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Wuemsel's Fanfic Corner

Eerie, California


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"No."

"Aw, come on, Starsk, hmmmm? It´s gonna be..."

"Don´t you DARE say fun, Hutch!" Dave Starsky interrupted his partner  sharply, his finger raised in a Hutch-like manner, while he glared at him over the piles of paper on his desk.

"...a valuable experience," Ken Hutchinson finished his sentence unimpressed.

"I bet," Starsky muttered and shoved a bunch of files across his desk  until they landed on his partner´s.

Hutch frowned at that, and opened his mouth to protest, but was kept from it by his friend´s further statements.

"Sleeping in bear poop and dying of some gross mosquito disease that has you walking around with big green splotches or whatever surely would be SUCH a valuable experience. Unfortunately, I have other plans."

"Yeah, like writing your reports," Hutch replied with a sweet grin and shoved the pile of papers back to Starsky´s desk, so that it crashed into another one and landed heavily in Starsky´s lap.

Returning the grin Hutch presented him with a dirty look, the curly haired detective lifted the paper off himself and let it  fall back onto Hutch´s desk with a force that sent the blond
jerking away from his desk.

"Wrong, Blondie," he stated while he sat down again, brushing
imaginary dust off his faded jeans. "Try lying at the beach the
whole day long, slurping daiquiris out of pineapples while watching the latest swimsuit fashions stroll by and wait-"

"Yeah," Hutch interrupted him dryly. "With special emphasis on WAITING."

"This is not the way to talk me into the wilderness, partner," Starsky lectured him, unimpressed, shaking his head like a disappointed teacher.  "Uh uh."

Hutch snorted. A short silence passed, Hutch eyed the pile on his desk, contemplating about shoving it back again, but finally
picked up the first file and opened it, fully aware of the secret
glance he achieved for that.

"So," he asked matter-of-factly, looking down at the file without
reading a single word, "you want to spend the first free week
we´ve had in month at home, that it?"

"No, that´s not it," Starsky replied. He too had placed a file in
front of him, but hadn´t even opened it, before looking at his
partner again, a wide grin on his face. "I´m gonna spend the first free week we´ve had in month in Miami."

"Oh yeah?" Hutch asked, raising his brows in mock interest.

"Yep."

"To do what?  Play hide and seek with the alligators?" the blond asked sweetly.

Starsky tilted his head to one side, the grin growing even more.
"You´re not scaring me," he sang.

Hutch stared at him and suddenly sighed in frustration, throwing the pen he´d held back onto the unseen file. "Oh come on!  Miami?!  What´s in Miami, anyway?!"

"Soon?  Me," Starsky answered, and after a second of watching  his friend´s disgusted expression, he raised his hands in agitation. 

"Hutch, I don´t want to pay our yearly visit to Gentle Ben and Khaa the Snake this week!  We´ve had a lot of stress lately and all I wanna do is relax!"

"So do I."

"No," Starsky shook his head fiercely.  "What YOU want is to drag me into another one of those green hells with rattlesnakes and baked squirrel for dinner and rain and bugs and spiders and boring tours through a boring forest and NO TV and NO fun!  What you call relaxation is what they used to torture supposed witches in the medieval ages. They dragged them out into some forlorn green place and left them there to live with the beasts or die."

Hutch stared at him with mockingly wide eyes. "Have you been reading those magazines again, buddy?  Didn´t I tell you to not belie-"

"I want sun and a beach and a REAL bed," Starsky cut him off
agitatedly.  He picked up the file on his desk and sent it flying
to the one on Hutch´s for pure emphasis.  "And nothing you´ll do or say will change my plans for this week.  I deserve this week off, Hutch.  And I deserve to spend it in civilization!"

The blond eyed him with surprised concern that wasn´t quite honest.

"Wow, you really need this time off, you know that, buddy? You´re as tense as a rubber band."

Starsky narrowed his eyes, looking right through the worry that
was forced to shine in otherwise twinkling light blue seas.

"Hm-mm," he muttered, unconvinced.

Hutch sighed, knowing that tactic wasn´t going to be a success.

"Staaaarsk," he whined. "You live in California, for Christ´s Sake, you have sunshine 24-7 and you went to the beach just yesterday!"

"Investigating a crime scene beach is NOT what I meant," Starsky shot back. "I meant a REAL beach."

"I live next to a real beach! You´re there every day.  You don´t
need a beach, you need some time away from all this stress and-"

"I need Miami!"

"-and the roaring of the city.  I bet some fresh air would do you good.  You´re really not looking so well, d´you know that?" 

Bending over a little, Hutch examined his friend´s face more closely. 

"I´m serious here, buddy.  Those drawn lines around the nose and the strained expression...  The calming serenity of a silent lake could wipe all that away in a day.  Just think of the quietness and peacefulness of the woods," he added enthusiastically and closed his eyes for emphasis. 

"Hm?  Don´t you feel the urge to just run out of here and-"

"You bet I do," Starsky´s dry voice interrupted him.

The words appearing like a slap to his face, Hutch´s head fell onto his desk, hidden from Starsky´s view behind the pile of paper between them.

"I want to go camping," a pathetic little voice reached the dark
man´s ears, and he sighed at the unwanted sympathy that swept through him at that.  Forcing himself to look at the file in front of him, he ignored it.

After a short while, Hutch lifted his head again, presenting his
partner with his best sick-puppy-look he only used in absolute
emergencies.

"I wanna go camping," he repeated.

"I´m NOT listening."

"I need to go camping this week."

"I don´t hear nothin´."

"Starskyyyy."

The curly head finally snapped up. "What d´you want from me?!" the detective half whined, half yelled.

Hutch smiled like a little boy.

"No!" Starsky shook his head desperately. "No, no, no, no, no!  I´m going to Miami and that´s that!  Why don´t you go camping by yourself?  Why do you always have to drag me there with you?"

"It´s dangerous to go camping alone," Hutch said as if Starsky
had just asked the dumbest of questions.

"Ahaaaaaa!  See?!  DANGEROUS.  You said it yourself.  It´s dangerous to go camping!"

"Alone," Hutch added unimpressed.

Starsky winked.  "It´s dangerous no matter what.  Whenever we go camping something happens.  And usually not to you, I might add.  It´s always me who gets bitten or stung or who catches a cold or has to sleep on the anthill.  And at least at half of our camping trips we ran into trouble, because you always pick the ONE forest where there´s a nest of serial killers on the loose or somethin´.  But not this time.  Uh uh.  I´m
not going to give in this time."

Hutch looked at him, pursing his lower lip. 

Starsky frowned for a brief second.  He hadn´t known the blond´s eyes could get THAT wide, but he pulled himself together quickly and forced a stern look into his deep blue eyes.

"No."

Hutch´s lip started quivering. Starsky rolled his eyes.  'And he always tells everyone I´m the child of this duo...Jeez!'

"NO!  How `bout a compromise?" he suggested.

Hutch frowned questioningly.

"You come with me to Miami and I allow you to pitch your tent
in the room."

Not changing his tactics, Hutch swallowed the reply that came
to his mind and turned to staring his partner to the ground again. 
He´d only recently discovered that though he´d tried that the
little-boy-lost-look before--as said, on emergencies--but that
its effect had improved drastically after his near-death experience with the plague...

"Stop that!" Starsky ordered desperately, hiding his face in his hands. "I´m going to fly to Miami, and no God damn puppy look is gonna change that!  I´m NOT going camping!  I´m not.  I will not give in!"


****


"I can´t BELIEVE I´m doing this."

At the devastated statement from his right, Hutch turned to present his driving partner with a wide, happy grin.

"And stop grinning like that, will ya? Or you can walk to
Neverneverland."

Hutch maintained his position just for a few seconds longer,
bathing in his victory, then looked at the road again.

"We could´ve taken my car, you know."

"The last time we took your car it broke down on the way to the
hospital and I almost died. I´m not taking any chances this time."

Hutch rolled his eyes. Now that he had what he´d wanted, he had to face what came along with the triumph...

"Starsk, people don´t die of squirrel bites. You were just
panicking. `Sides, I´m here to look out for you, right?"

"You were there then too and all YOU did was laugh!"

"Buddy, you were bitten by a SQUIRREL!" Hutch defended himself, already giggling at the memory. "Because you tried to steel its food," he added, laughing now.

Shooting his partner a dirty look, Starsky growled. "ITS food, `course. That was my candy bar. Even the damn animals don´t like to eat  what´s out here. You´re the only one who actually wants to be here. I bet if I´d offer any shitty little animal out here a ticket to Miami, I could get a ten years supply of nuts."

Hutch, still chuckling, patted Starsky´s shoulder sympathetically. "I really *giggle* appreciate your coming with me, you know."

"Bla, bla, bla..."

The blond smiled, somehow enjoying the familiar grumpiness next to him that belonged to camping trips.
When he´d taken Starsky along with him for the first time,
he´d been annoyed at his friend´s openly displayed displeasure and disapproval of nature. But over the years it had somehow changed into a vacation tradition that Starsky would moan and whine and grumble throughout the whole drive and the first day,but eventually would enjoy their stay as much as Hutch, if not even more. Seeing how his friend could enjoy the beauty of nature or the sight of animals in their natural environment with a childlike wonder he himself had lost when reaching adulthood sometimes left Hutch a little jealous, though most of the time,he used the smaller man´s enthusiasm to find it inside himself too.

That was the real reason he didn´t want to go camping alone, but always together with his easily fascinated partner. It helped him to find the kid hidden somewhere in his own heart.

"Hey," Starsky´s voice brought him back to the here and now. "Blondie."

"Yeah?"

"Last stop before Bug Paradise."

Following the dark man´s outstretched finger, Hutch saw a small diner and a gas station next to it on the side of the road.
Straight ahead the forest they were heading to was already announced on a big, colorful sign.

"You want to stop there?" he asked, frowning. "What for? We´re almost there."

"You are going to buy me a hamburger in there," Starsky said in a voice that made disagreeing impossible. "You owe me more, but I´ll come back to that when we´re home again."

"You´re so gracious," Hutch commented dryly.

"I know. Don´t thank me just now, though."

"I won´t. Don´t worry."

Decision made, Starsky pulled over at the parking place next to the diner. That was the first mistake he made on that trip.
 

****


The diner wasn´t very well visited, but since the actual camping
season hadn´t really started yet, and even during that time only
few people chose that particular forest, that wasn´t surprising.

The two detectives sat down at a table and ordered their meals. While waiting for them, they both occupied themselves with studying their surroundings--Hutch the outside, Starsky the inside.

While the blond stared longingly at the big trees that seemingly
had no space between them, Starsky read the menu a dozen times, and wondered what the few people that sat hunched over their coffee and eggs did for a living. There´d been no trucks outside the diner, so they had to have some other jobs that brought them to places like this.

'Poor guys,' the curly haired detective thought, the sympathy evident on his face without him being aware of it.

"Hey, buddy, you okay?"

"Huh?" Starsky made, turning to glance questioningly at Hutch.
"D´you say somethin´?"

"Yeah, you alright?" Hutch asked, all worry gone from his eyes,
though, at the assuring sight of Starsky blinking as if waking
from a dream.

"Am I alright?  I´m a mile and a half from Fort Ant!  What kind of
a question is that?  D´you WANT to bug me with this or what?!"

A contented grin crossed Hutch´s lips. "Thought so."

Grumbling a little more, Starsky looked over his shoulder at
the elderly waitress who now brought them their food. His mood improved a little at that.

Hutch didn´t eat anything, only slurped his coffee, one of his
long outstretched legs shaking a little at his eagerness to get
going again.

Starsky rolled his eyes. "You know, you can start walking any time you want, blintz. I´ll collect you when I´m done here."

Hutch made a 'very funny'-face and snatched a chip from his
partner´s plate.

Only so he´d be done sooner, Starsky assumed, amused despite himself.

"For someone who normally downs half a cow with one gulp, you´re pretty slow today," the blond mumbled, reaching for another chip, only to have his hand swatted away.

"You noticed, huh?" Starsky teased.

Before Hutch could come up with an appropriate reply, a tall
young man suddenly appeared next to their table, looking at them with wide, brown eyes. He was no more than a kid actually, barely twenty, his boyish features making him look even younger. He wore a flannel shirt that stretched over his muscular chest, and all in all gave the impression of a very young woodcutter. 

The detectives raised their brows at him questioningly.

"Hi," the kid said with a shy wave of his right hand. The gesture
looked almost ridiculous, not fitting for a bulky guy like him.

Before either Starsky or Hutch could answer, the kid asked, "That car out there yours?  The one that looks like a Coke?"

Hutch´s head snapped sharply forward again, his eyes were not twinkling, more overflowing with mischief and amusement, focused on his partner.

Starsky´s face fell slightly. The cloud that had covered his blue
eyes ever since he´d been talked into camping again, darkened even more.

"That, my young friend," he started in a voice so quiet Hutch´s
suppressed giggles could be heard over it, "is a 1976 Ford Torino, and it is candy apple red with a snow white stripe on it that has absolutely NO resemblance to any soft drink´s outfit whatsoever."

The kid blinked in confusion, then looked at the blond for help.

Hutch smiled friendly. "Yep," he said, "the Coke´s his."

At the dirty glare he received for his helpfulness, he grinned
at the young man, ignoring his partner.

"Oh," the guy smiled. "That´s a great car. I like it."

"Oh yeah?  Maybe you shouldn´t insult it th-"

"You do?" Hutch cut his friend´s mumbles off.  "Funny.  You look rather smart."

The kid blinked again, then grinned. "Yeah, I´m smart."

A short pause followed, the detectives exchanged a quick glance. Suddenly, Starsky´s eating reached its normal speed again, while Hutch smiled at the kid who obviously had no intention of moving anytime soon.

"Uh, are you from here...uhm...?" Hutch asked, raising his brows.

"Yeah," the kid answered, either not understanding the unasked question or not wanting to answer it.

"And what d´you do...kid?" Hutch asked, deciding that he didn´t want to know the guy´s name, anyway. A glance out of the corner of his eye told him they were halfway out of there.

"I really like your car," the kid told Starsky instead of a reply.

"Mfanks," the detective said, chewing the last bite of his hamburger.

"Can I...Could I take a closer look at it?" the nameless young
man asked with an enthusiastic childlike sparkle in his eyes
that made Hutch smile unconsciously.  "It´s just...You know, there ain´t many people coming here and all, and, honest, sir, your car´s the coolest thing I´ve ever seen."

"Oh. Is that so?" Starsky beamed, all irritation wiped off his face and being replaced by a full-hearted Starsky Special Grin.

The kid nodded fiercely.

"Well..."

Hutch rolled his eyes, mumbling the words that followed beneath the hand he placed his chin on.

"You know, Hutch, this fine young man seems to have taste.  If not potential."

The blond nodded in mock agreement, but remained silent.

"It´s a good thing when kids are interested in anything these days," the smaller man continued in a somewhat poor oldtimer-voice.

"Sure is," Hutch muttered.

"Well, come on, kid, I´ll give you the grand tour, while my buddy
here pays our bill. Right, Hutch?"

"Uhm..." Hutch started, but Starsky had already shoved the much taller young man outside the diner. Looking after the pair eagerly approaching the Torino, the blond sighed. "Right."

He then stood and made the short way over to the bar to pay for Starsky´s lunch and his coffee, when suddenly a familiar sound reached his ears.

A sound he hadn´t quite expected to hear. 

"What the...?!"

But when he whirled around on his heels, all he could see through the large window was the dust wave the Torino had sent infiltrating the air when shooting onto the street with full speed.

A frown crawled over Hutch´s forehead as he still stood where
he´d turned around, gaping. The Torino, the kid and his partner
where nowhere in sight. The dust slowly settled on a Starsky-less ground.

"Uhm...D-did anyone just see th..." the dumbfounded detective
started to ask, addressing the handful of other guests, but hushed when he noticed his words met by obviously deaf ears.

"Hello? Folks?"

"What d´you want, mister?" the elderly waitress asked from behind the bar, annoyed.

Hutch turned to meet her gaze, agitation quickly pushing away
the initial shock. "Did you see what happened outside?"

"Outside where?"

Hutch stared at her blankly. "Outside there!" he finally replied
in a half-yell, pointing a long finger at the window behind him.
"My friend just walked out there with one of your customers and
they drove off.  You stood here all the time, so-did you see what happened?"

She frowned at him disapprovingly. "Well, seems to me like you know what happened. What´re you wasting my time for?  Are you leaving now?  That´s five thir-"

"I can´t leave, I got no car!"

"That´s your problem, Blondie, not mine. Fife thir-"

"Lady, are you pulling my leg or something, cause it´s not funny." He glanced around the room almost frantically, none of the men had moved an inch. They didn´t even chew or drank. They just sat there.

"Are those guys stuffed?!" he asked in frustration, and quickly
continued before she could respond. "D´you know the guy who
talked to us over there?  Tall kid, brown hair, wore a-"

"Oh," she muttered and nodded slowly as if he´d just now switched to a language she spoke. "Now I get it.  Tiny Tim."  She laughed, shaking her head.  "You talked to Tiny Tim, didn´t you?  You´re one of the two guys with that car."

Hutch stared at her, wondering if they had an integration program out there for the mentally bewildered. "Yes," he finally
said very slowly. "Yes, that´s right, I´m one of the two guys with the car that´s not out there anymore. Neither is the other guy of the two with the car. So, please, would you tell me what the fu...what´s going on here?" he concluded with a sweet smile.

"You talked to Tiny Tim," she answered matter-of-factly and
shrugged. "You shoulda known better. Five thir-"

"We shoulda known WHAT? Who is Tiny Tim?"

"You talked to him."

For about a split second Hutch thought about drawing his gun,
but settled for a deep, calming breath and a friendly smile.

"As you may have noticed, Miss, I´m not from here.  So plea-"

"You´re not?" she frowned, then arched her lips to a light smile.
"See, I thought I´d never seen you two before.  Where you from?"

"Bay City.  Listen, lady, please, I need help here.  Who is this guy?  He comes here often?  D´you have any idea why he might...steel a car?"

'Or a cop?'

"Oh, no," she winked, laughing amusedly.  "Tiny Tim doesn´t steel.  He borrows cars.  He likes them."

"Borrows," Hutch repeated tonelessly.

"Yes. He´s crazy about cars, but see, he ain´t got no driver´s
license.  They wouldn´t let him have one because he´s...you know."

Hutch nodded in slow motion. "A-and what does he do with the cars?"

She shrugged again. "Drives around for a few hours.  Nothing bad.  He´s a good kid.  Lives in the village here.  We all do.  We all like Tiny Tim.  He´s a good worker. You´re not gonna call the cops now or somethin´, are you?" she asked, suddenly worried. "He really means no harm, honest. Just wants to drive. He told me about your car, but I thought what with it being Friday today, he wouldn´t do it. Well, guess I was wrong."

Deciding to let the Friday-comment go by unquestioned, Hutch
sighed, pinching the back of his nose with his index finger and thumb.

"You sure he´ll come back?"

"Oh yeah. Don´t worry, honey. He´s a good driver."

"Uh huh. And what about my friend?"

She frowned. "What d´you mean?"

"Since he´s not outside I guess my friend is with Tiny Tim," Hutch replied, his momentary relief vanishing fast when he saw the frown on her face deepen.

"Oh."

"What d´you mean 'oh'?" the blond asked, placing his hands on the bar to lean in closer. "H-he won´t...do anything to Starsky, right?  Right?  You said he was harmless."

"He is," she hurried to assure him. "He is.  Most of the time."

"MOST OF THE TIME?!"

"I-I mean he...Gee, he never TOOK someone with him, you know.  He just borrows cars.  Most people don´t even notice.  They stay here long enough or they understand when I explain.  He doesn´t do it that often, just...every time strangers stop by."

At Hutch´s widening eyes, she added, "Maybe your friend agreed to accompany Tiny Tim.  He likes company.  Maybe he ask-"

"Maybe he freaked out!  Maybe you should have told us that the kid´s a goddamn looney toon!"

"Hey, don´t blame me, honey.  How was I to know your frie-"

"Partner," Hutch interrupted her, fumbling at the pocket of his
jacket to produce his badge.  "Partner.  We´re cops.  See?  Your Tiny Tim just 'borrowed' a police car and probably kidnapped a police officer."

"Kinda...Tiny Tim´d never KIDNAP anyone!  Your partner must have scared him or something!" she yelled angrily. "Why can´t you guys just leave the poor kid alone?"

"Why can´t w...HE STOLE OUR CAR!  And God knows what he did to Stars...H-hey, he...he wouldn´t hurt Starsky, when noticing he´s a cop, would he?"

There was a short pause Hutch didn´t like.

"Would he?"

"N-no, probably not," she replied, blinking up at the blond.  "He never took anyone with him before.  And surely never a cop."
Another pause occurred.  "I don´t know what he´d do if he finds out.  Maybe he´d get scared."

Hutch felt all color draining from his face. He swallowed dryly. 

"And when he´s scared?"

Her brows arched in sympathy. "Well, he IS kinda strong and he doesn´t really know that.  I mean..."

Looking away from his panicked look, she added halfheartedly, "But as long as your partner doesn´t provoke him, I´m sure he´s no danger to him at all."

"Oh `triffic," Hutch mumbled, his head falling into his hands on
the bar.


****


Starsky shook his head to clear it when he felt more alert and up to accomplishing that task without passing out again.

It was then he saw the road out of the front window, racing by with incredible speed, and the shocked, scared expression on the young features next to him.

He had no clear memory of how he´d ended up on the passenger seat with a lump on his head, but was determined to find out.

"What the hell´s going on here?!" he demanded, shifting his body to a more upright position.  He contemplated about trying to gain control over the wheel, but at that speed it would have been a very stupid move.

"You´re a cop," the kid said, glancing at him.

"Right," Starsky answered, irritated. "A pissed cop.  And... Will
you keep your eyes on the road!"

"Oh." With quick reflexes, the kid steered the car back to the street before it would have rammed into a tree at the side of the road.

"Jeez," Starsky breathed.

"Sorry," came a mumbled apology from the young man.

"For what, nearly killing us both or kidnapping me?"

The kid actually seemed to think about that, then looked at the
detective again. "You´re a cop," he said.  "Why´re you a cop? 
Damn it!"

"Uhm..." Starsky began confused, but the young man wasn´t done yet. With one hand he grabbed the front of the smaller man´s shirt and held him in a death grip.

"Your car doesn´t look like a police car!  How should I´ve known you're a cop?!"

"Y-ya could have *cough* asked," Starsky choked out, grasping wearily at the strong, large hands holding him.  "Hey...kid...d´you mind...?"

The kid grumbled, but finally let go of Starsky, pushing him
roughly back into the seat.

"Damn," he muttered again, hitting the wheel with one hand. 
"Now you´ll arrest me like you did with my dad, right?  Right?!"

"Listen, kid, I don´t know who your father is. You know, actually,
I´m not really a cop here," he explained like he would to a child.  "I can´t arrest anyone in this county.  Well, not as a cop, that is.See, nothing will happen.  So why don´t you just turn around and drive back?  You don´t really want-"

"I can´t go back!" the kid yelled so loudly the detective visibly
shrank away from him. "They always told me not to get in trouble with the cops.  Because of what happened to my dad.  A-and I never..." Frustrated, he reached out for Starsky again, but he flinched away successfully.

"Your car doesn´t look like a police car!  It´s all your fault!!!"

Starsky could tell the young man was about to lose it.  There
were tears glittering in the big, brown eyes, and he could barely
contain his rage about the unfairness of what was happening to him any longer.

"Hey," the detective said in the most calming tone he could muster,  "listen to me.  Nothing will happen to you, I promise.  As long as you stop the car right now, turn around and drive back to the diner."

The young man shook his head fiercely.

"No one will arrest you, I swear.  It´s all gonna okay.  Just turn
around and-"

"Shut up!"

Starsky flinched back again.  The whole situation was starting to frighten him.  It was obvious the kid hadn´t meant any harm when Starsky had shown him the Torino´s interior, but somehow he must have noticed that the curly haired man was a cop.

That was probably when he´d freaked out and knocked him out. He´d probably been just too scared, too confused to shove the detective out of the car then.

'Yeah, or maybe he REALLY dislikes cops...' Starsky thought
dreadfully, and gulped, his eyes wandering up to the furious face carefully, as if even a fast look could enrage his captor further.

"Kid, hey, I´m n-"

"Stop calling me kid!  I ain´t no kid anymore!  I know what´s going on!  You just want to sweet talk me back and then-"

"No!  I want nothing of the kind.  I want..."  'Out of here. Alive"

"Ahm, what´s your name?"

"Tim."

"Tim.  Turn the car around."

Tim looked over at the detective who forced a wide, encouraging smile on his face, raising his brows.

Normally, Starsky´s smile was irresistible.  Honest.  Open. 
Trustworthy.

But Tim was beyond believing with fear.  So he grabbed Starsky´s shirt again, before the smaller man could back away.

"I´m not falling for this!  I may be stupid, but I ain´t THAT stupid."

"Didn´t say you wer-"

The rest of the choked words were interrupted by a sharp shove.  The curly head hit the passenger door with a sickening thud, and the detective went limp in Tim´s grip.

Brown eyes widened under arched brows.  "Uh...Cop?  H-hey," he shook the still form roughly, but got no response. "Hey, wake up. I-I didn´t mean it.  Cop?  Sir?  Officer?"

Starsky didn´t wake up.

Tim gulped and let go off him.  The boneless body fell slack back in the seat, Starsky´s head lolling to one side to rest against the door.  A think line of blood slowly made its way down from somewhere in the thick hair down his cheek.

"Uh uh," Tim muttered, and without a second thought pulled over to a small road leading into the dark forest.


****


It had started to rain hours ago.

Thick, heavy drops crashed against the window glass like insects.

Hutch checked his watch for the hundredth time, seeing he´d managed to sit still for two minutes, then turned around on the bar stool to look at Wendy, the elderly waitress.

"Wendy, please. It´s been three hours now," he pleaded.

She glanced at him from where she dried a glass, but quickly tore her eyes away from the expression on his face.

After having tried everything from ranting to yelling to
threatening to begging, the blond had finally settled for the
same tactics that had gotten him and his partner into this mess. Staring Wendy into the ground with the The Look. 

Since he had no car, and no authority to just confiscate one, he was forced to remain where he was unless he got help from the other customers.

Which he didn´t. Though some of them had finally moved on
several occasions, not one of them had listened to his pleas for help. The only time he´d been met by actual awareness of his presence was when he´d been disarmed by one of the woodcutters after the other few had diplomatically exclaimed they´d beat him to a pulp, if he wouldn´t hand over his gun.

Being the understanding man he was, Hutch had obeyed instantly.

Ever since then, he sat on the bar chair, trying to get Wendy to
let him use the phone.  But she wouldn´t allow him to call the
theft in.  Instead she kept on assuring him Tiny Tim would return
soon, together with a completely unharmed Starsky.  The whole thing, she said, would be something to laugh about when they both returned to the city.  Right?

Besides, to make it up to him, the coffee was on the house. When she´d announced that with a warm, gracious smile, Hutch had truly been grateful for having been disarmed before-he might have done something very regrettable...


****


"Wendy--you don´t really think he´ll come back, do you?  It´s been  three and  a half hours.  Please, let me call this in."
 
Even though Wendy didn´t look up at the blond, she could feel his worried  blue eyes on her as if he was holding her.
 
"He´ll come," she muttered and flinched, when he suddenly yelled at her,  having reached the end of his patience.
 
"When?!"

"He´s..." She sighed, and finally met his eyes. "Tiny Tim is scared of cops."
 
"What does that mean?"
 
"He´s a good boy," she said desperately.  "Sure, he
gets into trouble at  times.  He´ll always be a teen.  He´s-"
 
"What d´you mean 'he´s scared of cops'?!  Did he have trouble with the police?  He´s into somethin´?  What?!"
 
Her gaze dropped.  "His father was.  Into something, I mean.  He was a trapper.  Out there," she pointed at the nearby forest.  "And one day a hiker got caught in one of the traps.  It was, I don´t know, September.  October maybe."
 
"He got caught?" Hutch asked quietly.  "So what--he died?"
 
Wendy nodded.  "Daniel, Tim´s father, was sentenced for homicide."
 
She peeked up at the detective again, her words rushing when she saw his eyes  widen in terror.  "B-but Tim´s a good kid, honest, he´s just-"
 
"You knew that all along, and you didn´t tell me?!  I don´t believe you!   Give me the phone, Wendy.  Now!"
 
"You don´t understand-"
 
"Give.  Me.  The.  Phone," Hutch said, stressing each word, as he slowly rose  to his feet, as if he´d reach out and grab the woman every second.
 
A heavy hand on his shoulder suddenly held him in place.

"Sit down, officer," one of the woodcutter said in a toneless voice and pushed the smaller man back onto the stool for emphasis.
 
Hutch stretched his neck to look up into the man´s face. "Hey-"
 
"No one threatens Wendy," the man said.
 
"I didn´t threa-"
 
A rough grip on the front of his shirt silenced the blond painfully.
 
"And no one arrests Tiny Tim."
 
"I-I d-don..." Hutch tried to explain, but the words wouldn´t come out. He  choked at the too strong hold.
 
"Will," Wendy said, brushing her small hand against the woodcutter´s large  paw on Hutch´s throat.  "Let him go."
 
"So that he can go and arrest our Tiny Tim?"
 
"I-I won´t..." Hutch croaked.
 
"He´ll sit tight until Tim comes back with his partner, right, Blondie?"  Wendy asked sweetly, all guilt wiped off her face.
 
Hutch shot her an angry look, but nodded as much as he could against the  man´s hand.

"Okay," the woodcutter said and let go of the blond, who, despite himself,  slid from the stool to the ground, panting and rubbing his sore throat.
 
"And no more of this arrest-talk, you hear me?  It makes us lose our appetite, right boys?"
 
A few mumbles were the answer, and the woodcutter nodded contentedly, then  strolled over to his place and sat down to once more freeze to stone.
 
Hutch looked after him with unbelieving eyes.  He sincerely hoped Tiny Tim  had not been raised and educated by those guys.
 
'Starsk´s gonna kill me,' he thought and sighed. 'Why us?  Why always us?!'
 
 
****

He was cold.  That was the very first thing his mind informed him about. 

Cold, wet, and his head hurt like hell.
 
Besides, he found it extremely hard to open his eyes against
something heavy  falling down on his face in a steady rhythm.
 
It was only when he slowly rolled onto his side with an agonized groan, that he became aware of rain pouring down on him.
 
Thick, heavy drops that felt like small blows.

Hiding his face in the crook  of his arm, he shook his head
ever so slightly to clear it, but found that to be the dumbest
thing he could  have done.
 
Nausea hit him like a punch to his middle, and his lunch--the
fateful lunch that had started it all--decided to make a reappearance, before he even had the chance to scramble to his knees.
 
"Oh, uhm, sorry," he muttered wearily when the heaves finally stopped and he saw he´d been sick over an anthill.
 
As if attacking, a few ants crawled over to him and boarded his nose. Quickly  rising from the mud, he wiped the insects away and came to a sitting position, much too fast for his  damaged feeling of balance.

Blackness edged its forward inside his vision, and he squeezed his eyes shut, moaning, not really registering he was keeling over his side until he landed in a large puddle  with a splash.

Coughing out water, he sat up again, but this time steadied himself with his fingers clawed into the muddy ground.
 
"Why do I always have to sleep on the anthill?" he sighed in a
whisper and coughed a little more brown water out, fighting
against reappearing nausea.
 
A sudden sharp pain in his head, obviously from the coughing,
brought his hand up to his temple, and he rolled his eyes when he found the side of his head sticky with half-dried blood crusted on his hair and cheek.
 
"Think of the peacefulness of the forest, Starsky," he imitated
his partner´s voice. "Gna, gna, gna. The serenity of the lake,
Starsky. Bla, bla. No turkeys with guns, Starsky, gna, gna. Just
you and the sun, Starsky. So help me, Hutch, if I ever get outta
here, I´m gonna..."
 
His voice trickled off when his gaze suddenly focused on the
puddle he sat in. Something peeked out at one edge. Something he knew pretty well, but that was not, absolutely
not, meant  to be seen like that.
 
"What the..."
 
His foot. His left bare foot. As if for assurance, he wriggled
his toes slightly, then frantically lifted his right foot to check on it too.
 
The particularly dumb action left him falling on his back in the
puddle again, and he hit the water in frustration.
 
"That lousy little skunk stole my SHOES!!!" he told the ants and now raised both legs in the air to stare at his muddy, wet feet.

"I don´t believe this!"
 
The pain in his head pushed aside by his fury, he now noticed
he didn´t have  his jacket on anymore, either.

He had no jacket, no shoes and was soaked through.

"I´m gonna kill that kid. Right after I killed Hutch."
 
 
****

It hadn´t taken Starsky long to realize that his initial plan of finding his way out of the forest--following his nose--wasn´t
going to get him anywhere except maybe even deeper into the
labyrinth of trees.

Yet, he had no way of telling where he was, how far away from the road.
 
The rain still fell heavily, when he finally slumped against a branch, exhausted, and slid down until he sat on the ground, his head leaned back against the crusty branch.
 
He was soaked and cold, he shivered uncontrollably and his feet were almost  numb, the only feeling radiating from them coming from the many small cuts and scratches his way through the woods had inflicted on them.
 
Softly singing "It never rains in southern  California" under his
breath, he stared up at what he could see of the quickly darkening sky through the thick large blanket of leaves way up  over his head.

Night was falling soon, and he had spent enough time with Hutch to know that the  dangers a wild forest bore in the daytime was nothing compared to what spread at night.
 
If not a way back to the road, he had to find shelter, and fast.

Fear gnawing  inside his aching head, he pushed himself up to his feet, but only made it the half way, before  collapsing again.
The stabbing in his head had reached an unbearable level, and
he cradled his head in his hands  for a few moments, willing his
vision to clear.
 
When he looked up again, he sighed deeply and settled against the tree,  gently grabbing his left foot to give it a gingerly inspection.
 
"Beauty of nature, gna, gna, gna," he muttered sarcastically while he wiped careful fingers over the deep, crusted cuts on his sole.

"Very beautiful."
 
Since there was nothing he could do about his feet, he fell back against his tree in frustration.

"Oookay," he said loudly to himself, "what would Nature Boy do if he was stuck in the enchanted Water Woods with no shoes?  Probably take mine," he shrugged dryly and wiped a hand over his face. It was a useless gesture, his skin was so wet he didn´t seem to recall what it felt like to be dry.
 
Tired, he rested his eyes for a moment that grew longer, until
he forced himself to fight the exhaustion that already started
to betray his senses, making him believe he wasn´t so cold anymore, but actually warm and comfy sitting there in the mud.
 
Moaning at the pain in his head as he stood up, he steadied himself against the tree with both hands for a second, then
slowly stumbled on, looking for a safe place for the night.
 
His legs felt wobbly, and he knew he wouldn´t be able to remain on his feet much longer. The moon had already risen, and the high leaves twinkled at the edges in the dim light breaking through beginning darkness.
 
Starsky stopped briefly to look up at the nature show, the hairs
on his neck rising despite himself.
 
He could almost hear his partner´s enthusiastic voice in his ears.

"Look at this, Starsk?  Isn´t that beautiful?!"
 
'Try scary," Starsky thought and forced himself to walk on, avoiding to look  up at the moon again. He remembered a film
he´d once seen, where a man had been lost in a forest, much
like this one, and then bitten by a werewolf.
 
He quickened his steps to a half run and only stopped when he
heard a tiny cracking sound beneath his bare feet.
 
The second he would have had to step out of the trap´s center
was wasted with a dread-filled frown.
 
"Uh UUUUHHHHHH!!!"
 
The world suddenly spun around for a second that felt like an eternity. He was thrown into the air by the net-trap´s snap, then fell back into the thick material of the net, bounced off it again and finally came to a rest in the still whipping net, so crouched his knees hit against his nose with painful force each time the net swung back to place.
 
Almost screaming in startled fear, he interlaced his scrambling
fingers in the thick rope of the net, stretching his neck backwards to hold his head up and away from his forcefully drawn up legs.

Even before the swinging trap-net finally stopped swinging
violently, he could feel the ropes biting into his back, scratching
against the soaked material of his shirt.
 
His ears were ringing, his head felt like it would burst any moment, and now that his mind had cleared enough to present him with the realization that he´d stepped into a trap, his eyes widened in fury.
 
The exhaustion, cold, hunger, simply everything, fell into place at once.
 
"FUCK!!!" he yelled, struggling against the biting hold, but of course only resulted in getting swung around in the air again. He only stopped, though, when his stomach started protesting, and lay his head back, panting.
 
"I´m gonna kill him!" he exclaimed loudly, not really knowing nor caring whom he actually meant. A small bird landed on the thick branch that held the trap and peeked down at him with curious eyes.
 
"What´re you staring at?!" Starsky yelled at the animal, but didn´t impress it much. It moved a little closer and bent its head down even more as if inspecting the helpless man.
 
"Hey! You take ONE shit at me, sport, and you´re gonna regret it! Better belie- Ah!"
 
A very sudden violent jerk interrupted his threat.

He looked around wildly and noticed the net had lowered immensely. He was still a few feet above the ground, but not
as high as before.
 
"Oh no," he moaned. "No, no, no."
 
Feebly grabbing the ropes harder as if that could prevent the
whole thing from falling down, he squeezed his eyes shut as
another jerk followed.
 
"What I´d ever doooo?" he whined and peeked up fearfully, seeing the bird still sitting in its place.

"Get off of there," he joked halfheartedly, and the bird obeyed,
flying over to sit down on the ropes over his belly.

Starsky rolled his eyes. "Oh that´s great.  Hello there." The net jerked again, the branch gave an audible crack.

"Uh, hey, you better get off of me.  I don´t want no bird mush
on my shir-"

The bird seemingly jumped into the air and flapped its wings
frantically the second the branch broke and Starsky fell with
a startled cry down to the ground.

****

When the moon had risen to its full beauty, the rain stopped as
if out of admiration or respect.
 
Drops of moisture glittered on the concrete outside and twinkled on the glass of the window.
 
Hutch had drank more coffee than he´d had since high school
exams, his hands trembled uncomfortably when he lifted them
to wipe over his tired features.
 
They were still all together in the room, not one of the woodcutters had left at the end of the day.
 
The worried sick detective sarcastically wondered if maybe they all lived there, in the diner. Of course he assumed they stayed to assure Wendy´s safety, and then actually, he was beyond caring. It´d been almost six hours now that he´d last seen Tiny Tim, the Torino and, most important, Starsky, and by now there was only alien abduction left for him to imagine as a possible reason for Tim´s not coming back.
 
Everything else, from an accident to a precisely schemed murder had already taken place in his concern-induced fantasies.
 
He was just about to check his watch in an exaggerated gesture again--something he´d started to do a while ago because it drove Wendy crazy--when for the second time that day he heard an unexpected, yet familiar sound.
 
Squealing brakes outside the diner.
 
A quiet tension flowed the room, the few men turned their heads by inches to look at the door out of the corners of their eyes.
 
Wendy stopped drying a glass and stared ahead, when the sound of the door being opened reached Hutch´s ears.
 
Steps followed, then the soft brushing of jeans against leather.
 
"Wendy, I-I want a beer, please," Tiny Tim´s voice shattered the silence like a stone crashing a window, but the kid didn´t seem to notice.
 
His nervousness, the audible shock and disturbance in his voice wasn´t lost on Hutch, who had been the only one to not turn around to look at the young man entering,  but had just searched Wendy´s face for assurance.
 
Tiny Tim had returned.

Alone.
 
"Sure, Tiny Tim," Wendy answered the kid´s request in a whisper so soft Hutch wondered if anyone except him had been able to hear it, anyway.
 
He glanced to his side where the woodcutter sat, trying to figure out their what was going through their heads.
 
Would they hinder him from even approaching the kid, thereby clearing his path out? Or maybe not even let him get to him?
 
But then he could clearly see that the fact that Tim hadn´t brought his cop passenger back with him as well as his obvious distress had the men worried.
 
Somehow they all loved the kid, as Hutch had found out, felt responsible for him, but even so he´d never really grow up, he wasn´t a real kid anymore, either, and they knew that.
 
They knew he could screw up. And now they feared he might have done just that. Big time.
 
When he saw a few gazes slowly wander over to him, Hutch made his decision and slowly stood up, not wanting to draw the kid´s attention to himself, and strolled over to the table at the window, where Tim sat and stared out of the window at the neatly parked Torino outside.
 
"Excuse me," the blond said in a friendly, yet clear voice when he´d reached the table and came to a halt in front of the the bench Tim sat on.
 
The kid frowned at the sound of his voice and turned his head. It took his eyes a split second to reach saucer-size.
 
"Uh-"
 
"I just wondered," Hutch continued, his head tilted to one side in sarcastic mock interest. "Is that car out there yours? You know, the one that looks like a Coke?"
 
Without another thought, Tim jumped on the table and ran over it to the door, his speed admirable, but no match for Hutch.
 
The detective merely had to whirl around to grab the back of Tim´s jacket and shove him into the still closed door.
 
"I-I brought it back, didn´t I?!" Tim exclaimed in clear fear.

If he hadn´t been on a month´s supply of caffeine and worried crazy, Hutch would had laughed out loud at that.
 
"Yeah, you did, but didn´t your forget something?!"
 
"Uh ... Like wha-"
 
"Like my PARTNER, you little skunk!" Hutch yelled and whirled Tim around so that he was facing him with his back against the door.
 
The other guests were watching in agreement. They felt protective over Tiny Tim, and for exactly that reason they completely understood the blond detective´s reaction.
 
"I-I didn´t hurt him, I swear," Tim said pleadingly. He was a little taller than Hutch, but somehow it appeared as if he was looking up at him. He also outweighed him, style="BACKGROUND-CO and in a fight,

Hutch probably would have been no match for him, but the fury burning in the older man´s eyes was enough for the kid to be scared.
 
Hutch eyed him closely, his eyes narrowed to slits. "If you´re lying," he finally said in an ice cold whisper, "you´re gonna be sorry. Got that?"
 
Tim nodded quickly.
 
"`Kay. Where is he?"
 
"In the forest."
 
Hutch closed his eyes briefly, obviously having to restrain himself from simply lashing out at the younger man. "What´s he doing in the forest, Tim? Hm?"
 
"I-I-I s-saw his badge wh-when he showed me the car, and I knew he was a cop, and-"
 
"And you didn´t leave it then?!" the tall, broad man whose strong hands Hutch´s throat had met earlier, barked from across the room. "Jeez, Tim! Whassamatter with you?!"
 
"I didn´t think, I-"
 
"Do you ever?" Wendy sighed.
 
"It was like I couldn´t get away an-" Tim started to explain why he´d freaked out, but Hutch interrupted him sharply.
 
"The only thing I want to know from you is where you left my partner!"
 
At his intense glare, Tim´s gaze dropped.

"I-I...He..." he stammered, until Hutch´s patience simply ended and he once more shoved him against the door.

"Where?!"

"Th-there´s a place in the forest where I used to hide fr-from my dad when I was a kid.  There.  I left him there."

Hutch frowned. "IN the forest? Not near the road?!"

Tim shrugged. "It´s twenty minutes walk or so."

"Okay. Just let me get this straight--you and my unharmed, uninjured, unHURT partner WALKED through the woods for twenty minutes and then you turned around and walked back to HIS car alone. And he did NOT follow you?!"

"Uhm...Yeah," Tim smiled wearily. He paled a little and even shrank back when Hutch clutched the front of his shirt, then turned to look at the small crowd

"Can I hit him?  Please?"

"Okay, okay," Tim hurried to say, raising his hands. "I somehow sorta kinda knocked him...out."

Hutch gazed back at him. "Somehow sorta kinda knocked him out hard enough to leave blood on your shirt?"

Following the blond´s glance down to a few red spots on the white material, Tim nodded sadly.

"Yeah," he said with a wry grimace.  "I guess."

"You gue..." Hutch started to yell, but pulled himself together, drawing in a deep breath, before turning Tim and opening the door to shove him outside. "Okay, kid, you and me will go collect my partner now.  You´ll show me the way, and when we´ve found him, we´re gonna get you a cozy little cell where-"

"You can´t arrest me!" the kid exclaimed in a panic.

"Watch me."

Still busy dragging Tim along with him to the Torino, Hutch didn´t notice the crowd of woodcutters following them.

They gathered together a little distance to the car when the blond opened the passenger door to force Tim into it, but stopped in mid-motion at the sight that met him.

"Aw, you gotta be KIDDING!" he exclaimed, letting go off the struggling young man to pick up one of Starsky´s blue running shoes that lay there together with his jacket.

Tiny Tim shrank under the detective´s furious glance until his
nickname apparently fit him.

"I didn´t...didn´t want him to come after me if he wo-woke up...I mean..."

"You left a man in the forest IN THE POURING RAIN with no jacket and no SHOES?! What´re you, NUTS?!"

Tim looked wildly from Hutch to his "family" who rolled their eyes at his stupidity.

"I didn´t think! I was in panic. I think I..."

"So help me, I´m gonna..." Hutch started, throwing the shoe back onto the seat, while he made a step towards the kid who was backing away fearfully, until one of the woodcutters, Hutch´s special friend, stepped between him and the detective.

"I think you better go find your partner now, officer. It´s gonna be a cold night."

The rage on Hutch´s face was quickly replaced by disbelief.  "Wha-"

"Like I said, we don´t allow anyone to arrest Tiny Tim.  He may be stupid, but he belongs to the family. Besides, he regrets what he´s done.  Right, Tim?"

Tim nodded fiercely.

"Well, apologize to the officer."

"Sorry," Tim said with a smile.

"Sor..." Hutch felt like hyperventilating.  "Sorry?! Sorry my ass!  You stole a police car, kidnapped a police officer, knocked him out, left him in a dangerous situation, STOLE HIS SHOES, and now you expect it to be all forgiven and forgotten with a simple SORRY?!  What is this, kindergarten?!"

Though the tall man hadn´t moved an inch, Hutch stepped forward for emphasis, unable to contain his rage any longer, so that he followed Tim in a half circle around the unimpressed woodcutter.

"I´m not only going to arrest you, but when I´ve found my partner, I´ll leave you two alone--in a soundproof interrogation room!"

"Officer," the woodcutter finally interrupted Hutch´s rambling and reached out to grab his arm, "we understand how you feel, and I assure you the little idiot will be punished. But not by you nor anyone but us.  We don´t allow Tiny Tim to be arrested."

"Bu-"

"You can leave now and find your partner, or you can stay here with us."

Hutch stared at the man, unable to find the words.

"Promise you won´t come back for Tiny Tim, and we´ll let you go."

"Wha..." A desperate laugh escaped the blond´s lips.

"Are you nuts?!  I´m no-"

"Yes," the woodcutter said.  "I guess we are.  So--what shall it be, officer?"

Hutch swallowed dryly, his eyes locked with the older one´s.

"How do I get to this place of your youth, kid?" he finally asked in defeat, his gaze never leaving the woodcutter´s who nodded contentedly at his words.

"Tim," he barked, "tell the man where his partner is and then get the hell inside."

"Hey," Hutch called after him, when he turned towards the others again, "what about my gun?"

"What about it?"

"Uh...nothing," he winced, sighing in frustration.

"Nothing."

A sudden tugging at his sleeve drew his attention back to Tiny Tim who stood next to him now. "Shall I draw you a map?"

Hutch stared at him. "Yes.  Please."

****

 

 

It had stopped raining.
 
And it was dark.
 
Even after he´d finally managed to lift his eyelids that were obviously weighted down with stones, it was still dark. Not as dark as before, though, what with a full moon beaming like a pale sun high above his head, but surely too dark enough for his liking.
 
He gave a tiny moan just to hear his own voice, then started to get an update of his increasingly worsening situation.
 
The last thing he remembered was hanging from a tree in a net trap, soaked, cold, shivering, bleeding, probably concussed, and beyond anger.
 
NOW he wasn´t hanging anymore, but lying on the cold, muddy ground in a very small puddle, STILL cold, STILL soaked, STILL shivering, bleeding more than before and as far as he could tell his concussion had been promoted from a possibility to a fact.
 
His whole body felt like he´d been run over by a truck. The slightest movement of his head presented him with enough pain to almost knock him out again, and on top of everything he´d landed with his right arm somehow tangled behind his back.

He didn´t need to check to find out that it was broken, along with the wrist and at least three fingers.
 
He groaned a little louder when he moved his legs and feet to check for further injuries. But the relief that followed the result was short-lived, because as he became more alert he suddenly noticed the now slack ropes that lay on his face, chest, legs.
 
He blinked in confusion and despite the agony in his head, stretched his neck backwards just a tad.
 
"Uhhhc´mon," he pleaded with no one in particular, his voice raspy and in the dark stillness too loud for his sensitive ears, so that he settled for a strained whisper, adding: "This is NOT happening. Please."
 
He was still caught in the net.
 
And now that he took a closer look at it he saw that not only had he hit his head when hitting the ground, but the branch the net had been attached to, had also fallen on him, hitting his forehead.

He blinked again and felt sticky crusted blood at the corner of his left eye. The whole left side of his face felt like it was on fire, and a sudden dizziness reminded him of not moving NOR blinking too much.
 
But other than his head and arm, he seemed okay.

Cold, shivering, but all his ribs were still intact, he could breathe, and he was only slightly nauseous as long as he didn´t try to move.
 
'Could be worse,' he thought grimly, arching his quivering, surely bluish lips to a wry smile.
 
When even that hurt, he winced and rolled his eyes.

'Oh yeah, could be MUCH worse! I could be in Miami in a warm, comfortable bed. Gee, how much FUN I´d miss then! How much ADVENTURE!!!'
 
A sudden noise next to him startled him enough to flinch and wince at the pain that it stirred. He couldn´t move his head to the direction the noise had come from, and cold sweat quickly mixed with still drying blood on his forehead.
 
'This is great. This is TERRIFIC! I´m not only hurt, nooo, I´m already trussed up. A Starsky-Burger To Go, already wrapped up.'
 
Somewhere over his own rambling voice in his head he heard his rational cop-voice wondering if Hutch would really chose a forest that inhabited wolves for their vacation.
 
He was known to not care about bears and rattlesnakes...
 
'If I´m gonna die as a midnight snack here, I swear I´ll return to
haunt the Blintz residence. I swear I´ll-'
 
The returning of the noise, brushing sounds, like something moving through the bushes, cut off his frantic thoughts.
 
He swallowed dryly, trying to look behind him in panic, ignoring the stabbing pain that shot through his head and threatened to cover his whole line of vision with small, blinking stars.
 
And then there was a new sound, a small cry or growl, much like a cats, that mixed with the other one still seemingly coming nearer.
 
"Hu-Hutch?"
 
To hoarsely whisper his partner´s name was a pure Starsky-reflex, and when he felt the first touch of a strange paw or claw in his hair, he couldn´t help let out a fear-filled scream.
 
"HUUUUUUTCH!!!"
 
His own voice rang in his ears painfully, and the burning agony behind his eyes almost sent him over the edge of consciousness again.
 
It was only the faint feeling of something jumping from his head onto his chest that made him snap open his eyes in horror and--
freeze wide-eyed.
 
Tiny chocolate eyes blinked only inches from his face, an equally tiny nose quivered while sniffling at his own, much larger one.
 
The squirrel lifted one small paw as if to pat the man´s cheek, but stopped and jumped back a little, so that it now sat on
Starsky´s belly with its feet tangled in the ropes of the net.
 
The detective let out a breath he hadn´t knew he´d held and laughed slightly out of pure relief.
 
"Y-Ya scared the hell outta me, you know that?!"
 
The animal didn´t respond, but didn´t flee at thesound of his voice either. It seemed to be content where it was.
 
Starsky blinked in surprise. "Guess I´m cozier than I thought. First birdie, then you...Maybe I oughta think about a career change, huh?  Animal Perch."
 
The squirrel tilted its fuzzy head to one side.

"I´m Dave," Starsky introduced himself politely and moved his head an inch when the squirrel shifted its position on his chest. It came down to its four paws and seemed to inspect the ropes stretched over Starsky´s still damp and torn shirt.
 
The detective frowned, then raised his brows in disbelief when he suddenly saw the small animal starting to gnaw at the thick material.
 
"Who are you, Lassie?" he asked with a surprised, happy chuckle.
 
The squirrel´s head snapped up at the sudden jerking movement of his chest, squealed in obvious panic and jumped away. Only it tangled its feet in a hole in the ropes it had been standing in, and fell, its feetpractically tied up now.
 
Starsky watched the brief scene with wide-eyed bewilderment, then--at the sight of the panicked animal now tied to his chest--burst into laughter.

"No," he gasped, his vision swimming from the jerking movements of his head. "NOT Lassie. Definitely NOT Lassie!"

****

The kid might be stupid, but he definitely knew how to explain a path.

Hutch didn´t have to look twice to know exactly which tree the one that "looks like the Marshmallow Man" was, where he had to park the Torino at the side of the road and enter the dark forest.

The freezing cold that met him once he´d stepped out of the car chilled him not only physically, but it also added to the gnawing fear and dread that had built up inside him ever since he´d left the Diner From Hell to search for Starsky.

The concrete of the street still glittered damply in the moonlight, and Hutch had no doubt the ground in the forest would be muddy, soaked, full of splinters,not to mention animals--in short: just PERFECT for barefoot hikes.

On top of all that, Starsky was not what one could have called wilderness-proof. He was easy to scare, easy to panic and easy to get into trouble. Especially when he was cold, hungry and cranky.

Bracing himself with a deep, calming breath, the blond detective gathered together what he´d take with him on his search, his and Starsky´s sleeping-bags, pullovers and socks, candy bars, some water and a flashlight.

His backpack was a bit heavy when he´d gotten everything in and attached to it, but there was no other way. He seriously doubted finding Starsky in a well enough condition to hike back to the car immediately, and there was no way he would place a foot inside the dark, scary, treeish unknown without some stuff.

Humming "Be Prepared" to himself, he entered the forest. After the first row of trees, civilization was nowhere to be seen.

It seemed as if he couldn´t even see the road anymore when he turned around, though he knew that it was just because of the darkness, but still he had to admit that it was one of the most scary bunch of trees he´d ever seen.

While slowly making his way through the thick, hindering fauna, he wondered if even if they had not run into trouble beforehand, their vacation there would have been a success.

Or as long as he´d planned it to be.

He could even hear Starsky´s whispered admission of panic in his head. "Hutch, d´you hear that? You think there´re wolves in here? Or maybe bears? Mountain lions?"

"Yeah," he´d have answered sleepily, "Big Foot, buddy. Say hello from me."

The sickening concern increased at his imagination, and he quickened his steps, willing the path to be clearer, easier to follow.

'I´m coming, buddy. I´m coming. And I promise you can yell at me all you like as long as you´re all right. Please just be all right, Starsk.'

****

"Hey Goofy," Starsky whispered, frowning confusedly at how sleepy, how weak his own voice sounded. He didn´t feel sleepy.

Well, not much.

"D´you...d´you know wh-what time it is?"

The squirrel didn´t even stir. It had started to play possum when finding out it couldn´t free itself from its bounds. It just lay flat on Starsky´s chest, snuggled up on the freezing body underneath its own as if seeking warmth and comfort from it.

Yet both were nothing Starsky could offer at the moment. Though he´d stopped to actually feel the cold what felt like hours ago, his violent, uncontrollable trembling left no doubt about how cold he actually was.

It was becoming hard to keep his eyes open, to concentrate on the sounds of the forest. He´d started to play Twenty Questions with Goofy, but had stopped when talking had become too exhausting.

As soon as he´d realized he would drift off when he just lay there, though, he´d started to talk to the squirrel again. Lucky Goofy surely could show off with all his knowledge in front of the other squirrels now.

"Hey, y-you better write this down, Goof," Starsky advised his small pal as he explained to him the perfect burrito.

"I mean, you don´t wanna tree-jump for hours to the nearest burrito stand and then forget the important things, right?"

Goofy didn´t answer. Starsky took that as agreement.

"Right," he repeated and had to cough hoarsely. His throat was becoming raw, and he was so thirsty it hurt.

"B-but we just t-talk about me. H-how `bout you, buddy, hm? How long you´ve been li-living here? Huh?"

Lifting his head just a bit, the detective looked at the animal´s fur in the dim moonlight. He had to squeeze his eyes shut briefly at the pain that shot like a knife through his head at that.

"Ow, sh-shouldn´t d-do that," he muttered and lay back down, blinking up at the stars. "How´s the leg, Goof?"

When there was no response, he sighed. "H-hey, you´re not drifting off on me here, huh? Huh?" His own eyes slid shut without him even noting. "I-it´s n-not good to sleep with a concussion, y-ya know. Not good. `specially not when you´re cold. When you´re cold, ya get tired, but you need to stay awake. Hutch told me that the...the other time we were camping. He´s really into this stuff, ya know."

He sighed and rolled his eyes, only then realizing they were closed. He opened them with a great deal of effort and blinked a few times.

"Me, I don´t like camping. I mean, hey, no offense, kid, but your forest is a mess. It stinks. And it´s got mud all over it, d´you notice that? It´s disgusting. N-not to mention there are meeeaaaan folks in those places, and I´m not talking dumb clumsy squirrels here."

He coughed again, the ruttling enough to make the squirrel stir and shift its position. Its fur brushed against Starsky´s left hand resting on his chest, and he slowly started to stroke one finger over the animal´s back.

The fur was soft, but cold. Starsky could barely feel the touch. He knew he was too tired to be scared by that, yet a small frown of distress crawled over his blood-crusted forehead.

"I-I don´t know why he likes camping so much. I think it´s dumb. Why live in a muddy, dirty, stinking animal´s restroom with no food when there are OTHER places on this planet? D´you get it?"

He gave a pause for emphasis and to gather a bit more strength, before continuing.

"You know, Goofy-boy, I didn´t really mean to tell you this, but I get the feeling you´re ready to take this now: where I come from you can buy nuts in bags. I´m not kidding you. I´ve never had to search for food in my li...Well, as long as I´m not on any camping trip with Hutch, I mean. Getting jealous already? `Kay here´s the real burner: you can get `em with salt. Or roasted. Or both. Yeah, I know. You understand what I´m talking about, right? Civilization rules."

His eyes closed again.

"I tell you what, Goof. When Hutch comes to get us outta here, I´m taking you with me to Miami. What´re ya say, partner? Huh?" Starsky asked, his speech so slurred Goofy wouldn´t have understood it even if he could have.

'Don´t fall asleep, Davey. C´mon, you don´t want to fall asleep. You want to keep talking to the squirrel. Keep talking to the squirrel.'

But the words wouldn´t come. His finger stopped moving, though he didn´t notice it.

'Cold. `S too cold, Hutch. Hurry.'


****

'Twenty minutes my foot!' Hutch thought angrily and kicked away a large soaked bush that lay flat in the mud, making the ground even slipperier than it already was.

It had been half an hour since he´d started his late night hiking tour, and still no sign of Starsky.

'What d´you think, Hutchinson? That he´d just lay here, waiting for you?! Of course he´d try for a way out.'

He had to stop to clear the path again, and secretly welcomed the opportunity to stop and catch his breath for a second.

'Right, and OF COURSE he´d chose the WRONG way!' he added in his thoughts. 'Starsky´s Law.'

By now he was pretty sure he´d reached a new level on his worrymeter. Now that he´d seen and more importantly FELT the ground, he didn´t want to imagine what it could do to bare feet. Besides, it seemed it had gotten even colder, and the sounds of animals in the distance did nothing to calm him either.

Starsky could fight and beat an armed man twice his size and weight without any fear, but in this environment he was the most helpless creature around. The man was even scared of mice, and though he´d spent numerous camping trips with Hutch by now he still believed in throwing something, no matter which animal was about to attack him.

Having won yet another fight with hindering branches having fallen off trees and onto the ground, Hutch suddenly froze in his steps, looking ahead with a frown.

He carefully lifted the flashlight off the ground before him to get a clearer look at what lay before him.

A rather long, strangely white squared thing lay absolutely still under a large tree, a big branch next to it, that seemed somehow connected to the white material.

Hutch knew that it was no animal, still he couldn´t help tensing up instinctively. It was only when he´d taken another extremely careful step that realization suddenly hit him, and he gasped.

Traps. Of course. Wendy had told him about Tim´s father being a trapper. A net trap had fallen off a tree. And the reason that it had fallen off a tree was--

"Starsk!"

The blond was next to his partner in a second, frantically brushing his fingers against too cold skin.

Starsky stirred beneath warm fingers that searched for a pulse, making it clear that that wasn´t necessary, and Hutch sighed with relief.

"Starsky. Buddy, it´s me. Can you open your eyes for me? Starsk?"

His partner´s head lolled to the side Hutch´s voice came from, but it was in slow-motion, and his eyes remained closed, his bluish lips slightly parted, but no words came out.

"C´mon, babe, wake up, you gotta--" Hutch encouraged his friend, already rummaging through his backpack, but stopped when he saw the small fuzzy ball resting on Starsky´s chest, seemingly caught in a cold, cramped hand.

"Hey you," Hutch greeted the squirrel and reached out to for it.

With a startled moan, that was planned as a "no" but didn´t quite make it, Starsky jerked away from Hutch´s hand. His eyes snapped open wildly and he accidentally rolled off his right arm just an inch, but that was enough  to make him whimper in pain.

Hutch quickly drew his hands away, holding them in front of his chest. "Hey, hey, hey, easy, buddy, easy. I´m not gonna hurt the squirrel, okay? Starsk? You with me now?"

"Hu-Hutch?" Starsky asked hoarsely, blinking wildly against the agony that now ran freely through his broken bones.

"Yeah, it´s me, buddy. It´s okay. I got you now."

"Wh-what took you so long?"

Hutch smiled wryly at the familiar line. "Had to get the Coke back first," he joked and reached out for the squirrel again that had woken up from its lethargic state  and was struggling in Starsky´s grip now.

"Can you let go off the poor thing, Starsk?"

"I would," Starsky replied weakly. "B-but...can´t move my hand."

"Okay," Hutch soothed. "It´s all right. Let me try." Gently, he unclenched Starsky´s fingers. Goofy trembled underneath the hold.

"That hurt, buddy?" Hutch asked and when he got no answer turned to look at his shivering friend worriedly. "Starsk?"

"Yeah, wha...Y-you talkin´ ta me?"

"No, Gordo, to the squirrel, of course."

"Okay," Starsky breathed weakly.

Hutch rolled his eyes, a feeble gesture to wipe away his concern and, since Starsky didn´t utter any sounds indicating it did hurt, unclenched the last finger.

"Okay, boy, go," he told the squirrel.

"He´s caught," Starsky informed him with his sleep-thick voice. "In...in the net. Tried to get me out. Watched too much Lassie..."

"I bet," Hutch muttered. He´d already started to fumble with the ropes wrapped around the struggling squirrel´s leg.

The moment they came off, the animal jumped away from the touch, turned and ran away.

"Was nice meeting you too, Goof!" Starsky called after it as loudly as he could, then winced. "Ow, my head."

"Glad to see you already made friends here," Hutch said, softly probing at the swollen and bloody left side of Starsky´s face, while with the other hand searching for the pocket knife in his backpack. "That way we know where to go when we come back for our vaca--"

"Will you please get me out of here so I can kick your ass?!"

"Just a sec."

It didn´t take long to get Starsky out of the net, though he could barely move without Hutch´s help. He was so cold he had stopped shivering, but now that Hutch quickly massaged his limp fingers, the feeling returned, and they started to hurt.

"Okay, buddy, let´s get you into something warm, and then I´ll have a look at your feet."

A weak hand brushed against the front of Hutch´s shirt without accomplishing the task of grabbing it. "D-did you find my sh-shoes?"

"Sure, buddy," Hutch smiled and patted Starsky´s shoulder. "Got them with me."

"Okay," Starsky sighed and lay back, his eyes closed"

"`M gonna kill that kid."

Hutch bit his lip and swallowed the reply that came to his mind while he struggled to get Starsky´s arms into the sleeves of a large, thick pullover he´d brought along.

"There you go. Feel better already?"

"Hm-mm. Tired," Starsky answered.

No, Starsky. Not yet, okay? Buddy? Hey, look at me," Hutch urged, gently slapping Starsky´s cheeks that quickly become flushed.

The blond sighed inwardly. He doubted there was any way his partner would get out of this without getting sick. Starsky was quick at running high fevers, and walking, not to mention lying in ice cold puddles for hours was on top of the lists of things he didn´t need.

"Yeah, `m still here," Starsky mumbled, blinking his eyes open.

"Still...here. Hutch?"

"Yeah?"

"Never gonna go campin´ `gain."

Hutch chuckled and glanced up from where he´d taken a closer look at Starsky´s scratched feet.

"I didn´t see any animals stealing your car, knocking you out and dragging you in here," he said softly, brushing away a damp stray curl from Starsky´s eyes.

"I bet he was hired by the bear mob or somethin´. They prob´ly hung up that damn trap too."

"Sure, Gordo, sure. Okay, I´m gonna get you into some socks now, and I know it might hurt, but it´s necessary so you´ll warm up faster, okay?"

"Socks´re nice."

"Right," Hutch nodded absentmindedly while trying not to hurt his friend further as he carefully pulled thick woolen socks over his damaged feet.

He then wrapped Starsky in his sleeping bag, using it also as a makeshift restraint for the broken arm, and settled them both leaned against the tree the trap had hung from, with Starsky´s head resting on his shoulder.

"Getting warmer already, buddy?"

"Hm-mm. Tired."

"I know, Starsk. But first I want you to eat this," he held out a candy bar to his dazed friend, "and have something to drink. Then you can sleep a bit. Promise. Okay?"

"Starsky´s finger weakly brushed against the bottle of water, and Hutch helped him to drink a few sips.

"Okay, good. And now eat something, c´mon."

"Uh," Starsky shook his head wearily. "Sick."

"You´re going to be sick?"

"N-no, was...sick," the injured detective mumbled. His strength was fading fast now that he knew he didn´t have to hold out anymore. Hutch was there, and he was safe. All he wanted now was sleep.

"You´re concussed," Hutch nodded concerned, softly brushing away the thick curls on the back of Starsky´s head that were crusted with dried blood.

"Was sick over an anthill," Starsky said in a childlike tone, and Hutch smiled, allowing his partner to slide down to rest his head on his lap.

"Well, I hope they didn´t take it as an attack," he joked. "If you don´t feel up to eating, you don´t have to, babe. Just rest for a bit, before we go back to the car, okay?"

Starsky seemed to be asleep before his eyes closed, and Hutch settled for a long night, holding his friend close and with the free hand gently stroking his head.


****


The sun had barely risen, when Hutch gently shook his partner awake.

It had been a long night just as he´d expected, for not only had he have to wake Starsky every few hours because of his head injuries, but just as he had also expected, his partner had developed a steadily increasing fever in the middle of the night that had left him struggling against Hutch´s hold and squirming
in his sleeping bag when he´d started to get too hot.

"Hey buddy, wake up."

"Hmmnhm," Starsky muttered disapprovingly and shifted his position slightly to bury his face in Hutch´s chest.

The blond sighed. "Starsk, wake up, c´mon. We gotta get back to the car and get you to a hospital."

"Hmmmni don´t wanna go to a hospital. I hate hospitals."

"I know," Hutch replied, while he carefully lifted his partner off his lap and zipped open the sleeping-bag.

"How´s your arm?"

"Hurts," Starsky muttered, his eyes though open dull and almost covered by too heavy lids.

Hutch sighed again. "And your head?"

Starsky shrugged tiredly.

"Oookay, I think we better try to hurry." He placed acool hand on his friend´s forehead and grimaced at the apparent heat he felt there.

"Starsk, are you hot or cold?"

Starsky shrugged again. "Tired." A violent shiver followed and almost sent him falling over his side.

Hutch caught him quickly and held him upright while he peeled the rest of the sleeping-bag off him.

"Do you want that candy bar now?"

Starsky shook his head slowly.

"Buddy, you gotta eat."

"Feel sick."

"Doesn´t matter, you still got to eat. I won´t carry you through the woods here."

Grumbling, but just not up to a fight, Starsky finally accepted the offered candy and chewed unenthusiastically, while Hutch packed their things.

"Hey, where´s Goofy?" the smaller man asked after a short while.

"Usually with Mickey."

Starsky frowned. "Who´s Mickey?"

The true confusion in his raspy voice made Hutch stop in tracks and turn to look into feverish blue eyes worriedly. Realizing his partner had meant the squirrel, the blond said: "He left yesterday, don´t you remember?"

"Oh," Starsky mumbled, then raised his brows a bit.

"Right. Right. Pity, ya know. I wanted to show him roasted nuts."

"You can bring a bag the next time," Hutch grinned, but quickly rushed over to his partner´s side when he noticed that Starsky was too out of it to keep up the banter.

A seemingly too heavy head lolled against his shoulder when he kneeled next to his friend to help him to his feet.

"Hey, buddy, think you can make it? Truth."

"Sure," Starsky winked, the true Starsky spirit reaching the surface at last, "stop fussing, blintz. Let´s get going before the ants´ army arrives."

Agonizingly slowly and painfully on Starsky´s side, they made their way back through the thick green to the waiting Torino.

"Y-you know," Starsky panted once he was seated in the passenger seat, already half asleep again, "at least you got a night under the stars, right? Camping at its best."

"Oh yeah," Hutch nodded dryly. "And a whole day at Eerie too. Lots of friendly people there."

Starsky opened one eye to glance at his partner. "Are you gonna tell me now how hard YOUR day was?"

"Uh...no."

"Good."

Hutch started the engine and drove off, gazing at his friend from time to time. Though Starsky´s fever hadn´t yet vanished, it hadn´t increased either.  They obviously had just made it in time to prevent a more serious infection.

"Starsk?"

"Hm?" the half-sleeping detective mumbled.

"We still got four days off, you know."

As if in slow motion, Starsky´s head rose from the headrest as he blinked unbelievingly at his friend.

"You´re not-"

"I´m just saying that with your head and all you surely need some time off somewhere that´s-"

"What d´you want, Hutch, kill me?!" Starsky asked exasperated, throwing his good hand in the air. "D´you know a forest with bear traps or what?! If you don´t want me around anymore, there are easier ways of getting rid of me, you kno...Ow!"

"What?" Hutch asked deeply concerned immediately, looking over at Starsky, who´d grabbed his forehead, squeezing his eyes shut.

"Head, head," he whimpered.

"Aw, babe. See," Hutch soothed, reaching over to gently touch Starsky´s shoulder. "That´s exactly what I meant. You deserve this week off. And...you deserve to spend it in civilization."

Starsky´s head snapped up at that and he instantly had to cradle it again at the pain. "Don´t do that!"

"Sorry," the blond smiled.

"That means...?" his partner started hopefully from behind his left hand.

"If you prefer alligators and sharks over wolves and squirrels-"

"I LOVE alligators, and sharks are the cutest things in the world."

Hutch grinned, but tried to hide it behind a sigh. "Well, if that´s what you want, buddy."

A crooked smile crossed Starsky´s lips as he settled back against the headrest again with a happy sigh.

"Hey blintz?"

"Yeah?"

"Remind me to hug you after I´ve kicked your ass."

"Will do," Hutch promised and smiled warmly when finding Starsky had already drifted off to sleep.

 

THE END

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