hutch replied too fast, one corner of his mouth twisting, and jumped to his feet again. "By the way, I almost forgot, I got something for you."

"Hm hm," Starsky muttered, still frowning, but pushed himself away from the window sill to make his way over to the door. At Hutch's questioning look, he answered, "Me too. Left it in the car. Be right back."

With that he opened the door, but only to turn again and look back at his friend. "You didn't, did you?"

"Don't leave my door open that long. Haven't you heard? There's a very high crime rate in this neighborhood."

Grumbling, Starsky hurried down the stairs to his car and returned with Ollie and a square shaped item wrapped in brown paper that he handed Hutch unceremoniously, while placing Ollie on the sofa.

Hutch stared down at the present, biting his lip.

"What?" Starsky asked, sitting down next to Ollie. "Aren't you gonna open it?"

"Uhm..." Hutch mumbled and pointed at the coffee table.

Following his friend's look, Starsky saw an equally formed item laying there. It too was wrapped in brown paper.

A grin spread on Starsky's face as he looked up at Hutch again, who was laughing slightly.

"You know, that album's so great, every household should have a copy of it."

"Right," Hutch nodded, and sat down on the couch again, so that Ollie sat between them.

They both unwrapped "Abby Road" and grinned at each other. Then, as if on cue, both looked back at the cover again, their smiles fading.

They had never talked about what had happened at the cabin. They both hadn't felt it necessary. Now Hutch slowly placed one hand over Starsky's holding the record. He didn't look at him, but Starsky saw him frown as if searching for words.

"Hutch," he finally said.

Hutch looked up.

Starsky opened his mouth to say something, but thought about it, his eyes wandering over to Hutch's record player that still sat somewhere in the "soon to be unpacked" mess on the ground. Looking back at his partner, he grinned brightly, lifting the record with his free hand, raising his brows questioningly.

Hutch followed his actions and smiled, then nodded.

As he watched his partner fumble with the record player, he leaned back on the couch, taking a long sip from his beer, caressing Ollie's fur with one hand, feeling overwhelmingly content, happy. And complete.

THE END

 

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