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Wuemsel's Fanfic Corner

Fading Into Technicolor


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"Starsky! Will you cut that out, for Christ s sake! Either you eat it or you leave it, but stop playing with it!"

Flinching involuntarily at his superior's sudden outburst, Starsky let go of the cracker he had been about to place on top of a neatly built cracker house on Dobey's desk, and it fell into the others, crashing the food-made masterpiece.

"Sorry, Cap," the detective mumbled in a small voice, quickly picking up one of the crackers that lay all over the table, and shoving it into his mouth.

Watching him, Dobey shook his head dramatically. "Gee, you're worse than my kids, you know that?"

Chewing quietly on his cracker, Starsky peeked up at Dobey, deciding it was no fun teasing the Captain when Hutch wasn't around.

"He shoulda called by now, shouldn't he?" he asked, glancing at his watch. It was five seconds past two. Hutch was supposed to call them at two o'clock.

Before Dobey could snort a reply at him, the phone next to him rang. Swallowing down the cracker, Starsky snatched the receiver off the phone. "Hu..." A violent cough interrupted him as he found the bit of food had chosen the wrong path to go down.

"Oh, give me that," Dobey chided, taking the receiver out of the coughing man's hand. "Hutchinson?"

"Uh... yeah," Hutch's voice answered, amusement clearly evident in it. "Hey Captain."

"Don't hey me," Dobey barked, but it was his affectionate, caring barking the two detectives had come to recognize when they were confronted with it. After five days with a bored, worried, over-energetic and desk-bound Starsky on his hands, Dobey was not only on the edge of sending the curly haired detective home, but also extremely glad to hear the blond's voice again. He'd never admit that last part, of course.

"Do you have the money?" the Captain asked further, ignoring Starsky's feeble attempts at snatching the receiver out of his hand.

"Every single penny," Hutch answered. "Piece of cake. I told you."

Dobey only grumbled a few illegible words. He hadn't been very fond of the idea of Hutch going to Vancouver all on his own to make a fake drug sell there, in order to lure Timothy Rennie, a big one in the Bay City drug business, back into town. Of course the whole scheme had been the Feds' idea. It seemed that though they absolutely despised the two street cops in Bay City, they always chose to pick them when they needed someone to do their dirty work.

To say that Starsky hadn't been fond of the idea of Hutch going to Vancouver on his own would have been an understatement. He'd spent a whole day following Hutch everywhere he went, continuingly circling him like an excited kid, lost in non-stop raving.

Yet Hutch had been first to raise his hand to accept the assignment and so he'd left for the Canada five days ago.

Ever since then, Dobey had regretted the decision of making Starsky stay. Once more taking a small step backwards as his detective's hand reached out to grab hold of the receiver, Dobey shot him a reprimanding look, while telling Hutch, "Well, make sure you'll get it here safely, you hear me? It's gonna be my head the Feds will have for breakfast if you lose their money."

"Actually I thought about taking off for Hawaii," Hutch replied jokingly. "I hear it's beautiful this time of the year."

"When does your plane arrive?" the Captain asked, ignoring the detective's comment and frowning at Starsky, who had sat back on his chair again, arms tightly folded in front of his chest, looking like a defeated child.

"Tomorrow, eight pm. I'll be leaving in the morning."

"Okay. I'll send you an escort," Dobey said, still watching Starsky staring at him with narrowed eyes. "And, Hutch?"

"Yeah?"

"Don't miss that plane. Please."

The blond laughed out loud, undoubtedly seeing a scene matching the actual one in his mind. "I'll try, Captain. See you tomorrow. Say hi to Starsk for me."

With that he hung up, as did Dobey, an action that send a sudden rush of energy through the slumped figure in the chair in front of him.

"Hey! Wai-wai-wai-wai-wait!" Starsky called out and jumped forward just in time to get his hand on the receiver when it hit the phone. Staring first at his hand resting on the phone, then at his superior, Starsky stated, "That was mean."

"Hutch says hi," Dobey said, sitting back on his chair and pretending to look at some files spread out in front of him. "Don't you have a report to write?"

Grumbling, Starsky turned, slamming the door shut behind him, leaving his superior in the privacy of his office, where he could release a wide grin from his strict hold.

****

Leaning back on the hard plastic chair in the airport terminal, Hutch sighed tiredly, thinking of his own warm bed, his own place. Not that the hotel he'd been staying at for the last few days had been bad, it was just that it had been too... tidy. Neat. Compared to that room, Starsky's apartment was messy.

Smiling slightly as he thought of his friend, Hutch sat up straight again, looking at the board to check how much longer he'd have to wait until he would finally be on his way home.

The moment he looked up, the daily flight to Hawaii was announced. Grinning, he let his gaze fall back down onto the small suitcase that sat on his lap, then looked around slightly, feeling the moment lacking of a very distinctive... person.

Sighing, he rubbed a tired hand over his eyes. How he longed for his ever high spirited partner to just pop up out of nowhere and tell him some ludicrous facts about Canada. Yeah, he'd probably come up with something like: did you know Mounties have to wear those stupid hats, because the founder of the Mounted Police lost a bet with an Inuit about who could eat a whole polar bear faster?

Rolling his eyes slowly, as if listening to his own voice in his head, Hutch shook his head slightly. You're one weird fella, you know that, Hutchinson? Starsky only believes stuff like that when he reads it -- you're making it up on your own.

Again, his gaze found the board, and he let out yet another impatient sigh. He felt like he hadn't been home for years. The whole trip had been, though easy as a job, so incredibly boring he'd even started to watch soaps on the tv in the hotel room. Since he'd had to be observed by the Feds in charge, there hadn't been much chance to see the city or go out at night, and without Starsky at his side, that had left pretty much nothing for him to do to spend his free time. He was just about to think of another fact about Canada he maybe could present Starsky with when he saw him that night, when finally, finally his flight was announced and he could check in.

"Have a nice flight," the stewardess smiled at him as she handed him back his ticket, and picking up the suitcase, he smiled back, casting her an appreciative glance.

"Oh, I'm sure I will."

Followed by another smile, he started to walk through the short tunnel leading towards the plane, when a sudden slight pressure on his back forced him to a halt.

"Don't turn around," a high female voice ordered him softly. Hutch had no doubts about what it was she had just shoved in his back, so he obeyed.

Oh no, no, no, no, no! I'm almost home! Oh please, not now! This can't be happening!

"Move to the right," the voice ordered. "Slowly."

Again, Hutch obeyed, moving to a small door.

"Open it."

"Hey, listen, I don't really care about the money anyw-"

"Open the door!"

Sighing, Hutch opened the door and found that it led outside to a parking deck.

"See that blue Sedan over there? That's where we're going."

"Uhm..." the blond tried to protest, but was stopped by a rough shove.

"You're not very clever, cop, are you?"

"No, I'm tired," Hutch replied, slowly making his way over to the car. "Hey, why don't you just... How d'you know I'm a cop?"

Just as he'd reached the Sedan, he turned around to look at a small, almost fragile looking very young woman with long black hair. For a person with hands that small she held a large gun in them, though. If he hadn't been so busy trying to figure out why she looked familiar, he'd consider her very pretty. "Who are you?"

Smiling, she tilted her head to the right while producing a key from her pocket and gave it to him. "Open the door, get inside and start the engine, detective. You, me and all of my new little friends here," she said, pointing at the suitcase he still held, "are going to make a trip."

Returning the smile, he didn't move. "Wouldn't you and your little friends appreciate a little privacy without me, Miss-"

"Rennie," she answered, rolling her eyes as if unnerved when his chin traveled southwards. "Carly Rennie. And now please open the car."

"You're Timothy Rennie's daughter," Hutch stated, still not moving.

"I'm impressed. With your skills you could be a detective," she replied dryly. "And now open the car."

Finally, Hutch obeyed, and a few minutes later they were on the road out of the city.

I'm gonna kill the Feds, I'm gonna just kill them.

****

"Starsky!" Captain Dobey's voice cut through the air of concentration Starsky had been sitting in at his desk, trying to build a ship out of the leftover crackers, and again the piece of work crashed, spreading crackers all over his and Hutch's desk.

Quickly jumping to his feet as if to block the mess from his superior's view, Starsky grinned brightly at him.

"Yep?"

"In my office," Dobey said quietly and turned without noticing the crackers falling over the edges of the desk. He left his door open, and Starsky frowned, following him without a comment.

"Uh, hey Cap, 'bout that report-"

"Close the door," Dobey interrupted him in a quiet voice before he turned in the middle of the room to look at his detective.

The fact that he didn't go back all the way behind his desk made the hairs on Starsky's neck raise slightly. Something was wrong.

When the door was closed, Dobey opened his mouth as if to say something, but stopped, looking away.

"Cap..." Starsky started, but was interrupted by Dobey turning around his desk and sitting down.

"Sit down, Dave."

Starsky's eyes widened a little, he swallowed dryly and felt himself moving slowly towards the desk, but he remained standing. "What is it?" he asked, dread evident in his voice. "What happened? Something..." His voice trailed off as he looked closer at the man in front of him who he had come to know so very well over the years. "Something happened to Hutch," he then stated, eyeing his superior. "Right? Am I right?"

Before Dobey even had the chance of answering, he continued: "Wh-what is it? He's okay, isn't he? Is he in hospital? In Vancouver? I'm going t-"

"David," Dobey's calm voice cut him off. The Captain's eyes met his briefly, before he looked down, obviously not able to hold his detective's gaze. "Hutch's plane crashed into the ocean about two hours ago. Th... There were no survivors."

The Captain let a short pause follow, allowing the younger man to register the information he'd just received, before adding softly, "Hutch is dead, son."

Starsky stared at the man, not sure he'd heard what had been said or just a voice inside his head. A frown crawled over his forehead. Things weren't making sense.

"Bu..." he started, confused, sounding like a child trying to understand what you couldn't understand, and shook his head as if to clear it. "But... No. H-he... I'm supposed to... pick him up. At the airport. Today." The frown grew deeper. "His plane...? What...?"

"Starsky," Dobey said in a clear, yet gentle voice, noticing first signs of shock in the man's reaction. "Calm down."

But this time Starsky didn't obey. "Y-you gotta be kidding," he said, a somewhat hysterical crooked smile appearing on his lips. "Hutch would never die in a plane crash. That's... that's ridiculous," the sentence ended in a mere whisper, followed by a wince as if the detective was feeling physical pain.

Somehow Dobey didn't even doubt that assumption. "He checked in this morning," he said, his own voice getting shakier every second. "There's no reason to doubt he was on that plane. He... I'm sorry, Dave."

"Yeah... yeah, I, uh, I'm... I..." Starsky interrupted him, stumbling backwards a few steps until his back hit the door, and he reached behind him for the doorknob. "I'm going to..."

He didn't finish the sentence, but opened the door and rushed outside, leaving it wide open.

"St..." Dobey started to yell after him, but thought differently after a second and just stood up to close the door.

When he turned, his gaze fell upon the phone on his desk.

"That was mean."

Slightly falling back against the door, he covered his face with his hands.

**** 

"So where are we going?" Hutch's voice finally broke the silence inside the car, casting a quick look at Carly Rennie's face in the rearview mirror. She had relaxed visibly since they'd left Vancouver. Actually she seemed to be a pretty relaxed person, anyway. She visibly enjoyed herself.

Despite his hopes it wasn't Hutch who did the driving. Instead, he sat in the back and was hand-cuffed to the headrest of the passenger seat in front of him. Except for lying in the trunk, he couldn't imagine a position in a car that would have been more uncomfortable. This fact didn't particularly improve his already sour mood.

"Oh, I don't know," she replied, shrugging. "What'd you like?"

"Bay City."

"Oh? I've never been there? Is it nice there?"

"Oh yeah," he replied dryly, "it's terrific. Lots of-"

"Cops?" she concluded sweetly.

"Nice bars," he corrected.

"I'm sure. You like bars? Going out?"

"Depends."

"On what?" she asked, looking at him in the rearview mirror.

"On who I'm with," he said sarcastically.

"Aw, that hurt. How can you judge me like that, hm? You don't even know me. I just happen to be a lot of fun, actually. But you..." She stopped, eyeing him questioningly.

"Ken," he answered the unspoken question, unnerved. "Ken Hutchinson, and just to keep you updated, I'm not having fun yet."

Carly shrugged. "Party Pooper. Hey," her face suddenly lit up, "I've just got an idea!"

"I hope it includes you driving me back to the fucking airport," Hutch mumbled.

She ignored him and talked over his words. "Mexico!"

The blond head snapped up from where he'd rested it in frustration against his arms. "HUH?!"

"I've never been to Mexico! You?"

"Ahm... Miss Rennie-"

"Please, call me Carly. I mean, hey, we're on our way to Mexico together. Don't you think that justifies a first name basis? Ken?"

"Our way to... Listen Mi... Carly. I don't know what your problem is, though I can imagine your childhood must have been rather... disturbing, but frankly I don't give a damn. And this money is nothing I'd risk my life for. Or my nerves for that matter. So why don't you just pull over right here, let me out and drive off into the sunset? Hm?"

She frowned as if thinking, and he crawled a little closer to the passenger seat, casting her a pleading look. "Come on, we're way out of the city by now and it's been at least thirty minutes since we passed the last gas station. I bet it'll take me hours to get back into town. You'll probably be in San Fran by that time."

"Hm," she murmured, glancing at him very seriously. Somehow the expression reminded him of Starsky when he was trying to....

"Hmmmmmno."

...drive him nuts.

"Why not?" he asked exasperatedly.

"Because I like you. You're cute," she stated with a grin. "And you don't want me going to a place like Mexico on my own, do you? What kind of a cop are you, Ken Hutchinson? Sending an innocent girl into..."

"An innocent girl?!"

"Yeah," she nodded, smiling again. "And you know what? I think in Mexico I'm even allowed to drink."

As his head fell back down on his arms with a frustrated groan, Carly gave an amused laugh, reaching out to gently pat the blond hair.

"Don't worry, Kenny. This is gonna be fun, you'll see."

****

Starsky had lost track of time a while ago. After he'd left Metro, he had headed straight for the airport.

"But you can call them and check it out, can't you?!" he heard his own anger-filled voice in his head.

The poor girl behind the desk at the airport had almost broke into tears at his yelling. Too many angry people had yelled at her that day. Too many people had stated to cry in front of her. She'd been the messenger of death for too long that day.

Barely more than a kid, she was. On the edge of tears herself every time she had to nod. "Yes, I'm sorry, but yes, your son/daughter/father/mother/wife/husband checked in this morning." Knowing it meant they were dead. They all were dead. "I'm sorry, Detective Starsky, but we're really busy right now. Please just have a seat while-"

"I don't wanna have a seat! I want you to pick up the phone and find out if my partner was on that plane!"

"Plea-"

"PICK UP THE FUCKING PHONE!"

He'd regretted losing his patience the second it happened, wincing inwardly when he saw her flinching, saw her hands shaking as she complied.

"Hutchinson," he informed her quietly. "His name... " He thought for a second before saying, "...is Kenneth Hutchinson. He's a cop."

Her eyes answered his question before she herself did, and he nodded, not looking at her, ashamed. "'Kay. Uhm... listen, uhm.... Sorry I yelled at you." He forced a small smile on his lips.

"It's okay," she winked, though a single tear had escaped her lids and had to be quickly wiped away by a still trembling hand. "I'm truly sorry."

"Yeah. Thanks."

As he had turned away, he'd heard her small frightened voice calling out for the "next".

That all had been hours ago. The sun was already setting, painting the sky in purple and orange. Starsky was driving. Aimlessly. Around. Unseeing. His motions subconscious, his thoughts running in circles.

Past tense. I have to speak of him in the past tense now.

"Hutch was a messy guy."

"Hutch ate freaky stuff."

"It was easy to drive Hutch crazy."

Funny. Sounds funny.

As he looked right he suddenly found he had driven to Venice Place. The building seemed to drive past him rather than he drove past it, and he pulled over, feeling like in slow motion, parking the torino behind his partner's battered LTD.

"Hutch had no taste in cars."

Hutch is never gonna drive you again, baby, he thought, as he kept his gaze fixed on the car while he stepped out of the torino and approached what he used to call Hutch's garbage can. Again, he didn't know how long he just stood there, staring at the car, taking in every bump and scratch he already knew by heart.

I'll have to call his parents, he suddenly thought, though the realization wasn't visible on his face. It seemed none of his thoughts had reached the surface since he'd left the airport. His features were a mask of stone, his eyes felt as if they looked cold.

I'll have to call Huggy. I'll have to call Mom. I'll have to call all our friends.

The thoughts kept on raining down on him as he entered the building, walked down the hall to Hutch's apartment and let himself in, closing the door quietly behind him. It was only when he flipped on the light that he registered he'd done all that. He'd been walking like in a trance.

I'll have to do something about his place. He looked around. I'll have to do something about his stuff.

Slowly, he stepped inside the room, let his hand fall on top of the sofa, caressing it as he walked on. Empty beer bottles stood on the kitchen table and on a stool Hutch had placed next to the bathroom. Inwardly, Starsky smiled. It was just like Hutch to leave his apartment like that before going on a one week-trip.

Unconsciously, he picked up the bottles and carried them to the breakfast bar. There were more in the sink, and he looked at them, again only inwardly shaking his head.

"Did I say messy? Scratch that. Hutch was a slob."

He opened the fridge, looked inside without really seeing it, and let the door fall closed again. Turning, looking in the wide emptiness of the apartment, he fought the urge to call out for his friend. Maybe he'd step out of the bathroom, toweling his blond hair, smiling at Starsky standing next to the fridge as if that had been his first aim after entering. Maybe they'd go for a beer at Huggy's. Maybe everything would be alright. If he just called out for him.

"Hutch?" It was merely a whisper.

Nothing happened. The place was silent.

"Hutch?" A little louder this time.

"Hu..." But he hushed himself before he could yell.

"Will you stop yelling, Gordo?! I'll be ready in a minute, okay?! Jesus!"

I'm never going to hear his voice again.

Slowly, Starsky made his way over to the green house, grabbing the stool on his way and set it right in the middle of all those plants his partner loved so much.

"Hutch loved plants."

He just stood looking at them for a second, then began to water them, all of them, giving each single one a special care, caressing each single one's leaves, watching each single one closely.

When he was done, after what seemed an eternity, he sat down on the stool, looking around.

"Plants," his own voice sounded strange to him, as if far away. Calm. Too calm. "This is not going to be easy for me, so I'll just say it straight out. Hutch is not going to come back."

He paused, again looking around, feeling like a parent breaking the horrifying news to the kids. "He's gone. His plane crashed. He's dead."

As he watched the plants as if expecting some sort of a reaction to that, he subconsciously raised his hand to his face when he felt something stinging in his eyes. It was only then he noticed he was crying. Silent tears fell from his lids, ran down his cheeks. He wiped a few away, looked at the moisture on his fingertips.

"Hey, buddy. Starsk. Aw, come here, babe. Shhh. I know. I'm here. Don't cry."

I'm never going to hear his voice again.

His sobs grew, until he could no longer sit on the stool and slid down to the ground, hugging his knees, his forehead resting on them.

I'm never gonna hear his voice again. I'm never gonna see him again. I'm never gonna touch him again. I've got to call his parents. What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do? What....

****

Captain Dobey's call had woken Huggy Bear up. Woken him up to the nightmare that suddenly had become their lives.

Hutch was dead.

"Starsky?" he called out lowly, when he opened the door to Hutch's apartment.

No answer.

"Starsk? It's me, Huggy. You here, bro?"

He hadn't need to ask, though. He'd seen the torino parked in front of the building, anyway. Quietly, he made his way through the rooms to the green house.

"Aw, shit," he muttered as he spotted the curled up form lying on the ground. Starsky had literally cried himself to sleep, his face hidden beneath drawn up arms, and he was shivering slightly from pure exhaustion.

It took Huggy a second or two to come out of his state of dread and shock at the sight of his broken friend, and he knelt down beside him, gently touching his arm.

"Starsky? Wake up, man. Starsk."

The exhausted man stirred, then slowly blinked his eyes open, looking up at Huggy with a questioning frown. For a moment, Huggy feared Starsky might think it was Hutch waking him. There wasn't a thing he could imagine to be more terrible than what he'd have to say then, but fortunately, the frown vanished quickly, the questioning gaze was replaced by recognition and something Huggy had never before seen in the cobalt blue eyes.

"Hug," Starsky said, his voice calm, as if he hadn't just waken up, but entered the bar, greeting his friend.

"Yeah, it's me, Curly," Huggy said and drew his hands back as Starsky first sat up then came to his feet, rubbing his eyes.

"Dobey called you?" the detective asked.

Huggy nodded. "He's worried sick about you."

Starsky smiled slightly, patting the other man's arm.

"Starsky, I-"

"Hutch is dead, Hug," Starsky cut him off, eyeing him as if he'd just broken the news to him.

"I know. I'm sorry."

"Yeah. I'm gonna... I'm gonna be away for a while," Starsky said matter-of-factly and turned to walk back inside the apartment.

Huggy followed him slowly, not sure what to say to the man. "Where're you going?"

Starsky shrugged. "Don't know. But I'll be back," he added, catching the deeply concerned look in Huggy's eyes. "I just need... some time for... I just can't..." He couldn't finish the sentence, not sure himself what he wanted to do. "I just don't want to be here for a while," he finally said. "But I'll be back. Don't look like that, okay? I'm not going to..." Again, he didn't finish the sentence, his gaze dropping to the ground.

Huggy was just about to ask him to stay, when the detective hurried over to the door as if he was afraid he wouldn't make it out.

"Hey Hug?" he asked, already standing in the open door, looking directly at his friend.

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry too, man."

Their eyes met, and Huggy nodded, understanding what Starsky was trying to say.

"Yeah," he nodded gratefully. "Hey Starsk, you... you take care of yourself."

Starsky smiled wryly, then turned, the door pulled closed behind him.

Huggy's gaze remained on the door his friend had vanished behind for a long while.

Dobey's gonna have my hide.

****

Hutch looked around the small room he would be spending the night in and grimaced with irritation.

"Don't look like that, Kenny," Carly had told him when she'd guided him inside the motel she'd chosen for the night two hours ago. "You could be spending the night in the trunk, you know."

At her sweet smile, Hutch had quickly raised one thumb to indicate what great a place this was.

"Good boy," she had nodded, patting his arm.

That had been a while ago, and despite himself, Hutch was beginning to get extremely bored. Carly had hand-cuffed him to a radiator, then eyed him thoughtfully before producing a roll of tape from the bathroom.

"Hey..." Hutch had protested faintly, shrinking against the wall when she'd approached him. "Hey, come on, you don't have to gag me. I promise I'll be a good little prisoner and just sit here, enjoying the view."

Rolling her eyes, she'd cut off a piece of the tape.

"Just turn on the tv and I'm perfectly content," Hutch had tried further, looking up at her pleadingly. "Please, Carly..."

But it had been no use. "The man said tv's broken," Carly had informed him, while she had neatly secured the tape over his mouth, smiling amusedly at his angry stare. "But you could try playing twenty questions with yourself. When I was a kid, I used to do that when I'd been sent to my room."

At his inaudible mumbles that were meant to say it didn't surprise him that she had been always this clever, the girl tilted her head to one side, grinning contentedly.

"I should have done that hours ago." With that, she left, winking playfully at him before letting the door pull closed. Since she'd left the money in the room, Hutch hadn't doubted for a second that she would come back, though.

First, the detective had made a few attempts at freeing himself, but after some time he'd realized how useless his efforts were. So he'd thought about a plan to escape the next day, or at least to let someone know where he was. Dobey and Starsky must have found out about him missing by now. Or wasn't it already eight o'clock in Bay City? Feebly, he tried to get a look at his watch, but the position his hands were in made the task impossible. Letting go of a deep, frustrated sigh, he leaned his head back against the wall, staring at the ceiling. He was just about to ask himself the first of the twenty questions, when he heard a key being turned in the lock, and a second later, Carly entered the room, carrying a brown paper bag.

"Honey, I'm home," she sang sweetly, earning an unnerved groan from her captive.

"Shopping was murder, I can tell you," she told him, ignoring his occasional mumbles and the by now furious looks that followed her as she took off her shoes and started to rummage in the bag, producing bottles of Coke, sandwiches, a few clothes...

She went shopping! She kidnaps a cop, steals five hundred thousand dollars and goes shopping?!

...and a little green something made of plastic that she held out for him to see. "I've bought you something," she said happily, then frowned a little at his look. "Well, don't you want to know what it is?"

Hutch arched his brows, staring at her as if she'd lost her mind, not sure whether that was true or not, but at her producing the gun from the back of her jeans, he nodded quickly.

"Thought so," she muttered, laid the gun on the bed and went over to where he sat on the ground, crouching down to show him the green item.

"It's a magic dice," she explained, turning a few of the sides. "See? You've got to turn the sides to make them all have the same color."

While she kept on explaining the toy, Hutch felt his gaze slip aside as if he just couldn't believe what was happening. He felt like laughing and crying at the same time.

"I felt bad about you sitting here all the time," Carly went on, "so I thought I'd get you something to play with for the next time."

Hutch's eyes snapped back at her. The next time?!

His fierce mumble was lost, though, as she looked at him, then back at the toy and frowned. His hands were cuffed behind his back.

"Hm."

Looking around in the room, she spotted a small table at the other end and snapped her fingers, grinning at him.

Hutch watched her as she produced the key to his cuffs, picked up the gun again and stood before him, looking directly at him. "Don't try anything," she said sternly. "I don't want to have to pay for any blood on the carpet here, got that?" When he didn't react, she pulled back the trigger of the gun that was aimed at his middle. "Got that?" she repeated, and he nodded quickly.

"Good."

She then uncuffed him, and without allowing him to get back on his feet, led him over to the table, where she secured his wrists again around one of the legs, so that his hands were now in front of him. "There you go," she said happily, when she placed the toy in his hands and stood up to look down at him, laying the gun once again down on the bed. "Now what do good boys say?"

Since he could reach his face now, he pulled the tape off his mouth. "I hate you."

"Hm. I think I liked you better over there," she said matter-of-factly, pointing slightly at the radiator with her index finger, raising his brows at him. "Sooo, Kenny... What do good boys say?"

"You... Thanks," he muttered, when her gaze wandered over to the gun.

"You're welcome," she smiled sweetly.

****

Starsky looked around the small room, uncaring. It had a bed in it and it was far away from the city. That was all he needed.

Dropping the small bag he'd brought, he closed the door behind him and locked it. Not really registering it, he led his head fall forward a little, so that his forehead rested on the closed door, and just stood like that for a while. He was tired, so tired. Yet sleep seemed impossible.

Everything seemed impossible. Like the effort of raising his hand to drive it over his exhausted features would have been too much for him. Speaking had become a monumental task. The desk clerk had barely understood him when he'd asked for a room. Everything he'd done that day seemed to fade away into his memory as if it all had happened years ago.

Calling Hutch's parents. Hearing they'd already been informed by the airline. Listening to Hutch's mother crying, soothing her, his voice sounding distant in his own ears. Monotone. He'd always thought he'd sound differently. He'd always thought he'd be the one to break the news to them. He'd always thought he'd be standing in a hospital hall, Hutch's blood all over him, when he'd have to make that call.

"Yes, I've been with him, Mrs. Hutchinson. He didn't die alone." He'd always thought that would have been his words.

Plane crash. Panic. Screams. Chaos. He swallowed dryly, feeling tears sting in his eyes. Did you see the ocean? Did you know this was it? Were you afraid? Were you in panic? Did it hurt? Oh please, don't let it have hurt. Please let it have been fast. Please don't let him have suffered. Please just let him have slept or something. Please don't let him have suffered.

A tiny sob escaped him, but he quickly bit his lip, holding back the tears. He still stood leaned against the door, not feeling like moving. Not knowing why he should move.

He'd taken a bus to get to the motel. To get anywhere. He hadn't really known where he'd wanted to go to, he'd just entered a bus at the station and had left it in a small town a few hours away from the city. He'd never been there. It held no memories. It was just a place like the motel room was just a room.

When he'd left his apartment after having packed some clothes, he'd been just about to enter his car, when a sudden feeling hit him like a slap in his face. He'd stared at the Torino for a long time.

"You just want me to drive around in a striped tomato like you got."

"My car is a striped what?!"

Suddenly the thought of driving in the Torino without Hutch next to him seemed... impossible. Hutch had been the first one he'd shown the car. Hutch had been the first one he'd forced to drive with him in it. How many times had he tried to convince Hutch of the Torino's superiority over any other car on the planet? How many times had they sat in the Torino, laughing, or in silence or one comforting the other one?

It had seemed as if every single moment he and Hutch had shared in this car had decided to make a reappearance in his mind. The time he'd driven Hutch to Huggy's after Forest. The day Terry had been shot. When Hutch had driven him home after the days he'd been held captive by the Marcus goons. Funny, he'd never really understood why it had touched him like it had that Hutch had driven the Torino all the time he'd been gone.

How could he ever drive this car again? He couldn't even look at it. It had been the first thing he'd suddenly found to be impossible to do. And it frightened him.

After an eternity of standing at the door, he finally pushed himself off it, and crossed the room, ignoring the bag he'd dropped, and lay down on the bed on his back, staring up at the ceiling.

What the hell am I doing here? I should be home, working. Distracting myself. I should be on the streets. I should be working.

But he knew that was the other thing that had become impossible. The most important one.

Working. On the streets. Without Hutch.

He tried to imagine it, he really tried.

But it was impossible.

He'd always been with Hutch as long as he'd been a street cop. Actually he'd always been with Hutch since he'd become a cop at all. Him being a cop was connected to Hutch. His whole life was connected to Hutch.

The sudden realization made him gasp. It actually hurt. He could feel his breath quickening as if he was in panic, and trying to calm down, he jumped to his feet, starting to pace.

But the tightening feeling in his chest wouldn't go away.

Without Hutch, there was no being a cop. No working on the streets. No Torino. No laughter. No comfort. No discussions about food. No banters about cars. No "Gordo". No "Blintz". Nothing.

No "me and thee". Just him.

A sudden stabbing pain in his hand made him snap out of his frantic trance, and when he looked down, he found his knuckles bloody and raw. There was blood on the wall he stood in front of. He hadn't noticed he'd started to hit the wall. Why did he always do things he didn't notice? Walk, talk, drive, punch. His body seemed to react different from his mind.

Rubbing his raw knuckles, he slowly returned to the bed and lay down. Now he wanted to cry, but felt he couldn't. There was a stinging sensation in his eyes, but no tears would come. Nothing would ease the pain in his chest.

Nothing. Without Hutch, he himself was nothing.

Desperately trying to make the panic go away, he thought of his partner. No times in particular, just Hutch, what he'd looked like, how he'd talked, how he'd known just exactly what to say to comfort Starsky when he needed it.

It took a while, but finally, he could cry. Curling up on his side, he hid his face in the pillow and just wept over the loss of his friend, his mind clear of any other fears. It felt good. Calming. Soothing.

Starsky cried for hours, until his head ached so much the pain dragged him into a restless sleep.

****

"Kenny, will you just go to sleep now, please?! You're making me nervous."

"I'm just sitting here!" Hutch protested, irritated. He was grumpy beyond caring. His back hurt, his hands hurt, his head hurt, and his stomach was grumbling. The last thing, though, was his own fault, he knew. He'd tried to climb out of the window of the bathroom, when Carly had allowed him to use the john, and he'd already accepted he wouldn't fit through it and had started to climb back into the room, when she'd come in and found out about his feeble attempt at escaping.

"You should be glad you're cute," she'd told him when she'd cuffed him to the radiator instead of the table again. "Otherwise I'd have to shoot you for that."

"You wouldn't believe I was only trying to get some fresh air, would you?"

"You liked being gagged?"

"Uhm... no..."

"Then shut up."

Deciding that she somehow had to punish him, she'd put the sandwich she'd bought for him back in the paper bag, telling him, "No food for you today. Maybe tomorrow if you behave."

After that Carly had made a few attempts at playing twenty question with the detective, but since being hungry hadn't really improved his mood, she'd soon given up on that and had decided to go to sleep instead.

"You're not even trying to sleep!" she told him, sitting up in bed now, flipping on the light.

"Wha...?!"

"I can feel you looking at me, and it's making me nervous! Close your eyes and go to sleep!"

Hutch stared at her exasperated. "Anyone ever told you you're nuts? I mean like in really nuts. Whacko."

"D'you think it's wise to say that to someone who's sleeping with a gun on the night stand?"

"Oh come on, Carly, you won't shoot me. You never shot anyone in your life. I bet the gun's not even loaded."

"Okay, you're right, it's not. But I could knock you out with it."

"Oh please do, at least then I won't have to listen to you any longer."

"Aw, that was mean," she said in mock hurt, visibly enjoying the banter.

"I'm mean?!" he called out in disbelief. "You're the one who kidnaps me, handcuffs me, gags me, starves me, not to mention drives me nuts, and I'm mean?!"

"Hey Kenny, don't get all-"

"And stop calling me Kenny!"

That outburst actually hushed her, her eyes widened in surprise.

"What is your problem, Carly, huh? What is all this, what? You're mad at your father? Trying to make him pay for not letting you watch the midnight shows?! What?!"

"Who said I'm not working for him? Maybe he found out about you being a cop and wanted his money back."

"If your father had found out about me, I'd be dead by now," he replied. "Which, as I might add, doesn't seem all that bad compared to this."

She looked at him, silent for a second, then suddenly jumped out of bed, grabbing a cloth from the night stand and crouched down in front of him.

"What now?" he asked, flinching away when her hands touched his face.

"I need my beauty sleep, and I can't sleep when you're looking at me," she said matter-of-factly while she blindfolded him.

"Hey!"

"And now go to sleep," she ordered and when he opened his mouth to reply something, grabbed his chin with one hand.

"One more word and that tape makes a reappearance, you got that?"

He nodded slowly.

"Good. I may not be able to shoot you, I may not even be able to hurt you, Kenny, but I sure as hell am able to make you a lot more uncomfortable than this. Understood?"

Again, he nodded.

"Fine. Sweet dreams."

And with a parting stroke over his hair, she went back to bed.

****

The smell of coffee woke Hutch up. Sniffling, he yawned, then tried to open his eyes and at first was confused when he couldn't. When he heard a slight giggle to his right, though, he remembered instantly and rolled his eyes, then sighed in frustration when the uselessness of that gesture hit him.

"Morning, Kenny," Carly Rennie s sweet voice greeted him, and he moved his head in the direction it had come from, grumbling something that could have passed as a greeting. Not a nice one, though.

"Why am I not surprised that you're terribly grumpy in the morning?"

"Why am I not surprised that you're terribly irritating in the morning?"

"Keep it up and it's no food for you again."

Since he was extremely hungry by now, he closed his mouth, submitting. When he heard her move away from him, he frowned, stretching as far away from the radiator the cuffs would allow, wincing as he moved his numb hands. "Hey, where're you going?"

"Bathroom," her voice came from the far end of the room.

"Aren't you going to take this thing off me?"

"While I'm getting dressed? Keep thinking."

Frustrated, he hit his head back against the wall, then listened to the water running in the shower.

"Hey Kenny, did you know you talk in your sleep?" Carly called out from the shower after a few minutes.

"Yep," he replied, moving his head slightly, trying to ease the stiffness in his neck.

"Oh. Okay. Wanna know what you said?"

"Nope."

"Gee," the water stopped, and he heard her stepping back inside the room. "You really are grumpy in the morning, huh? I bet you're single."

He strained to hear where she was moving to, and found it made him extremely nervous to not know where she was. "Will you please take it off me now?"

"Not before you answer the question."

"What question?"

"Are you single?"

"Yes," he answered, unnerved, "I'm single, sore, hungry and pissed off! Now please..."

He was interrupted by her suddenly snatching the blindfold off his face, and he squinted his eyes against the bright morning light filling the room. Carly grinned at him, her eyes glittering with amusement. "I knew you're single."

He closed his eyes, drawing in a deep, calming breath. By now he was pretty sure he'd never met a person who could make him lose his patience as fast as her. Compared to any moment with Carly Rennie, a whole-night stakeout with Dave Starsky was a day at the beach.

"Sooo, you want to eat your breakfast by yourself or shall I leave you like this and fee-"

"By myself," he cut her off pleadingly.

She sighed dramatically, "Pity," then repeated the action from the day before, moving him to the table with his hands cuffed in front of him. She placed a cup of coffee and a sandwich on the ground where he could reach it, and sat back on the bed, watching him.

"I've been thinking," she said after a short while.

"Oh?" he asked, looking up from where he'd finished the sandwich. "Did that hurt much?"

She smiled wryly. "After the stunt you pulled yesterday, I think I shouldn't let you go to the john anymore."

At his shocked expression, she slid down to the ground, picked up the cup of coffee and pressed it in his hands. "You believe everything you hear, Kenny, don't you?"

The dirty look he shot her made her laugh out loud, but when she let go of the cup, his shaky hands couldn't hold it, and it slipped out of them, the hot liquid spilling on Cary's hands.

"Ow!"

"Oh, uhm, sorry," he hurried to say and without thinking feebly touched her wrists, wanting to look at the burns. "I didn't mean that, it just slipped out..." At her surprised stare, he interrupted himself. "What?"

"Uhm... nothing," she mumbled, drawing her hands back. "Nothing."

His confused gaze following her, she stood and walked to the bathroom to let cold water run over the burns.

"When're we heading out?" he finally asked, trying to look into the other room.

"Heading out where?"

"Mexico," he replied.

She reentered the room, a small tube in her hands, and shrugged. "Maybe tomorrow."

"Tomo... You mean, we're staying here?"

"Yep," she replied shortly, and knelt down in front of him again, opened the tube. "That's all I found, so it'll have to make do."

"What..." he asked, flinching a little when she grabbed his hands.

"For your wrists, dummy," she answered without looking up at him as she gently rubbed the cream onto his raw skin.

"Uh... thanks."

She nodded briefly, turned when she was done, and rummaging in her bag again, produced a pack of cards, then sat back in front of him, with her legs crossed underneath her. "You know how to play poker, don't you?"

Hutch just stared at her, unbelieving. He did that a lot lately, he'd noticed.

"Oh," she winked, "of course you do. You're a cop."

"Uhm, Carly-"

"Oh right, wait." Not standing up, she reached out to grab the suitcase that lay next to the bed, dragging it over to where they sat, wriggling her brows at him in amusement. "We need something to play with."

****

Starsky had thought about standing up when he'd woken up. But he hadn't done it.

After a while he'd thought about getting something to eat. But he hadn't done that either.

He'd remained where he lay on the bed in the motel room, curled up on his side, slowly breathing in and out, completely silent, completely still.

I've to go back and take care of his place. The plants will die if I don't come back and water them. Hutch would be devastated. He loves the damn... He briefly closed his eyes, the only motion that appeared on his face every now and then. Loved them. Hutch loved plants. Past tense.

The thoughts had returned, grabbing his heart like ice cold fingers.

Alone. You're alone now, Davy, you know what that means? Do you really? Come on, try to remember a time when you've been alone. Really alone.

There had been a time once, after his father had died, when he'd actually been alone. But he'd never felt it. There had been so much to do, comforting his mother, trying to look after Nicky. And when he'd failed, when suddenly everyone had acknowledged that he was just a kid, a boy who wasn't allowed to grieve like he should, he'd been sent to Bay City to his uncle and aunt who had taken care of him. When he'd realized he felt alone, there had been people to catch him as he fell, to comfort him, care for him.

He had never felt alone. Had he?

Terry...

Thinking of Terry hurt. It still did. But as he closed his eyes to feel the pain, he found it had changed.

"To dearest Hutch. To you I entrust Olly and Dave."

He hadn't been alone then.

"Hutch, come on-"

"No, you don't wanna be a cop anymore? Fine. You know what, me neither."

"Hutch-"

"So what shall we do instead? Any ideas? How about football? I know a guy in Canada, you know..."

Thinking of Terry hurt, because it was thinking of the comfort of his friend's embrace, his caring words. Of seeing the pain he had felt reflected in Hutch's eyes.

Who would look at him like that now? Who would share his grief?

You're pathetic, you know that? Drowning in self-pity. Running away. Hutch would be disappointed. He sniffed slightly, feeling a single tear cascading down his cheek. Oh, he would be, huh? Well, then he shouldn't have died. And I'm not running away. I'm... thinking. I'll be okay. I'll just keep lying here for a little longer, and then I'll go back and...

And what? What would he do? Would he really go back on the streets again? Without Hutch?

Suddenly the rest of his life seemed an incredibly long time. Funny, he felt so very old, yet so young. Young, because he would have to live a whole life without Hutch.

Old, because he felt like dying himself.

There it was. He'd thought it. Dying. He felt like stopping. Quitting. Giving up.

The hell I will. I'm not giving up. I'm... thinking. Just let me lay here a little longer, okay? Just for a little while longer.

Slowly, he rolled onto his back, stared up at the ceiling, once more forcing images of his partner to his inner eye.

Deep inside, though, he was glad he hadn't brought his gun along.

****

The sun was already setting, when Carly decided it was time for dinner. "Your treat," she told Hutch who had won almost four hundred grand at their various poker games over the whole day.

"Be my guest," he smiled wryly, but it faded quickly, when she came to her feet, looking around for something. "Uhm, Carly... please, I won't make sound. 'Kay? Promise."

"What? Oh." As if he'd said something completely nuts, she winked. "Don't get funny, Ken. I was just looking for my shoes."

He frowned in surprise, but remained silent as if trying to prove his good will. They hadn't said much throughout the day, though they'd talked a lot. Mostly nonsense. Their usual screwball arguments that felt... familiar by now.

Something had happened, Hutch didn't know when, maybe when he'd dropped the coffee, but somehow he found himself starting to really look at the girl, to really listen to her, watch her.

"Be back in a sec," Carly said, opening the door. "Uhm, what dīyou want, anyway?"

Hutch shrugged. "Home?"

"Cheeseburger and fries?" she asked, unimpressed.

"Sounds great."

They ate in silence when she returned, and again Hutch found himself watching her closely, trying to figure out what was going on inside her head.

"Carly?"

"Yeah?"

"How did you find out I'm a cop?"

She shrugged. "Followed you."

"Followed me?"

"Yep."

"Wow, I'm impressed. Normally I'm pretty good at noticing when I'm being followed."

Again, she shrugged, not looking at him. Obviously the topic wasn't one of her favorites. "Wasn't that difficult. First I thought you worked for my dad," she added after a moment.

"Really? You don't know the guys who work for your dad?"

"No," she replied shortly and leaned back against the bed. She was sitting across from Hutch on the ground like she had been all day. "So what're we gonna do now? More poker? Or maybe I can get the tv working again. But then, if I get electrocuted and die, you'd be all alone with no one knowing you're here."

"Poker's fun."

She laughed slightly and placed the empty plastic box her fries had been in between them. When she'd crawled a little further away, she started throwing cards inside.

"Carly?"

"Hm?"

"Can I call someone? Please?"

Her eyes met his, and she shook her head. "Forget it."

"Come on, please. You can watch over every word I say, hm? Please. Just to let my friends know I'm okay."

"I thought you were sore, hungry and pissed off."

"Well, fairly okay."

"No."

"Please. They're probably worried sick by n-"

"I said no!"

"Why not?!" he shot back angrily. Just when he'd started to feel pity for her...

"Because I said so!" she replied, throwing a card at him, then smiled apologetically. "Maybe tomorrow. Okay?"

He remained silent.

Watching him out of the corner of her eyes, she threw a few more cards inside the plastic box, then held up a few for Hutch to grab. "Here. Try it. Very relaxing."

Grumbling, he snatched the cards out of her fingers.

They sat in silence until long after darkness had fallen outside.

The next day Carly went shopping again, leaving Hutch alone with the box and the cards, but she'd had enough of a heart to allow him to move onto the bed and cuff only one of his hands to the headrest.

He'd been so stiff and sore from all the time he'd had to sit on the ground that he'd fallen asleep instantly.

When he woke up, he was surprised to see Carly sitting on the edge of the bed next to him, watching him. "Hey," he greeted her.

"Hey."

"Where've you been?" He couldn't see any new bags in the room.

She shrugged. "Nowhere. Listen, Ken, I'm sorry."

"Huh?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't really want to hurt you."

Hutch frowned, sitting up slightly. "You didn't hurt me. Uhm... you're not planning to do that now, are you?" Her tone of voice suddenly made the hairs on his neck raise in dread. "I mean, y-you're not going to-"

"Oh, shut up," she muttered, rolling her eyes and to his great surprise released his hand from the cuffs, before turning her back to him, her shoulders slumped.

"Carly?"

"I guess you have to arrest me now, huh?"

The familiar feeling of irritation raising inside him, he grabbed her shoulders to turn her toward him. "Will you please tell me what's going on? I'm kinda lost right now."

"I called my dad."

The color drained from his face. "You what?!"

"I wanted to tell him about you and the money. Wanted to warn him about going to Bay City."

Hutch frowned. "You wanted... You didn't?"

Slowly, she shook her head, then after a few seconds looked up at him. "Ken... I don't know him."

"You don't..." As understanding hit him, he hushed briefly, before continuing, "You didn't know what your father is into, did you? What he does for a living?"

"No. I just wanted to meet him. But his secretary wouldn't let me in, so I sorta... broke into his office that day when you were there."

"Why did you follow me afterwards?"

"I wanted to know what kinda people my father knows. You know, what sort of deals he actually makes." She sneered slightly. "But you're a cop."

Hutch stared at her in disbelief, running a hand through his hair. "And you thought it wise to kidnap a cop?! What the hell were you thinking?! What did you think would ha-"

"I don't know!" she yelled. "Okay? I just know that my father is a criminal, and I don't mean like me, as in stealing or so, he's a real bastard! He's a drug dealer! You know, where I come from, people like my dad are the main cause of death. I came to Vancouver and thought he might help me, he might take care of me, whatever, but instead..." She wiped a single tear away that had escaped her lids. "So what would have been wiser than taking his money, huh?"

Hutch watched her, frowning. He couldn't help feeling sympathy for her, couldn't help his too soft heart reaching out for her.

"And you came along with the money," she concluded, looking at him with a crooked smile. "I hadn't intended to... keep you. It just happened." She shrugged as she thought about it. "Even you were better than being all alone again."

"Charming," he commented dryly.

"You're welcome. So... I'm under arrest now?"

Hutch eyed her, then slowly wiped another tear away with his thumb. "I'll think about that. But first I've to make a call."

She sniffed slightly, motioning for him to go ahead.

He slid over to the edge of the bed so that he sat next to her, and stopped in motion. "Carly?"

"Hm?"

"Where do you come from?"

"NY."

"And you came all this way to meet your dad?"

She nodded. "I paid someone to find him. You know, I... my aunt once told me about him, but..." She bowed her head. "That was before I..."

"Before you ran away?" Hutch asked softly.

"Hm," she nodded. "She said dad was an asshole, but I didn't believe her. I mean, who'd believe my aunt? She's freaky."

He hid a small grin, as he lifted his hand to stroke her hair. Suddenly she seemed to change into the little girl again, who'd left the safety of a real home so long ago.

Sighing dramatically, he stood and slowly made his way over to the door. "That's a really sad story, you know. I mean with a little money in your hands, you might be able to go back to New York again, maybe try to start new or something, but with things being the way they are..."

He opened the door. "A real shame. Well, I'll be in the, uh, diner across the street, over there. See? To make that phone call. You'll be okay here, won't you?"

Their eyes met briefly.

"Uhm..." she murmured, an unbelieving frown crawling over her forehead as she understood what was going on. "S-sure. Sure, I'll be... okay."

"Good. Be right back."

With that he left, feeling her grateful stare on his back until he closed the door.

****

Starsky was shivering. He knew he was cold, but he didn't feel it. He didn't feel anything.

How long since he'd arrived at this place? He couldn't remember. The panic had returned a while ago, and wanting it to go away, he'd stood up to take a shower, his body once more moving without his mind following it.

It hadn't been until he'd felt the heavy weight of his wet clothes on him, that he'd noticed he'd stepped inside the shower without having undressed first.

I'm losing my mind. 'Triffic.

Without caring that he dripped all over the place, he'd simply went back to bed again, curling up on his side, staring ahead without seeing.

His stomach grumbled violently enough to make him shift his position, but otherwise he didn't react to it.

His bag still lay where he'd dropped it.

Just a little while longer. He would just lay there for some time more. Then he'd return.

Someone outside the room knocked, asked if he was alright. If he was still alive. It was meant to be funny.

He replied, his voice distanced. Monotone.

He hadn't listened to it, anyway. He was listening to other voices.

"This room... uh, 567?"

"No, 576."

"Oh. Then I'm right. Ken. Hi."

"Hi. I'm Dave. Nice to meet you."

"Starsk, please meet my wife, Vanessa. Van, this is the guy I told you about."

"Oh my... you're not really gonna eat this, are you?"

"Why... what're you talking about? This is a perfectly fine burrito. Have a bite?"

"No, thanks. I like living."

"Hey, Hutch, wake up! Hutch! Come on, buddy, it was just a dream. You hear me?"

"Starsk?! Oh thank god... I-I dreamed h-he..."

"Easy, babe, hey, you're shaking. Come here, shhh, it was only a dream. It's okay. Wanna tell me about it?"

"M-Marcus. H-he... You... Oh god..."

"Shhh. It's okay, Hutch. I'm here. I'm right here."

"To dearest Hutch. To you I entrust Olly and Dave."

"You know something, Starsk? It's always tougher for the ones left behind."

"Oh yeah? I believe that when I hear it from somebody who went first."

His stomach growled again, sending a cramp through his middle. He curled up a little more, blinking, seeing the here and now. A motel room.

What are you doing here? Huh? Why aren't you at his place? You thought you could run away, right? You thought you could just take some time, get over it, and then come back. Right? And now look how good an idea that was. You're seeing him still. You can't run away, can you? What do you want to do, Davy? Do you want to go back?

Yes, he thought, answering his own question. Yes, he wanted to go back. As far as necessary...

****

Starsky wasn't answering his phone. Hutch let it ring for what felt like a hundred times, before he finally put back the receiver, thinking. Maybe his partner was at his place. They usually turned up at the other one's place at some occasion when the one was missing.

And he'd been missing for two days now, he suddenly realized. Two days without any news. Starsky had probably already driven Dobey crazy, begging him to let him go to...

The thought froze in Hutch's mind. Maybe Starsky was in Vancouver. Two days were a long time when you were worrying about your partner.

Deciding to call Dobey, he dialed the number.

"Yeah, hi, this is Detective Hutchinson. Please give me Cap... Hutchinson. Yes. Wha..."

The receiver nearly slipped his fingers, as he listened to the voice on the other end. He paled visibly, earning a few worried glances from the waitress behind the breakfast bar.

"I-it crashed?" he finally asked in a choked whisper, his gaze wandering over to the motel across the room.

She saved my life. That little... She saved my life.

"No, I... I wasn't on it. I... Listen, it's a long story. Would you please give me Cap... Hey, wait a minute, they all believe I'm dead?" As he listened, he suddenly felt dizzy and had to grab the edge of the bar to keep him from swaying.

"I... I see. Yes, please. Yeah. I'm... I'm glad too. Thanks." He waited a few seconds, then heard Dobey's barking voice.

"Dobey?"

The girl obviously hadn't told him who the caller was.

"Uhm..." Hutch started then hushed, realizing the situation with a sudden hit.

The man believes you're dead, you idiot. You can't just say hi.

"Who's this?!"

"Uhm... Captain... Uh... This is... This is Hutch."

Complete silence answered him.

"Uhm... Capīn? Hello?" He strained to hear the shaky breaths of his superior and spoke again, "It's really me, Capīn. I... I know I'm supposed to be dead, but I'm not. Capīn?"

"Hutch." It was no more than an unbelieving whisper, followed quickly by a mass of questions. "Where the hell are you? What happened? Do you know what we-"

"Hey, hey, hey, it's not my fault. I-"

"Not your fault?!" Dobey yelled, so that Hutch flinched violently and held the receiver a little away from his ear. "D'you have any idea what... I'm sorry," Dobey said shakily, interrupting himself.

Hutch could almost see the man before his eyes, and he felt his heart wrench at the image. "I understand. It's okay."

"It's just... I thought..." Quickly, Dobey got his emotions under control again, and asked in an almost normal voice, "So what happened? Why weren't you on the plane? I told you not to miss it."

That brought a small grin to Hutch's face. "It's a long story, Capīn. I'll tell you when I get home. Listen, uhm, is Starsky with you? I tried to call him, but..." He could almost feel the tension through the connection, his voice trailed off. "Capīn?"

Dobey didn't answer fast enough.

"He's okay, isn't he? I mean, h-he's... okay, right? Right?"

"He believes you're dead," Dobey said, knowing that was enough of an answer.

"Yeah, well, but I'm not. Just tell him."

"He left."

"He l... What d'you mean he left?! Where did he go?! How could you let him-"

"Hutch, calm down, will you? We're going to find him."

"Find him?! You don't know where he is?!" Hutch didn't even notice he was yelling by now, and that all the people in the diner were looking at him startled. Yet, he wouldn't have cared, anyway.

"He called in sick and left two days ago," Dobey answered, sounding guilty. "And, Hutch... He didn't... We can't look for his car. He didn't take it with him."

Hutch closed his eyes. "Did you find his gun?"

"Yes," Dobey replied, the relief evident in his voice. "His badge too."

"Maybe he went home," Hutch suggested, though he knew it was a long shot.

"No, he didn't."

"How d'you know?"

"I called his mother."

That left Hutch speechless for a second, before another thought hit him. "Oh God, I've got to call my parents."

"I think you've got to call a lot of people."

"First I've got to find Starsky. I'll take the first flight I can get."

"You do that. And, uhm, Hutch..." Dobey added, but couldn't say what he wanted to.

"See you, Captain," Hutch said after a short pause, understanding. He sprinted out of the diner the second the receiver had hit the phone.

****

The ceiling was white. Like a screen. Images played on it. Colorful pictures, accompanied by laughter.

"Don't you take from the bank, Starsk! I swear, you do that one more time-"

"How am I supposed to play on when I'm broke?!"

"What kind of an argument is that?! When you're broke, you're broke."

"Hm. You know what? I think I don't like this game. I never liked it."

"Stop whining and give me the money, Gordo."

"I don't have no money!"

~sigh~ "Okay, go ahead, take from the bank."

"Yes! Okay, here you go. "

"Starsk, that's only half of what you owe me."

"Hm. How about I sell you something for the rest."

"Like what? Your figure? 'cause that's all you have left."

"I was thinking about a beer."

"Oh. Okay. Pretty expensive beer, though, I might add."

"You wanna play or what?!"

He knew he was still shivering, and his stomach was hurting, but somehow it all faded away. Slowly, steadily. Only the images remained, their colors intensifying as the ones of reality faded. He could see the walls like through a white light fog. But he didn't want to see them, anyway.

He didn't want to get up anymore, either. He too was fading away, except for his memories that were bright and clear and warm and right.

Music. He could hear music.

"All I want is Black Bean Soup..."

A smiled crawled over his lips, but he didn't feel it. It didn't matter. He was smiling, his body was just too exhausted to acknowledge it.

Fearing the memories might leave him and the fog might clear, he'd fought sleep ever since he'd woken up in the room for the first time. He didn't want to dream. He wanted to remember.

I have to take care of his place... I have to... I should go back...

"Starsk, can I ask you something?"

"Sure, Hutch. What is it?"

"Do you still miss your dad? I mean... sometimes?"

"Yeah. I guess so. Sometimes, yeah. Why d'you ask?"

"'S just... I never... lost anyone, you know? Like a parent or... a friend."

"You make it sound like that's a bad thing."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." ~glance~ "I guess the whole thing just sort of scared me. Back there in that restaurant... there was a moment I thought you wouldn't make it."

"Well, you weren't the only one."

"I know. Starsk?"

"Hm?"

"Promise me you won't be the first one to go."

"What?!"

"Promise me you'll die after me."

"You're drunk."

"Yep. That doesn't mean I'm not serious."

"Yes, it does. 'Sides, I don't want you to be the first one to go."

"Oh. You do realize, though, that'd mean you're to die before me."

"So what? You don't plan on dying sometime soon, do you?"

"Nope. But-"

"Hutch, I'm tired. Please, let's talk about this when it actually happens, okay?"

"When what happens?"

"When one of us dies, dummy."

"Oh. I see. Okay."

"'Kay."

Hey, Hutch! I don't want to be second. You hear me?

He suddenly realized, through the fog, he'd never talked out loud to his dead partner. He'd always thought he would. He talked to Terry at times. He even talked to his dad. Occasionally. But this was different. This was Hutch. Hutch had known Starsky didn't really believe in an afterlife. He might say so, he might act like he did, but truly, deep down inside his soul, he didn't. He didn't believe his father, Terry or Hutch were anywhere near him.

They were gone.

He was alone.

Hutch had known that. It would be like lying to him.

"Hey Blintz."

"Hm?"

"Don't fall asleep on me, okay? It's boring enough as it is."

"Sorry."

"You okay?"

"Yeah, sure, I'm... ~sigh~ I've just been thinking of Gillian."

"Aw, I'm sorry."

"'S okay. It's just that I... still miss her, you know. Sometimes."

"Yeah, I know."

"Sometimes I wish... I wish I could... talk to her, you know. I wish I would... believe in that."

"I know, buddy. I know."

A sudden shudder drew Starsky back into the white fog, and he gasped as he felt a sudden stabbing sensation in his stomach. He curled up again, his gaze finding a white wall.

"Easy, Starsk. Easy, just try to relax, come on. Easy, babe."

"Hurts..."

"I know, buddy. Just hang on for me, okay? Hang on."

"Hutch..."

"Yeah, I'm here. I'm right here..."

"Hutch."

His voice. Distant. Weak. Strange.

Had he spoken out loud? Had he answered?

No.

But it had been so real.

"Will you please move now, Starsk?! We're gonna be late again! I can't believe you managed to fall asleep, while you were getting dressed! Jesus!"

Fading... He was fading...

"Hutch? Y-you here?"

****

Hutch had never ever before heard his mother cry. Or his father. It was an experience he hoped he wouldn't have to repeat anytime soon.

After arriving in Bay City, he'd first driven home to see if Starsky was there, but though he found evidence of his friend having been there - He cleaned up. That's a comfort. If I'm really going to die some day, at least I can be sure my folks won't see what a slob I am. Starsk'll take care of that. - Starsky himself was nowhere to be found.

By the time Hutch had also checked his friend's apartment, he was sick with worry. Dobey had been right, the torino was neatly parked in front of the house. The thought of Starsky going anywhere without his beloved car hurt Hutch even more than the sight of his partner's gun and badge on the kitchen table. The items looked almost arranged. Like a note. A farewell n... Oh come on, get a grip, Hutchinson! Hutch chided himself. Starsky would never...

He couldn't finish the sentence, not even in his thoughts. Sure, his partner was as life-loving as he was himself. But think... What if it was you who thought he was... What would you do?

Deciding that he didn't want to know, that he didn't want to imagine, he quickly finished his check, finding that Starsky couldn't have taken a lot of clothes with him, since most of them were still there.

Maybe he really just needed some time for himself. Away from the city. Away from... us. The memories. But again he heard his own voice telling himself: Think. Would you come back? Back to... nothing? Would you? What would it be like to walk through this place, knowing...

Angry at himself, he pushed the thoughts aside. He didn't need to imagine it, it wouldn't happen.

Without looking back, he rushed out of the apartment and drove to Metro.

He took the Torino.

****

Hutch was on the edge of literally passing out from surprise, when he entered Dobey's office and was hugged by the man. It only lasted a second, and Dobey never said a word until he was back in the safety of his behind-the-desk-place, but for a moment Hutch had felt everything that had been going through his superior's mind for the last two days.

Another experience he didn't need to repeat.

"Did you check your place?" the Captain finally asked.

"Yeah. He's not there. I don't think he's in town, Captain."

"Any idea where he might have gone?"

Hutch shook his head. "No. I get the feeling he didn't choose a place."

"What d'you mean?"

Hutch sighed, running a tired hand over his eyes. "I don't think he thought about where to go, he just left. He didn't want to be some place that'd have a... meaning."

Dobey nodded, understanding. "Otherwise he'd have stayed at your place."

"Right."

"Okay, so where do we start now?"

"Well, he's got to have taken something to get away. Plane, bus, train, cab, anything. He might be a little... shaken up, but he's still Starsk. I highly doubt he walked."

That brought a sarcastic chuckle to Dobey's face, and he nodded, already picking up the phone. "Alright, I'll let everything be checked. Airports, bus stations and so on."

"Yeah. You call me as soon as you find something."

"Sure. But where're you going?"

"Huggy's," Hutch replied.

"Oh," Dobey said flatly. "Right. I knew I forgot something."

"Hm-hm."

"Speaking of which -- care to tell me now what happened? And where the hell is the money?"

"Uhm... It's... I-I was kidnapped."

"Kidnapped."

"It's true," Hutch said defensively, holding up his slightly injured wrists. "See?"

"So I'm guessing whoever... kidnapped you has the money."

"Exactly," the blond nodded with a wide grin.

"Get outta here."

"Sure thing," he nodded again and hurried outside.

****

The day he came back from the dead was one experience he never wanted to repeat, Hutch decided when he returned to Metro the next morning, tired, emotionally exhausted, beat.

Not only had he heard his parents cry, not only had Dobey hugged him, not only had Huggy Bear gone into shock when he'd seen his friend enter the bar (It had taken four shots of whiskey to convince him that he wasn't hallucinating), but he'd found out that his landlord had given orders to clear his apartment, which he had barely been able to stop, and he'd been officially taken off the Bay City Police pay list.

Not to mention that they still hadn't found Starsky.

At the mere thought of what his friend must be going through, the blond felt almost physically sick. His mind just couldn't stop tormenting him with "what if it was you" questions he didn't want to answer.

He had just sat down at his desk, relieved to find out that at least it hadn't been already cleared out, and had rested his aching head on it, when Dobey's voice made him jump.

"Hutch!"

"Wh...Huh?!"

"We got him!"

"Huh?" Hutch murmured, blinking against the beginning of sleep, then widened his eyes as the words arrived at his brain. "Starsky?"

"Yes," Dobey nodded, grinning. "He took a bus to a small town down south. There's only one one motel there. Wait, I'll get you a map."

****

Hutch stood in front of a closed door. He'd never been so nervous before in his entire life. He was scared of entering. Scared of what he might find.

He didn't bring his gun. Oh, what am I thinking?!

"No, he never leaves the room," the desk clerk had told him when Hutch had arrived. "I already thought something creepy might be going on with this guy. He's having troubles with the police, huh? Well, I sure hope you're planning on taking him with you, officer. I don't want no-"

"Don't worry," Hutch had interrupted him quietly. "I'll take him with me. Uhm, you're sure he never left the room. Maybe to get something to eat?"

"Nope. I knocked once or twice to check if he was still alive. Wouldn't want a corpse rotting in one of my rooms, you know."

Hutch nodded, swallowing dryly. "Wh-when was the last time you asked him if he was still alive?"

"Yesterday morning," the man answered and laughed sarcastically. "He said yes. But maybe he was lying. You can never be sure."

Hutch stared at him, his eyes cold as ice. "How much for the room?"

"Oh no," the man winked. "He already paid for three weeks."

Three weeks? What were you planning to do, Starsk? Does this look like an elephants' cemetery?!

He drew in a deep breath, but couldn't slow down his racing heartbeat, then gently knocked at the door.

There was no answer, and he knocked again.

What should I do? Just step inside? He'd probably drop dead from a heart attack. Call?

"Starsk?"

Call, Hutchinson. Not whisper.

"Starsk, it's me. Hutch. Starsky, you in there? Starsk?"

Again, there was no answer. Dread crawled down Hutch's spine as he now slowly opened the door.

"D-don't be afraid, buddy, okay? It's really me. I'm coming in now. Okay? Starsky?"

Slowly as if entering a wild animal's cage, Hutch shoved open the door and entered the room, gently closing the door before he turned.

The sight broke his heart.

"Aw buddy," he muttered, taking a tentative step forward, stumbling over something. Looking down, he saw it was a small bag. It didn't look like it'd been opened at all.

"Oh God, Starsky."

His eyes were half-open, but seemed strangely unseeing, fixed to a spot on the white wall across the bed he was lying on. He was curled up on his side, shivering slightly, the hands that lay next to his face stained with dried blood from the knuckles.

Looking around quickly, Hutch found matching spots on another wall, and he cringed, his mind presenting him with all too clear images of how they'd gotten there.

"Starsky."

His friend still didn't react to him, but kept staring ahead. Carefully, Hutch knelt down next to the bed so that he was on eye-level with his partner. He could feel the damp cold radiating from the sheets without touching them, and he winced at the sight of dark smudges underneath Starsky's eyes. He was pale, his features drawn, exhaustion written all over them.

Ever so softly, Hutch reached out and brushed his friend's cheek with the back of his hand. "Starsk. Buddy, look at me."

The movement under his now caressing hand was barely registering, the tired eyes opened just a little more.

"Hutch." It was barely a whisper, yet the fact that it didn't sound the least surprised frightened Hutch more than the weakness it revealed.

"Yeah, buddy," he assured, his own voice breaking badly. "It's me. I'm here. I'm here, babe. I'm not dead."

Starsky blinked a few times, moving his head slightly as Hutch started to stroke his hair.

"Miss you," he mumbled, the words spoken with such desperation it made Hutch swallow back tears.

"Missed you too, pal. You wouldn't believe what happened to me." He laughed slightly despite the moisture he felt stinging in his eyes. When he spoke again, a tear escaped his lids. "But you don't want to stay here any longer now, huh, buddy? Let's go home."

Starsky looked up at him, a small frown appearing on his forehead as he reached out weakly to brush away the tear that cascaded down Hutch's cheek.

Hutch captured the trembling hand and softly brought it down on his chest, right above his heart.

"You feel that, Starsk? I'm alive. I didn't die. I'm here."

The frown grew deeper as the exhausted man became more alert, and he sat up with difficulty, staring at the hand that rested on Hutch's chest, while bringing up the other one to touch his shoulder, his cheek, his hair.

"Hu-Hutch?"

"Yes," Hutch smiled, more tears falling down his face. He slowly stood up to sit down on the bed next to his partner who couldn't stop touching his face, his chest, feeling his heartbeat. "I'm really here. Alive."

"Hutch. Y-you..." Starsky stuttered, his voice growing agitated, his eyes as wide as they could be now. "But you... Th-they told me... The plane... "

"I wasn't on it. I was... I'll tell you later."

Starsky stared at him, swallowing hard. Both hands had come to a halt on his chest now, clinging to the feeling of the steady raising and falling underneath them. A sudden smile broke free on his face, the same moment a tear slid down from his lids, quickly followed by another one.

Hutch returned the smile silently, brushing back unruly curls from his friend's clammy forehead.

A sound escaped Starsky's throat that only could be described as a happy cry, and as weak as he was, he wrapped the blond in a crushing embrace, holding him as tightly as he possibly could.

Hutch laughed through a startled choke, sure that if Starsky hadn't been considerably weakened, he'd have cracked a few ribs.

It didn't take the blond long to feel his friend's shuddering sobs against himself.

"I... I thought..."

"Shhh, I know, buddy. I know."

"I thought I'd lost you."

"I know, babe. But you didn't. I'm here. And I'm planning on staying here for a long time to come."

Starsky laughed through his sobs, hugging Hutch, if possible, even tighter.

They sat like that for what seemed to be an eternity, before Hutch backed away a little, looking worriedly at his friend.

Though the crying had further exhausted Starsky, his body was still programmed against sleep, not allowing his eyes to fall close.

"You look terrible, you know that?" the blond asked lovingly, brushing away a few strains of tears on his friend's face.

Starsky sniffed tiredly. "I haven't been up much lately."

Hutch frowned, even more concerned. "Did you just lay here for three days?"

Starsky nodded slightly, looking down. Ashamed.

"Aw God, buddy, I'm sorry," Hutch said soothingly, sniffing a little himself as he once more stroked his partner's curls. "I didn't know the plane had crashed. I didn't know you thought I was... I'm sorry, Starsk."

Starsky looked up briefly, before bowing his head again. "No, I... I'm sorry, Hutch. For... I didn't mean to..." He looked around as if he really seeing the room for the first time. "I don't know what I was thinking. Wasn't thinking anything, I guess."

"Buddy, you don't have to-"

"Yes, I do," Starsky insisted. "I should have taken care of... things. I should have... You know, I didn't even think about arranging... something. Like... a funeral or so." Again, his gaze dropped.

"Oh, I'm glad you didn't. I'd hate to think that my name is written on anything on the cemetery yet."

Starsky chuckled slightly. "That's not funny, Hutch."

"You're telling me."

"I mean it. I suck as a friend. I didn't even grieve right. I just... lay here," he finished despondently, punching the damp sheets lightly.

Hutch's jaw dropped open slightly, and he grabbed Starsky's shoulders firmly. "Starsk, I don't think you understand that if I hadn't come you'd have died in here."

Starsky remained silent, watching his partner releasing his agitation.

"You're right, you didn't grieve. You tried to kill yourself! Look at you!"

Hutch's gaze wandered down to where he could see Starsky's ribs through the thin t-shirt. Since Starsky had the sort of build that made loss of weight visible immediately, the lack of food for over three days was painfully evident.

When he looked back up again, Hutch let a soft hand brush over the darkened skin under his partner's right eye.

"You've been falling apart. You were..."

Dying.

Fading away.

Starsky smiled wryly, then shrugged. "I'm a coward," he stated, his eyes meeting Hutch's.

"Yeah," Hutch nodded, understanding what his friend was saying. "I guess we both are," he added in a choked whisper, the full realization of what would happen to him if Starsky was to die before him, hitting him like heart attack. He'd never thought about that, not even when the prospect of losing his friend had been very possible. But he'd always had something to do to try to prevent it. He'd always been fighting.

Plane crash. How are you supposed to fight a plane crash? What must you have been going through?

Hutch's eyes once more met Starsky's, his fear so clear in them, Starsky instinctively reached out to brush over dry skin as if the touch could prevent his partner's tears from falling.

"Hey Hutch?"

"Yeah?"

"I don't want to be second."

First the blond frowned, but when he remembered, a small smile forced itself through the fear on his face.

"You think I do?"

"So what, you want to be first? You do realize that means you'll die before me, don't you?"

"Why don't we talk about this when it happens?"

"Okay," Starsky replied, and stifled a yawn.

"Okay," Hutch repeated and put one arm around his friend's shoulders. "And now let's get you home, hm? What d'you say?"

"Sounds great," Starsky nodded and let himself slowly be helped to his feet, leaning into Hutch for support as they made their way outside the room.

"Uh, Hutch, can I..."

"What?" Hutch asked when his friend didn't continue.

Starsky smiled sheepishly, mumbling, "I sorta... I don't want to be alone-"

"Oh, hey, you think I'd let you be alone today, buddy?"

"No, but-"

"I think we've got to take you to a hospital first, though. You're as weak as a kitten."

"Oh come on, I'm not even shot!"

Hutch chuckled, opening the door of the torino for his friend and guided him inside. "No discussion, tiger."

"Hm," Starsky grumbled, leaning back, his eyes starting to fall shut. "But I'm not staying."

"Don't worry. They'll probably just run an IV. You're dehydrated. Where d'you wanna stay, then? Your place or mine?"

"Green house," the tired man muttered, already half-asleep.

"You want to sleep in the green house?"

"Need to apologize to the plants."

Hutch looked at him speechlessly for a second, then realized he'd fallen asleep. He gently ruffled his friend's hair and carefully closed the door.

"You do that, babe."

He entered the torino himself and started the engine, when he heard a faint mumble next to him.

"Hey, Blintz?"

"Yeah?"

"Why weren't you on that plane? Dobey told you to not miss it."

Laughing, Hutch maneuvered the Torino on the street, on their way home. "That's a long story, Starsk."

"It's a long drive."

Hutch glanced at the curled up form next to him and sighed. "Okay, I'm gonna tell you, but you've got to promise to fall asleep over it, alright?"

"Promise."

"Okay," Hutch nodded and started to tell.

 

THE END

 

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