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Wuemsel's Fanfic Corner

Unbearable Loss


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Hutch couldn't believe his eyes when he entered the apartment of his best friend.  He had never seen his partner like that before.

Starsky was pacing round his apartment, constantly picking up things to put them back at different places without any visible reason or effect whatsoever, accompanying each and every action with a mumbled "Yep. Better there. Nope, hmmm..."

After a startled pause, the blond softly cleared his throat to drag his partner's attention towards him, but the nervous man seemed to be in another sphere, his eyes darting around the place, but not seeing his friend.

"Uh... Starsk?"

"Tie?  No tie?  Hmmmnhate tie-"

"Starsk!" Hutch interrupted the mumbles, kicking the door shut with one foot.

"Ahhhhhhhh!" Starsky turned around to face Hutch, the fright still written on his face.

"Are you nuts?!" Starsky asked angry. "I nearly got a heart attack!"

Hutch couldn't help but laugh. "Ah come on buddy. No one gets a heart attack from kicking a door shut..." Hutch's voice trailed off to nearly a whisper as he saw Starsky disappearing into the bedroom.

'WOW,' Hutch thought, who hadn't moved one bit since he entered the apartment.

"Starsk, come on. Are you ready? We gotta go if we want to be at the airport in time," he yelled, not sure if Starsky was even listening to him.

A few seconds later Starsky rushed out of his bedroom, wearing totally different clothes than a few minutes before.

"WOW!  That really is something," Hutch said, knowing that he was talking to himself.

"Hutch how do I look?"

Hutch, still not moving, tried to get a better look at his crazy friend but that was completely impossible.

"You look like a creature from hell." Hutch pinched his eyes close.

"WHAT?" Starsky asked shocked.

"A miracle. It speaks."

"Funny Hutch, very funny."

"Come on buddy. We have to go. We are late already."

"How do I look?" This time Starsky stood in front of his partner, waiting for an answer.

"You look great.  And now come on, will ya?" Hutch grabbed Starsky's arm and pulled him out of the door.

 


*****


"I hate cops!"

Rolling his eyes while at the same time stifling a grin, Hutch snatched the parking ticket out of his partner's flailing hands, before he crumbled it.  "You're a cop, pal."

"Yeah, but I'd never give a guy who's about to collect his mother he hasn't seen for MONTHS a parking ti-"

"If that guy would have parked right in the emergency lane, you'd have had no choice," Hutch replied, neatly folding the small piece of paper to stash it into Starsky's pocket. He missed though, as the other jerked around to shoot him a dirty look.

"I didn't park! Well, I sorta did, but not really, I mean-we where still THERE! He SAW us! He could have said something, instead of just sticking this thing onto my win-"

"Maybe he didn't like your socks," Hutch said flatly, not having listened; his amused gaze focused on Starsky's feet.

His partner frowned, slowing down his racing speed down the airport hall. "Huh? What about m... Aw shit!" he exclaimed loudly, when he saw what Hutch meant. In his urgency to get to the airport in time, he'd accidentally put on two different socks. One red and one blue.

"Hey, hey," Hutch chided, raising his index finger, "you wanna watch your language around your mother, son."

Grumbling at the blond, Starsky looked up to see the huge crowd of just arrived passengers move down the hall to the baggage check in. An utterly miserable sigh drew his features into an expression so boyish Hutch couldn't help smiling.

"We're too late," he whined.

"Buddy, it's your mother," he said in fake sympathy, placing a comforting arm around the smaller man's shoulders. "I doubt she expected you to be here on time. Or properly dressed," he added with a grin, ducking as if expecting to be slapped.

"'S not funny, Hutch!" Starsk replied, but didn't shrug off the blond's arm.

They'd stopped, waiting for the crowd to split enough for them to spot the person they were looking for.

"I think it's a scream. 'Sides, she'll probably like it. After all, you look rather patriotic," he grinned, tugging at Starsky's white shirt.

Stepping out of his partner's hold, Starsky turned to glare at him, a sharp reply ready to escape, when a sudden sight behind his friend widened his eyes.

"DOWN!" he yelled, pushing Hutch to the ground, crouching down beside him too.

"What?!" the startled blond asked, frantically scrambling for his gun, but couldn't get it with Starsky steadying himself on him. "Wha-"

A shot echoed through the hall like thunder, the second one swallowed by panicked screams.

His head snapping down by instinct, Hutch felt his partner's hands press him down once more, but this time in order to push himself to his feet.

"Starsk!" Hutch yelled after him, but at the sight of the curly haired man racing in the direction of the exit, gun drawn, turned to the frantic crowd. Cop modus kicking in, he scrambled at his jacket to produce his badge.

"Police! 'S okay! Everything's under control! Everybody stay ba-"

"Call an ambulance!" a high-pitched male voice squeaked over the blond's. "Oh my God, somebody call an ambulance!"

Grabbing the man by the arm, Hutch bend his head to look into terrified eyes. "Hey, s... Hey!" he called out, until the other one looked at him. "Easy, easy, I'm a cop. What's-"

Another yell for an ambulance coming from somewhere between the crowd drew his attention away from the man. Four or five men raced past him, obviously on their way to follow the panicked orders.

'Aw shit!' the blond thought, quickly making his way through the crowd. Someone'd been hit. 'Shit, shit, shit!'

"Police, let me through. Police, let me throu..." He froze dead in his tracks, the words seemingly chocking him.

"Oh my... Oh God. Oh go..." After having missed a beat, his heart picked up its speed like it wanted to break free from inside his chest.

Seemingly boneless, he fell to his knees next to the crumbled figure, not noticing the blood that soaked through his jeans. "God, please, n... Somebody call an ambulance!!!" he yelled, while reaching out with trembling hands.

"Hutch?"

At the sound of Starsky's questioning voice from somewhere on the other side of the wall of gaping passengers, Hutch's head snapped around.

"Hutch, where're you? Hey, let me through, I'm a cop. Hutch?"

"Starsk," the blond whispered, his eyes darting over the body before him.

"Hey Hutch? Oh shit..." he heard Starsky mutter behind him as he could now see his partner kneeling next to a bleeding body.

Hutch was off the ground like a shot, grabbing his partner's arms. "Starsk, no. Don't-"

But it was too late. Starsky saw. The color drained from his face as if he'd been shot too.

"M-m-m-m-m..."

"Buddy, don't," Hutch urged, trying to shove the stammering man away from the corpse. "Starsky. No. Come on. Starsky."

The curly haired man gasped, a chocking, desperate sound. As if he was struggling for air. He stood totally still, limp in Hutch's grip, yet steady, unmovable. Like stone.

"Mom."

"Paramedics," a voice behind them yelled, footsteps approaching. "Clear the paths for paramedics!"

Hutch watched the scene with horrified eyes, still holding onto Starsky. It was like he had a nightmare in the middle of the day.

The paramedics were working fast. They started CPR on the still lifeless body. At that moment Hutch was pulled out of his own thoughts and he instinctively tried to lead Starsky away from the horrible scenery.

But Starsky refused. He pulled himself out of Hutch's grip and remained watching the scene. Hutch knew it was useless to try it once more so he put his arm around the hip of his ailing friend to steady him.

They were standing like this a few more minutes as suddenly a loud and nasty sound, from one of these machines the paramedics used, got unbearable.

Starsky lifted his head a little as the sound from the machine suddenly disappeared and saw the shaking head of one of the paramedics.

"NO!" Starsky cried out loud. Hutch reacted at once and pulled his partner into his arms.

"Easy, buddy. Easy."

"No! Lemme go." he shouted and pushed Hutch hard.

Hutch, who wasn't prepared for that, stumbled backwards. Starsky ran to his mother and came to a sudden halt next to the dead body.

"Mom?" he whispered, tears were running down his cheeks.

Hutch was right behind him and put his hands on Starsky's shoulder to support him.

"Come on, buddy. Let me take you out of here." Hutch's voice was soft and full of emotion.

Starsky didn't react. His gaze was fixed at the blood covered body, lying on the cold ground. He sank down to the ground, crying heavily, half dragging his partner with him.

"Uhm, uh, sir," one of the paramedics said, his voice thick with sympathy, his hand hovering over Hutch's shoulder as if afraid to touch the comforting man. "W-we need to get the body out of here. I know it's hard, but-"

Before Hutch could see it coming, Starsky was out of his arms, tearing the poor guy down to face him, his hands intertwined with the man's white collar. A surprised choke escaped the abused throat, but the panicked struggles went ineffective.

"Starsk! No!"

"That BODY is my mother, you fucking creep! And don't you dare touch her, y'hear me!" Blind with fury, tears still spilling from wide blue seas, Starsky rattled the paramedic violently. "You keep your hands off her!!!"

"Starsky!" Hutch yelled, struggling to drag his friend away from the coughing man. "Let him go! Starsk!"

Hesitantly, the curly haired man's fury subsided, his hands finally falling from the paramedic's throat. Released from the death grip, the young man fell to the ground, coughing and panting.

"H-hey," he gasped, crawling away from the two detectives. "D-don't let him near... me 'gain, man."

Throwing him an apologetic look, Hutch drew his partner in, holding him tight, partly to restrain him, partly to calm him down. His heart breaking, he could feel the soft curls brushing against his neck, as Starsky sagged in his hold, his face hidden against the blond's chest.

"Where're you taking her?" Hutch asked the paramedics in a low voice, his hands finding his partner's head, stroking him in a soothing rhythm.

"Memorial," the second paramedic answered softly, understanding eyes meeting light blues.

Hutch nodded, smiled gratefully at the man. "Buddy," he then whispered into Starsky's ear, "want me to get you out of here? Huh?"

Starsky sniffed. After a short moment, a tiny nod followed.

"Okay," Hutch said calmly, shifting both their positions, his hand ever so gently keeping the curly head resting against his chest. "You just stay down there, buddy. Don't look again. Just close your eyes. I'll get you out."

Rows of silent, gaping passengers split, making way for the two detectives slowly stepping away from the scene.

"Want to sit down for a bit?" Hutch asked, but his friend just shook his head no. "Okay. We'll go back to the car."

They'd just reached the front door, when a bunch of uniformed cops swarmed into the building, excitement flowing around them like a distinguished smell.

"Hey! You can't leave a... Oh. Hutch." An older uni stopped on his way over to the two younger man, frowning when he got a closer look at them. "What... He's hit?"

"No," Hutch answered, instinctively still keeping his voice low. Starsky didn't react at all. "Don't worry, Bernie. I'll take care of him. You guys be okay here? We-"

"Hey," the uni interrupted him, already walking past the two detectives briskly, "say no more. Just get him out of here."

"Thanks, Bernie," Hutch smiled. "I owe ya."

Winking, Bernie hurried away in the direction of the crowd, leaving Hutch to guide his partner out of the building and over the parking lot to the Torino.

There, he opened the passenger door with one hand and gently eased Starsky down to sit on the seat with his legs still outside. The smaller man sagged, his head sinking down onto his chest. His hands never left Hutch, clung to the blond's collar.

"There you go," Hutch said as he lowered himself to a crouch in front of his partner and gently peeled Starsky's hands off his jacket, holding them in his own. "It's okay, buddy, I'm right here. Right here. It's alright. It's okay. Starsk?"

Starsky nodded, acknowledging he'd heard the words, but remained silent.

"Okay," Hutch breathed, letting go off Starsky's hands to stroke back the curls from his partner's forehead, trying to urge his head up.

He knew he probably should get his partner to a hospital, too. The encounter earlier had proved that the shaken man was most likely in shock.

Yet, still shaken himself, Hutch couldn't get himself to leave his friend for just as long as it'd take to get to the driver's side of the car.

"Okay," he repeated, closing his eyes, drawing in a deep, calming breath. "Okay."

He was rambling. He knew he was. But what WAS there to say? What was there to DO?

'This didn't happen, did it? This did not just happen. You're dreaming, Hutchinson, that's what you are. Dreaming. In a few minutes, your alarm will ring, you'll stand up, collect Starsk, go to work... This did not happen.'

"Hutch?"

The tiny whisper made the blond head snap up as if he'd been yelled at. "Yeah, buddy. Yeah, right here. Right here."

Starsky didn't look at him. He hadn't moved an inch, just sat slumped in his seat, his gaze seemingly studying the ground.

"She's dead." Slowly, he looked up. "Isn't she?"

Hutch doubted he could speak past the lump in his throat, so he forced a quivering smile on his lips and brushed away the strays of tears from his partner's face with both thumbs.

"Isn't she?" Starsky urged, his voice breaking badly again.

"Yeah," Hutch replied in a shaky whisper. "Yeah, she is." A single tear slid from his eyes, quickly followed by another one. He didnt notice. "She is, babe. I'm sorry."

His sob came in unison with Starsky's.

"I'm so sorry, Starsk." Willingly, he drew his partner in as Starsky reached out for him once more, burying his face in his shirt again. "I'm so sorry."

"Why?" Starsky asked, his voice muffled against Hutch's shirt.

Another sob. "I don't know, babe. I don't know."

"I..." Weakly pushing himself out of Hutchs hold, the smaller man blinked fast, trying to hold back more tears. "I... You... I just been 'way for a sec. I... How?!"

"I don't know, Starsk. She must have stood right behind us. I didn't see her. I don't know."

"I saw the... saw the guy with the gun a-and-"

"Shh," Hutch soothed as his friend grew increasingly excited, his voice rising, getting high-pitched, tumbling. "Shh, calm down, Starsk. You don't have to-"

"I heard the shots, b-but... I... I didn't think he'd HIT anyone. I-I mean, kid was aiming at... at us. You. I... How could she get hit?!" he was practically screaming now, struggling to stand up, push Hutch's restraining hands away.

"I don't know," Hutch offered, his heart wrenching at the pain in his partner's eyes. Starsky rambled on over his words.

"Why didn't I... I didn't look! I didn't even look! Just... Oh God, Hutch, if I hadn't pushed us down, it'd have been me."

"No," Hutch hurried to assure, fear grabbing his heart like a cold claw. "No, Starsk. No. Don't do this to yourself. You don't know what coulda-"

"It would have been me!" Starsky cut him off, hiding his face in his hands.

Hutch could tell he was on the verge of breaking down completely again.

"Babe, no," he soothed, swallowing back tears, trying to be strong.

Starsky didn't answer. His hands had fallen down into his lap once more. He was spent. Wiped out.

"It wasn't your fault, buddy," Hutch said, but he knew he was of little use. "It wasn't."

A moment passed. "Starsk."

But Starsky wouldn't hear any more.

Finally, Hutch sighed, nodded curtly, stood up and walked around the car to the driver's side, pausing only to once more close his eyes for a deep breath.

'Don't fall apart now, Hutchinson. Get yourself together. For God's sake, get yourself together!'

Giving the Torino's roof a parting pat, he slid inside the car, slamming the door shut.

Starsky hadn't moved.

"Get inside, buddy. Come on."

In slow-motion, the smaller man finally obeyed, dragging his legs inside the Torino, closing the door softly. It seemed to be only then he noticed his blood-soaked jeans.

Hutch watched in dismay as Starsky's hand hovered above his thigh, before soft fingertips touched the damp material, only to be jerked back immediately as if they'd been scalded.

"Buddy-"

"Saw the car," Starsky's voice cut Hutch off, the sudden sternness coloring it leaving the blond frowning, concerned.

Casting his friend a look, he thought for one eerie moment that the tears on the dark man's face suddenly dried quicker. As if they were drawn back into the eyes they'd escaped from, to be locked there, captives. The handsome, strained features seemed to harden with Hutch watching the process.

'Blocking,' the blond thought. 'Hes blocking. Must be shock. Aw Starsk, don't do this.'

"Starsk, you don't need to-"

"Blue Sedan," Starsky said, clearing his throat a bit, pushing down revolting emotions. "1975. Got the number too."

Without looking at Hutch, he scrambled at his jacket with trembling hands, until hed produced a crumbled piece of paper, holding it out for Hutch.

"Starsk." Hutch practically begged, but his partner didn't hear. He couldn't. It seemed as though a wall had suddenly been built inside his head, stones of control the offered comfort crashed against.

"Buddy-"

Still not looking at Hutch, Starsky stashed the piece of paper into the blond's chest pocket, drawing his hand away, before Hutch could capture it. The taller man could have sworn he felt the temperature dropping inside the car.

Giving a curt sigh, Hutch started the engine, and they drove off for Memorial Hospital.

 

****

 

There wasn't much to explain as Dobey had already been informed by the unis.

"How's he holding up?" the captain asked, his voice booming at the other phone.

It was the rough, stern tone of his voice that indicated severe stress, and Hutch could almost see his superior's face before his eyes, the strained, pained features, the concern in deep, dark eyes.

Though Dobey couldn't see it, he shrugged. "Okay."

Silence at the other end.

"Not good," Hutch sighed. "Shock... I don't know. He was there when it... when it happened," he added after a second. "He saw her."

"Hutch-" Dobey tried to cut in, the blond not listening.

"God, he saw-"

"Ken." At the stern interruption, Hutch bit off the rest of the sentence, closing his eyes as he rested his forehead against the wall next to the phone.

"Sorry, Cap'n. 'S just..." Again, he interrupted himself, drawing in a deep breath before continuing in a more businesslike tone. "Lab guys found anything?"

"32 Magnum. Two shots. One straight to the chest, the other..." The dark voice trailed off. "No one saw the shooter. They're still asking witn-"

"Starsky saw the car's plate," Hutch cut him off, fumbling to get the paper out of his chest pocket and read it to Dobey, who hmm-ed appreciatively.

"I see what I can get with it."

"Yeah," Hutch nodded. "You do that. I... I better get back to..." A sigh escaped his throat like a cough, cutting his words off.

"Hutch. Hang on."

"See you later, Cap'n."

With that, Hutch hung up, his hand remaining on the receiver.

'Hang on, he says. Yeah, right. Hang on, Hutch. Everything's gonna turn out just peachy, right? Yeah, right. So fucking right.'

Pushing himself off the wall, he clenched his hands to fists, facing the wall. A moment passed. And suddenly he felt himself letting go of a breath he hadn't known he'd held.

'Oh God, look at you. Youre pathetic, Hutch, you know that? Now get yourself together, damn it! For Starsk. You can break down later.'

Nodding as if answering his own order, he turned and slowly made his way down the hallway of Memorial Hospital to the small waiting area he'd left Starsky at to call Dobey twenty minutes ago. It was deserted except for his partner, who sat slumped in one of the uncomfortable orange plastic chairs, pale, still, broken.

Hutch stopped in the doorway, not having been noticed by his partner, taking in the exhaustion on the darker man's features. The pain. Pushed aside, forced into a corner of his mind, but still there, still visible. Like a disease that had suddenly caught him in its deadly grip and was now forcing the life out of his eyes, the color out of skin, the energy out of his body.

Was that the same man he'd teased about two different socks only hours before? The same goofy guy who'd been driving him crazy about wearing a tie, getting a parking ticket, being late? The same Dave Starsky who'd been seeking comfort in his arms at the airport?

'Untouchable,' Hutch thought, his heart aching for his partner. 'Thats how he looks. Untouchable. Oh God,' he sighed in his mind as he carefully stepped inside the room, approached his friend, 'Don't do this, Starsk. Don't shut me out. Not now.'

"Hey, buddy."

Starsky didn't look up.

Hutch waited for a second, then eased himself down next to Starsky. He wanted to touch his friend, to offer more comfort than his presence, but it wouldn't have been the right move. He knew that.

He knew his partner.

"They don't bring her here," Starskys quiet voice finally broke the silence. "Nurse just told me. They're not through with the... the scene. Lab guys, I mean. They still... need..." He broke off, the words seeming to choke him, but closed his eyes and forced himself to speak on.

"They still need the body. They gonna bring her to the morgue after that. Said I could see her there. Tomorrow. Or... 'nother day. Doesn't matter. The autopsy's not that... urgent," he finished, looking up at Hutch.

The blond almost flinched. His friend's grim smile seemingly meant to hurt him. Yet he swallowed back the reply that sprung to his mind--'Im not the enemy, buddy. Im HERE.'--and just nodded.

"What did Dobey say?"

"Oh. Uh, nothing," Hutch answered, feeling guilty at the relief he felt flowing through him. Business-talk was good. He could handle business-talk. "I gave him the plate. He'll have it checked."

"Yeah." Starsky nodded. "Good."

"Yeah. Starsk, why don't I take you home? Get you outta here? You look-"

"No."

Hutch sighed. "Listen, I know-"

"You," Starsky said coldly, turning his head to directly look at Hutch for the first time since the blond's arrival, "don't know shit."

It probably would have been less painful to get stabbed right in the heart with a knife, yet the blond fought the injury from sinking into his eyes.

"Right," he answered. "I don't know shit. Wanna tell me then?"

"No."

It hadn't really been a plan. Not a tactic he'd ever used on his partner. Hell, they'd never been in a situation quite like this before. This hadn't been a girlfriend getting shot down, or an old pal. This had been Starsky's mother. What was there to say?

Nothing.

"Want me to give you a lift home?"

"No."

Suppressing another sigh, Hutch rubbed his eyes, exasperated. "You're still in shock, buddy. Maybe we'd better have a doc-"

"No."

His own distress finally breaking through his tightly built walls, Hutch jerked around on his seat. "Well, what DO you want? What d'you want me to do, Starsk?"

"Nothin'."

"Starsky-"

"This isn't ABOUT you, Hutch!" Starsky cut him off, practically jumping into his partner's face. "What do I want? I wanna wake up this morning again, get to the airport in time, pick up my mother in time, so none of this woulda happened!"

"It had nothing to do with us being la-"

"You don't know that!" Starsky yelled. "Maybe it had EVERYTHING to do with us being late! Maybe it was because this dumb little fuck of a uni decided to earn his medal by giving a cop a parking tick! Maybe it was because we stopped in the hallway to look for her! Maybe it was because I turned around too soon. And maybe it was because I threw myself down like a goddamn coward to save MY fucking life!"

'Our fucking lives,' Hutch thought, but didn't say it. He just stared, taking it. What else was there to do?

Starsky had jumped to his feet, pale, shaky, exhausted, and now turned without another word, starting to march down the hallway.

"Starsk!" Hutch called after him, but his partner's speed only increased.

"Starsky! Wait!" But when he ran after him, Starsky would only get faster, fleeing. Escaping.

Running away from him.

As the realization hit him, Hutch stopped dead in his tracks, nearly doubling over. Starsky was running away from him. Unmoving, he stood, stared, watched his partner throw the front door closed behind him, vanish.

After moments of listening to his own panting, he finally turned, heading back for the phone to call himself a cab.

 

****

 

"And you're sure you didn't hit anyone?"

"Dush, man, come on, I TOLD y-"

"Don't call me Dush, sucker. How many times have I told you to not call me Dush?!"

LeRoy Dushku was pissed. Majorly pissed. There he was, first day back in Bay City after what felt like a lifetime away in some stinking little eastern place, and what had Monty sent him?

An idiot. A fucking idiot. A greasy teen, doped up to the sky, too stupid to drive.

And not only had that stupid bastard let him wait at the airport, no, he'd just HAD to bring a fucking gun with him and SHOOT IN THE CROWD!

The mere memory of people screaming in panic, blood splashing into his face as the old woman in line before him had been jerked backwards and then crumbled to the floor bonelessly, made Dushku's stomach churn.

He'd never been one for violence. He could deliver it when it was necessary, but he didn't like it. Not the way crazy fucks like Todd did. Hero kiddos who'd draw a gun at a cop at any time, any place.

For that'd been the reason for his action, as Monty's boy had explained to Dushku when they'd raced away from the airport after Todd had picked him up at a back entrance. He'd spotted two cops hed known.

"I tell you, Dush, they were THERE. WAITING. For us. I swear! I saw 'em."

"Don't call me Dush."

"Mr. Dushku. They were there. I saw 'em."

Swallowing down the reply that in Todd's state, he probably saw pink elephants too, Dushku had shot back, "A plane arrives with 150 people on board, each and every one of them being awaited at the airport, and you think those two turkeys were waiting for US?! Youre SUCH an idiot, Toddy, y'know that? If I tell Monty you shot at cops, he's gonna have you swallow your gun."

"They WERE there! Waiting. I saw 'em!"

"They could have waited for ANYBODY on that plane, shitbrain! Their mommies--anyone! Why the fuck did you have to shoot at them?! Oh, don't bother," he winked as Todd opened his mouth to reply. "I know why. Because you've doped yourself out of your boots, that's why. You're so fucking high, you'd have shot J. Edgar if you'd seen him!"

"J. who?"

Dushku rolled his eyes.

"'Ey, Dush, you're not gonna tell Monty 'bout it, are ya? Huh? Huh?"

Grabbing the kid's collar to drag him close to his face, Dushku hissed, "Don't. Call. Me. Dush. And if I'm gonna call Monty or not-we'll see. Now drive on and for fuck's sake shut the hell up. You're giving me a headache."

"O-okay, Dush...ku. M-Mr. Dushku."

"Good boy."

 

****

 

Starsky wasn't home. The Torino wasn't parked in front of the place.

Still, Hutch decided to let himself in, and after a glance around the dark apartment, settled on the couch for a long time of waiting.

Exhausted, he sank back against the pillows, closing his tired eyes.

After having taken a cab to the precinct from the hospital--only to be reminded that the LTD was still parked at his partner's place where he'd left it that morning--and talked to Dobey for a second, he'd called Starsky, but as he'd expected, the phone hadn't been answered.

At last, Dobey had practically ordered him to take the rest of the day off--meaning to go and check on his partner who yet had to call in at the precinct. Something Starsky would simply "forget" as Hutch knew.

His partner was probably driving around aimlessly at the moment, fighting demons he couldn't beat, following his thoughts down paths Hutch would give everything for to keep him from.

And just as he knew his partner was, he felt himself going down that road, playing the day's incident over and over in his head. He could see Starsky turning around to face him, a reply to his wise-crack visible on his face--the next thing he knew, he'd been on the ground, Starsky's hands seemingly pinning him down, screams in his ears, chaos flowing around him like water.

What had happened? What the hell had happened?

The more he urged himself to answer that question, the more he found himself agreeing with his partner. THEY'd been shot at. If it hadn't been for Starsky to turn, see and react, one of them probably would have been dead by now. But that didn't mean it was their fault, did it?

'Of course not! Don't go there, Kenny. You'll be no good to Starsk if you let yoursel-'

A sudden trickling sensation let his thoughts trail off, and scrambling under his back at the couch, he produced a faded photo, crumbled at the edges, obviously having been torn out of an album recently.

Frowning, the blond studied it closer, suddenly realizing he knew it.

Before breaking with the habit of framing each and every picture he possessed, Starsky had had a special place for this particular family portrait. But after having started to put a few pics into photo albums one rainy Sunday, he'd developed a liking for those, and slowly, but steadily the frames had vanished from his place.

Still Hutch recognized the picture, he recalled having seen it at the academy years ago.

"Hey, that your dad?" he heard a considerably younger version of himself asking innocently.

"Yep," an equally younger Starsky had answered, a little subdued, yet willingly.

"And THAT's your mom?!"

"Uhm... Yeah."

"Wow. She's-"                       

"Watch it, buddy."

Young Ken Hutchinson had grinned. "-a very fine lady," he'd finished, ducking at the pillow that'd come flying his way. "You sure those are your real parents, though? They're kinda good-loo-"

"SOMEONE's begging for a nose correction here, it seems."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, all talk," Hutch had winked, smirking. "You just keep growing and maybe some day-"

This time he'd caught the pillow, putting it aside to the other one triumphantly. "Serious, Dave, your dad's a cop?"

Studying the uniformed man on the picture, he'd missed the pain crossing midnight blues.

"Yeah," Starsky had answered. "He, uh, was."

"Oh. Uhm," Hutch had stammered, embarrassed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to-"

"'Sokay," Starsky had winked. "Wasn't yesterday, y'know."

"Oh."

Lying on his best friend's couch, years later, Hutch still had to roll his eyes at himself for that reaction. 'Oh. Brilliant, Hutchinson. Oh. Great. And so very sensitive.'

And it had been getting even better from then on.

"You two got along okay?"

Young Dave Starsky had thrown him a wide-eyed look, obviously not sure if he should be offended or laugh out loud. Being the man he was, he'd settled for the second. "Oh yeah. He was a great guy. Let me play with his gun every day after work."

At his new friend's shocked gaze, hed grinned. The first time Hutch had seen the Starsky-ear-to-ear-special. "Just kidding, dummy."

The older version of Ken Hutchinson, holding the same picture his younger self had so long ago, smiled at the answer that echoed in his ears. There'd been occasions after that when he'd gotten the chance to peek behind the wall that surrounded his friend's most painful memories. He'd seen the real effects of Starsky's early loss, the ever lasting sorrow that had been etched in his partner's mind when he'd been too young to fight it, yet he'd always known Starsky was a man to cope with things.

It wasnt just a trained ability, something he had to learn after his father's death, but part of who he was. Starsky's whole outlook was centered on love, lust for life. In his ever-excited nature there was no place for lasting sadness, transforming sorrow.

He could get wounded, and more than most people Hutch knew he could suffer, yet--like a cat--he always fell onto his feet. It was one of the many reasons Hutch loved him.

He knew that, in a way, he himself was weaker than Starsky. More vulnerable. Easier to break, easier to push down the dark void his partner had more than once in his life stared down at, but had always been able to get away from, fought it. At the bottom of his self, Starsky was a fighter.

'That's why you need him. Whatever happens, he'll get through it. And you with him. You know that's the truth, Kenny. He'll get through this too. He did it before, he'll do it again. You'll see, he'll make it. Just leave him be. Let him yell, let him ramble, and--in the end--let him cry, but he'll get through this. And you with him.'

Before the doubt scratching at his mind could fully reach him, he escaped into merciful blackness, the picture of Starsky's family seemingly hugged to his chest.

 

****

 


David Starsky loved Bay City. He loved the beach, the sea, the weather, the women. The lifestyle.

He'd fallen in love with the city when he'd first set foot on its ground at the age of 11, when his mother had sent him to live with his uncle and aunt. He'd never regretted leaving New York. He'd regretted leaving his mother, his baby brother, his friends, but not New York.

New York had been the city that had killed his dad. If he was really honest with himself, he'd have to admit that he hated it for it. There were things even David Starsky couldn't forgive.

He'd never forgiven Ben Forest. Never forgave Jeanne either, for that matter. Never forgave Simon Marcus. Never forgave Vic Bellamy. Never forgave Hutch's parents. 

And--as if it was a person-he'd never forgiven New York.

The day he'd seen his father bleed to death on the steps of that small flower shop in New York city was etched in his mind, and since he'd never seen the man who'd actually pulled the trigger, who'd actually taken his dad from him, hed come to hate the city for it. New York had drawn the weapon that day, and New York had delivered the fatal blow.

Now that he was standing at one of Bay City's many beaches, overseeing the waves crashing against the large rocks in the distance, the same feeling flowed through him like a cold shudder.

No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't recall the gunman's face. He'd seen the gun blinking in the airport's bright lights, and he'd seen Hutch, in danger, in the way. It all had happened so fast. Hed never come to actually SEE his mother getting shot. She'd been hit when he'd returned.

Had the airport killed her? The city?

No. Somebody had. Somebody with a gun. A creep, a junky, a kid, a hitman--someone. Someone LIVING in his city.

'But not for much longer.'

"Ya hear me?!" he yelled into the wind that swallowed his voice. "You won't get away with this!!! I'm gonna get you!"

This time he'd be able to do something. He wasn't a kid anymore, not 11 years old. He was a cop. And a crime had been committed.

"I'm gonna get you!" he screamed again, kicking the wind. "I'm gonna make ya pay! You won't get away with this! You won't! Ya hear me?!"

He didnt know who he was screaming at any longer. The man who'd killed his mother, the man who'd killed his father, New York, Bay City, the world, God.

He was screaming without hearing the words. He was screaming without feeling their impact. He didn't know he was crying until he could taste salt in his mouth.

When it hurt to scream any more, he turned and left for his car.

 

****

 

Hutch was there. So why wasn't he glad? Why didn't he feel comforted?

'Cause you screwed up, Davy, that's why.'

Cringing at the memory, Starsky emerged from the Torino and slowly, unwillingly walked over to his entrance. The scene in the hospital re-played itself in his mind, somewhat exaggerated.

Had he really YELLED at Hutch? No, it hadn't been THAT bad, had it?

But then, after all, the blond WAS there. So he cared, right? Right.

His hand on the doorknob, drawing in a breath as if to brace himself, Starsky pushed aside the doubts threatening to overwhelm him, and entered the apartment.

Snoring greeted him.

Actually relieved at that, he carefully closed the door behind him, then tip-toed over to the couch, watching his partner sleep.

Hutch was spread on his stomach with one arm lying haphazardly over his head, leaning against the headrest, while the other one hung limply down the side, his hand flat on the ground as if he was steadying himself. He still wore his shoes and had hung his feet over the armrest as if to avoid contact with the couch's fabric. Despite himself, Starsky had to smile. That was his partner--ever aware of his habits.

Sliding out of his sneakers so he wouldn't make too much noises walking around, Starsky walked to the bedroom to gather a blanket for Hutch, feeling eerily relieved, glad. Happy to be able to pull one of his mother hen acts on Hutch, even though he knew the blond wouldn't approve of it. He'd probably chide Starsky for not waking him. Still the fussing had calming effects on Starsky, all thoughts of his own sorrows and pain pushed aside for the moment.

It wasn't until he'd carefully covered his friend with the blanket that he noticed the picture lying close to Hutch's hand on the ground, turned upside down.

He'd torn it out of his family-album earlier, before he'd driven off to the beach, for no reason he could think of now. It wasn't that this was his favorite picture of his family or even the best for that matter. The truth was, it'd been the first he'd seen when opening the album.

Studying its back, he recalled Hutch's reaction to it years before. They'd still been in the academy then, so young. In his memories covered by bittersweet sadness like a fog, he'd thought of them as mere kids. As if he hadn't been already a man back then; already to Vietnam, already robbed of one family member.

'Oh yeah, Davy, right. Good old days, huh? Damn, you're pathetic, you know that?'

Not having touched the photo he turned towards the kitchen and got himself a beer from the fridge before sitting down at the kitchen table. There wasn't more to do, so he just sat there, staring at the wall.

By now, they'd have called it a night, and he'd have driven home to his mother, her first evening in Bay City in months. They'd have talked for hours, just chit-chat, nothing important. He'd never talked to her about important stuff. It'd never been necessary.

By now, he'd have told her about getting new seats for the Torino or having won against Hutch at Monopoly lately. Silly stuff. Mommy stuff.

"Penny for your thoughts," a sudden voice from the door startled him enough to visibly flinch, and when he looked up, he was met by apologetic light blue eyes. "Sorry, buddy."

"Hey," he smiled lightly at his partner, who pushed himself off the door he'd leaned against to shuffle his way over to the table too. Despite wearing the clothes he'd fallen asleep in, Hutch had wrapped himself in the blanket, dragging it along with him. It was obvious he was still sleepy, his eyes only half-way open and his blond hair sticking out in every direction.

Starsky smiled at the image, again feeling eerily relieved at seeing his friend so... vulnerable.

"Did I wake you? Sorry."

At the apology, a confused smile crossed the blond's lips. "'S okay, I didn't INTEND to fall asleep, you know." As if suddenly realizing the soft material around him, he peeled himself out of the blanket, letting it fall to next to the chair in an untidy heap. "Where've you been?"

There was no urgency in his voice, no offence, not even curiosity. Just concern. Caring. Love.

"Oh, uh, here and there," Starsky grinned shyly. "There mostly. Uhm, you..." Lifting his beer in an offering gesture, he raised his brows questioningly.

Hutch winked and rubbed his eyes.

Silence settled. When occasionally peeking over his hands, Hutch saw his friend nursing his beer, obviously not at ease with his presence.

'Oh man, this is hard. This is... why can't he just yell at me again? Anything? Hit me! I'd hit him. Hell, I DID hit him.'

Pushing his thoughts aside, Hutch finally raised his voice, but instead of saying something cleared his throat.  He didn't seem to find any words to say.

"Dobey wants you to know you, uh, don't have to come back to work immediately," he said, matter-of-factly. 'Gee, Kenny, you're SO good at this stuff, aren't ya?!'

"Nah, that's okay," Starsky winked, smiling slightly, but breaking the eye-contact quickly, seemingly busy scraping the label off his beer. It was a completely un-Starsky-like gesture, and it unnerved Hutch immensely.

Sighing, he braced himself for the argument to come. "Buddy, you should take those days off. You need them."

"No, really, I'm fine, Hutch."

The blond looked at him.

"Well, not FINE fine, but... you know," he shrugged, "fine. Okay. I mean, hey, 's not like that sorta thing never happened to me befo..."

Even as he spoke he could see that that had been the wrong thing to say. His friend's face fell in raw displayed ache for him, and he inwardly cursed his stupidity. He had to be careful--that sort of survival humor had cost him friendships before, yet he'd be damned if hed lose Hutch over this.

"I mean," he added quickly, shoving his beer from one hand to the other as if to draw his partner's attention towards that and away from him, "I'm fine, Hutch. Really. Don't look like that."

Hutch quickly tore his eyes away, but couldn't quite force the confused frown off his face.

'Dont look like that?! Where'm I, the twilight zone?! What the hell's WRONG with you, buddy?'

"Sorry," he mumbled. "'Sjust..." His voice trailing off with his eyes wandering up, he swallowed as if to gain much needed energy for the next sentence. "You know, it's okay if you need to..." He shrugged, feeling clumsy. "... cry or something. Yell. I don't know. Whatever you..." A quivering smile crossed his lips. "... need to do."

He thought his heart stopped when Starsky--laughed.

"D-did I say something funny? Uhm, hey, Starsk, I'm sorry, honest, I-I-"

"No," Starsky hurried to assure as he sensed his friends growing distress. "No, aw, sorry, Hutch. I didn't mean to... 'Sjust... That sounded like..." Another giggle cut him off. "I'm sorry."

"You don't have to be sorry," Hutch said, growing more confused by the second. Hed expected EVERYTHING but this. Hed expected being yelled at, sworn at, thrown out--but not humored by Starsky. Had that man really just lost his mother? That day? Hours ago? It was hard to believe.

"You sure you're alright?" 'Did you take something?'

"Yes," Starsky said, nodding fiercely, forcing himself to keep his tone light. "Honest, Hutch, stop worrying. I-"

"Stop worrying?!" Hutch interrupted him, though his voice was still soft, only a tad strained.

Starsky hesitated, risking a glance directly into the eyes he knew so well, which he could read like an open book. And he read concern. He read fear. He read so much sympathy, so much shared pain that he thought he couldn't endure it. Had he placed all that in there? Was he responsible for all that?

"Hutch, I..."

Could it be he read enough in there to let himself fall? Could it be he COULD let himself fall?

"Im not..."

But what if he did? What if he told Hutch? What if he opened up? Uncovered his soul, his sorrow, the 11-year-old that still wept, still hoped, still feared--and that had finally died today?

"... not ..."

They had all left, hadn't they? They'd chosen to leave him behind. Alone. He'd come to accept that, sure. But it hurt. Oh God, it hurt. And he honestly wasn't sure he would live through that again. Deep down inside his soul he knew he wouldn't be able to live without Hutch. He wasn't a kid anymore-he'd grown dependant.

"I'm not a kid anymore, you know. I can handle things. It's okay."

The words were out before a second thought about them could stir. Hutch stared, confused, but believing.

Hutch believed him. He always had.

"Hey, uhm, d'you mind if I'm gonna hit the hay now? It's been quite a..." For the second time that day he bit off his piercing humor, struggling to make it through a whole sentence without scaring the hell out of his friend. "I'm tired. See you in the morning."

Hutch watched, his concern urging him to ask, yet his mind restraining him. However Starsky wanted to play this thing would have to go fine with him. After all it was Starsky's trauma. It'd be his Horrible Memory Number Two, not Hutch's. It'd be his living nightmare. However he wanted to live it would have to be how they both would do it. End of story.

"Sure, buddy," he smiled, his voice so soft he thought his partner might have missed it. "Hey, uhm, d'you mind if I crash here just in ca... I-I mean... It's really late, and I don't want to..." Frustrated at himself, he closed his eyes briefly, shaking his head curtly. "I'm gonna take the couch, Starsk. 'Kay?"

But his partner hadn't even listened. He was off and away towards his own bed, merely winking behind his back.

"Oookay," Hutch sighed under his breath. 'However you wanna play it, Starsk. I'm with you.'

 

****

 

Hutch was ashamed of himself.

He lay in the still darkness of his best friend's living room, this time only in his shorts and t-shirt, wrapped in the blanket once more and listened for the sounds he expected to hear soon.

The dim light of the moon bathed the room in eerie brightness, and he studied his bare feet peeking out from under the blanket, while all the way waiting for the inevitable to happen.

Soft snoring reached his ears, occasional mumbles, a whimper. Yet nothing that would have required his immediate attention.

But it would come. He knew it would. There was no way in hell Starsky would experience something like this and not be plagued by nightmares afterwards. He knew his partner. Knew him by heart. The nightmares would come.

Shifting his position as his back started to bother him, the blond chided himself for wishing his partner would hurry up. He knew it wasn't his fault, he was cranky, tired, exhausted, not to mention, shocked too, yet the mere thought of HOPING for Starsky to have a bad dream was so sickening he cursed himself.

As if on cue, his partner decided to relieve Hutch from his waiting the second the blond had started to think about his friend's earlier behavior. He didn't make it to wondering which unknown part of the darker man he'd seen displaying itself in the kitchen, since the increasing whines and moans from Starsky's bedroom made it impossible for him to remain on the couch.

'Here we go,' he thought, instantly feeling bad again. 'What the hell's wrong with you, Hutch?'

The answer came easy, of course. Starsky was suffering. THAT was wrong.

"Starsky." His soft voice so loud in the darkness he winced, Hutch eased himself closer to Starsky's bed until he could sit down on the edge.

His friend was in obvious distress, his feet tangled in his blanket as he'd obviously tried to kick it off of himself, and behind closed lids his eyes were moving rapidly.

It was an image so familiar it tore at Hutch's heart. He'd long ago found out that those sort of nightmares were a real problem for Starsky, since he'd pushed so many things away over the years his mind seemed to find no other way to deal with them.

Hutch had been appalled at first when finding out his friend experienced times of reoccurring nightmares that tend to lead to insomnia, and after a while he'd finally been able to convince his friend to at least take some medication for it when it got too bad.

That all had been years ago, yet each time Hutch saw Starsky trapped in a dream like this, he felt reminded of the fact that there still were secrets hidden beneath the sparkling midnight blue surface that he had no knowledge of. Secrets that may never be allowed to escape.

On the other hand, though, since he HAD seen it all before, he was experienced at dealing with Starsky in the terrifying state between wakefulness and sleep.

"Buddy, hey, wake up," he urged gently, his hands slowly coming up to shake the trembling shoulders. "Starsky. You're dreaming. Wake up, pal. C'mon."

He hadn't believed that to be sufficient, anyway, yet the fact that Starsky's fear-filled mumbling only increased at his words didn't fail to unnerve the blond. He couldn't make out what his friend was saying, but the intensity of his tone was definitely frightening.

"Starsk, c'MON, wake up now. Wake up!"

"No!"

That word came out particularly clear, weirdly matching the request like a refusal.

His heart flying out to his friend, Hutch suddenly noticed moisture in the sleeping man's eyes. He knew that when Starsky was crying in his sleep it had to be bad.
"Buddy, please, wake up now," he pleaded, shaking his partner harder. "I'm right here. Right here waiting for you. It's gonna be alright, just wake up now."

"No!" More a sob this time, the plea tore from Starsky's lips as his eyes flew open, his hands active all of a sudden, struggling to get away from the hold he found himself in. "No, wh-where..." He sniffed, staring wide-eyed into Hutch's face as the blond cupped his chin, determined.

"'Sokay, Starsk, 'sokay. Just a dream. See? I'm right here."

Frantic eyes calmed down as they came to focus on the dimly enlightened features.

"Hu-Hutch?" a tiny voice finally asked, accompanied by a touch to Hutch's cheek, so light that it seemed as if Starsky feared he'd vanish in the air like a ghost.

"Yes, it's me, buddy. It's okay. You had a nightmare."

"N-nightma... Hutch? You really..." The searching fingers became more lively now, seemingly trying to track down each and every distinction of Hutch's face until he finally captured the hand, holding it tight.

"Yes, dummy, I'm real. You see me, right? It's okay, babe. Just a dream."

"Right," Starsky breathed, nodding fiercely. Relief washed through him with sensible speed. "Dream. Just a dream."

For a horrible second, the blond thought his friend, in his confused state, would believe the whole day to be a dream, but Starsky quickly released him from his fears as he started to sniffle, audibly fighting tears.

"Hey," Hutch hurried to soothe, gathering the shaking form in his arms, "hey, buddy, 'sokay, shhh, Starsky, shhh, hey, calm down."

But no matter how hard he tried, his friend's sobbing increased, the warmth of his tears soaking Hutch's shirt.

"Hutch," a tiny whimper broke free, tearing at Hutch's heart as he hugged his partner even tighter.

"Yes, babe, I'm here, I'm-"

"I'm sorry," Starsky managed through a gut-wrenching sob. "I'm sorry, really."

The words, said in such a quivering, high-pitched, un-Starsky-like voice, worked like a blow to Hutch's stomach, his chin dropping down. When he'd finally regained his wits, the litany of apologies had gone on constantly for the whole time.

"Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, buddy, y-you have nothing to be sorry for. Starsky," inefficiently, he tried to push away from his friend long enough to lift his head. But Starsky wouldn't let go. "Starsk, look at me."

"I'm sorry. D-don't... don't leave. Please. I..."

"Starsky." Hutch practically begged now, feeling tears stinging in his own eyes. "Buddy, please, look at me."

After an unbearable long second, Starsky sniffed, and let go off his partner, sliding away until his back met the headrest. Yet he avoided looking at Hutch, his gaze focused on the blanket. Every so often a tear would drop down, hitting the soft material. It wasn't until the blond gently tipped his finger under Starsky's chin, that the darker man would finally look up, defeated.

"Listen... Are you listening?"

Starsky gave a tiny nod.

Hutch frowned at that, but forced himself to remain quiet, his voice steady, patient. "I'm not going to leave you. Not now, not ever." Bending down a little, he tried to glance into swelling, puffy eyes. "D'you hear that?"

A sniffle. A nod.

"Good. And you have nothing to be sorry for." He wanted to say more, but found he couldn't. He was confused. Hell, he didn't even know what Starsky thought he'd done wrong!

"I-I'm sorry I yelled at you," his friend stammered, not looking into his eyes, but down again. "A-at the hospital. I'm sorry. None of this is your... your fault, and I keep... I'm sorry, Hutch. Don't be mad, huh?"

Surely feeling like crying himself by now, Hutch once more urged the midnight blues to meet his. "Starsk, I couldn't be mad at you if I wanted to, you know that. I love you, pal. You can yell at me all you like. You're entitled."

At his partner's blank look, he arched his lips to a warm smile, stroking a tear-damp cheek. To his utter dismay, though, Starsky didn't answer at all. Sniffing back a few more tears, the curly haired man laid down again, curling up, his back facing Hutch.

"Starsk?"

No reply. Only the thumping sounds of silent drops of tears hitting the mattress. Hutch could see the blanket being dragged over the empty rest of the bed, scrambling hands wrapping it so tightly around the shivering form huddled in there he could see Starsky's shoulder blades through it.

"What is it, babe? Buddy, talk to me."

But his partner remained silent. At lack of ideas, Hutch finally settled for quietly rubbing his friend's back in small circles, while watching him falling asleep.

At least he'd keep the demons in their cages for the rest of the night.

 

****

 

His back hurt. His head too, for that matter.

Yet he felt unexpected warmth surrounding him, and blinking his eyes open, he found himself gazing at Starsky's bedroom window.

'What the...?'

"Hmnstarsk?" he asked drowsily, clearing his throat a little, before wearily pushing himself into a sitting position in the bed. 'What am I doing IN Starsky's bed?' "Starsky?"

Shaking his head to clear it of the last bits of sleep, Hutch tried to recall at what point during the last night he'd surrendered to sleep. He'd been sitting next to Starsky's curled up form, rubbing his back, babbling unintelligible words, and then--he must have dozed off.

"Starsk? You here?" he called out louder this time, shuffling to the living room, all the way rubbing his tired face. He needed a shave. A shower. A reality update.

Did he dream? No. Starsky had had a nightmare the night before. But it'd been real, hadnt it?

"Helloooo? Anybody home?!"

Yes, now he remembered. The nightmare WAS reality. Starsky's mother had been shot.

'Good morning, Kenny.'

"Starsky?!"

Suddenly noticing a piece of paper on the kitchen table, he frowned and grabbed it.

"Off to work. Keep up the Zs, you need them. Starsk."

Blinking, Hutch stared at the note.

"Off to work?!" he repeated loudly, and picked up the phone, looked at it, thinking, and hung up again.

On his way to the shower, he spotted the photo he'd seen the day before, lying on the far end of the table, ready to get 'filed' again. 

He skipped the shave.

 

****

 

The very next person who'd greet him with that damnable pitiful "look, the orphan"-stare, would get his head kicked in. If not coping with things, at least that was a plan Dave Starsky was willing to follow.

He'd thought that getting away from Hutch, getting out of his place, getting to work, moving his BUTT would make him feel alright enough to take on the day.

He should've known better.

Strolling back from the candy machine to his desk, he recalled last night. He had to admit it, he'd felt tempted. To break down. Let himself fall. But it was impossible. Hutch was only human too. He wouldn't take just everything. Couldn't. No one could.

At least, this way, he might be able to keep his friend. He could deal with the sadness, the pain. The loss. What he couldn't endure was being alone. Left behind. Deserted.

Sitting down, he absently unwrapped the candy bar. The roaring of the precinct, unintelligible noises, yells, rings raining down on him like soothing rain. Maybe, if he'd shove all his unfinished reports to one huge wall, he could hide behind it and get some sleep on his desk. Here, he would be able to sleep.

He knew Hutch thought he'd dozed off at some point during the night, but he hadn't. The haunting images of the nightmare hadnt let him go, his eyes blinking in high speed to keep from falling shut.

If he'd just been alone, he could have switched on the lights, maybe watch some TV. Anything to distract himself. But with Hutch there it'd been either talking or sleeping, and since he hadn't been up to either of that, he'd settled for huddling, so tensed his back had started to hurt, ever aware of his friend's touch, his words. How much he'd wanted to give in, roll over, accept what had been so openly offered--but the fear was stronger. It'd always been stronger.

It'd always be.

Suddenly feeling his stomach turn, he laid the candy bar aside, his hands wandering up to massage his throbbing temples. He really needed some sleep.

"Dave."

Jumping at Dobey's voice behind him, he turned to look at his superior.

'So help me, he calls me Dave ONE MORE TIME...'

"Yeah, Cap?"

"What're you doing here?"

"Gee, and I have nothing nice to say to you."

Like last night, the moment he'd got the wise-crack in, he knew he'd played it wrong. The concern in the older man's eyes only deepened. If Dobey's voice had lacked its gruffness before, now it was almost unendurably gentle.

"You should be home. Where's Hutch?"

Raising his brows, Starsky looked over his shoulder as if expecting Hutch to sit on his desk. 'You should be home, where is HUTCH? What're we, Siamese twins?!'

"Uh, home, I guess," he answered.

"Home." Dobey said the word as if he'd never heard it before. "Look, Da... Starsky," he then said, obviously searching for the right words. "I... I just want you to... Oh, I'm not good at this. I'm sorry. That's what I wanted to say. I'm... sorry," he finished lamely.

Starsky thought he'd never seen the bulky man that nervous. Nor that full of sympathy, either. Swallowing past a building lump in his throat, he tried a smile. "Thanks. I appreciate it."

"You know you can take all the time you need, don't you?" Dobey went on, making a point of not asking the detective into the office, but handling the matter out in the open. "I'd put you on sick leave immediately."

"Thanks," Starsky repeated hoarsely, "but no thanks. I don't think I'll need that."

A frown snaked over the captain's forehead, dragging a trail of concern behind itself.

There was something about this particular young man that'd always left him feeling--protective. Paternal. More than his partner or every other detective at Metro did Dave Starsky seem to need what Dobey would have called guidance. A fatherly hand. Protection from himself.

But as much as he'd always seen that truth about Starsky, he'd also always seen the help already there. With his partner around, Starsky HAD guidance. Balance. Protection. Safeness.

Maybe it was just the surprise over not seeing the dark man's blond counterpart on a day like this that had steered those thoughts, Dobey thought, pushing the rising doubts aside.

'I really hope Hutchinson's gonna show up here soon. I'm starting to think weird here. I mean, look at him. He's okay. Shaken, but okay. He'll get over this. Always does.'

"Okay," he thought, nodding at Starsk's refusal. "But the offer stands. If you feel like-"

"I won't need it," Starsky interrupted him, not rude, but firm enough, finishing the conversation by picking up the phone.

"Okay," Dobey said to the detectives back. 'God, I REALLY hope Hutch's gonna be here soon. Something odd is going on here.'

"Okay."

With that, he closed the door, escaping from the dark void outside his office.

 

****

 

His partner's voice could be heard on the staircase, in the hallway, in each and every interrogation room and--in stereo--in their office.

At times, knowing Starsky like Hutch did was a life full of paradox contraries. The very same man who'd snuggled up on him the night before, crying like a child, was now yelling at the top of his lungs at some probably innocent airport secretary who'd have to increase her Prozac consumption for that day after the verbal attack.

"What d'you mean, CLASSIFIED?! I'm a cop! Classified doesn't occur in my vocabulary!"

But then, from what it sounded like, Hutch thought she might deserve it after all.

"Yeah, well, maybe I'm a particularly DUMB cop, Miss! All I'm asking you to do is sent the fu... goddamn list over to the Metropolitan Division ON THE DOUBLE!"

A pause. Hutch arrived at the door. As if on cue, his partner reached his maximum volume the second Hutch opened the door.

"That's a police station, you unbelievable idiot!!! Even if I wasn't a cop, you'd send it to a police sta... Yes, I said IDIOT! You need that spelled o... `Lo? Hello? Hel... Aw fuck."

At the sound of the receiver hitting the phone forcefully, the entering detective found himself surrounded by fellow officers re-entering the room carefully, throwing dread-filled looks at Starsky, who still sat swearing to himself while searching for another number on a paper on his desk.

Hutch thought he'd never been greeted by so many relieved eyes when appearing at work. It was nice to see that SOMEONE had missed his presence...

"Hey buddy. What was all that noise about?"

It was funny. Odd. It looked physical, yet it wasn't. The second Hutch's words hit Starsky's ears, all air of aggression left the formerly ranting man, and a genuine shy smile broke through the dark expression.

"Hutch. Hey. G'morning. You sleep well?"

Hutch found himself staring--he'd done that a lot lately--wondering if he was maybe still asleep, dreaming. It had to be a dream, in reality he'd never been unable to read Starsky. Yet that seemed to be the exact case. He couldnt understand his friend's reactions. He couldn't foresee them.

It was scaring the living hell out of him.

"Yeah. Great," he answered flatly, and spotted the unwrapped, untouched candy bar that had somehow landed half on his part of the desk. Sitting down, he shoved back to Starsky. "So-what WAS that all about?" he asked, gesturing for the phone.

"Oh. Nothin'." Starsky shrugged. "Just Miss Reads-too-many-crime-novels having doubts about the legality of sending us the passenger list."

"What passenger list?"

"Of the plane, dummy."

Hutch frowned as if thinking, then nodded. It'd been an act, of course. A test. And Starsky definitely hadn't passed it. In the situation his partner was in, it'd be allowed to act anyway BUT normal. Normal was scary.

"D'you think we'll find anyone familiar?" Hutch asked lightly.

Again, the other one shrugged. "Hopefully."

"Maybe we should concentrate on the car you saw."

"Already checked that. CR hasn't come up with anything yet. They're... busy," he smiled grimly, winking a 'what's there to do 'bout it?'-gesture.

Hutch nodded in unnoticed fake agreement.

"But they're gonna call once they ran it?"

Starsky nodded, busy wrapping up the candy bar again.

Hutch noticed, but didn't comment on it. He wondered when Starsky had eaten last.

"So what about the, uh, funeral? You want me to come with you to the morgue?" He kept his voice low, using that special Hutch-tone that was reserved for such occasions.

Starsky's eyes snapped up at him at The Word, then back down again. Smoothing his fingers over the ripped paper, he seemed to try to glue the candy wrapper back together again. "Nah, 'sokay. Ill take... care of that. Thanks, anyway, Hutch." Briefly glancing up, he smiled. "I appreciate the offer."

Hutch bit his lip. In the same tone, Starsky could have told him he didn't want to go to Huggy's that afternoon or he didn't want to play Monopoly that night. Everyday stuff.

'Don't do that, Starsk, please.'

"You want to have it here or in New York?"

He was pushing. And he hated himself. Yet--he couldn't let it go like this, could he?

"I don't really wanna talk about this right now, Hutch, okay?"

'Who'd have guessed?!' "Buddy-"

"I'll take care of it. Now just... leave it." A quiet plea. A glance.

The blond sighed--'I'm HERE, Starsk! I WANT to help! See me!'--and nodded in silence.

A relieved smile crossed Starsky's lips. His phone rang. "Detective Star... Nicky."

Hutch raised his head, watching openly. He'd completely forgotten about Nicky.

As it seemed, so had Starsky.

"Look, Nicky, I... No. No, I wasn't... Well, yeah... I... Jeez, will you let me say one whole sentence too please?!" he suddenly snapped, startling Hutch, but didn't notice. All at once he seemed engulfed in his own private sphere. He and the telephone. Just like in the conversation with the secretary before.

And NOW Hutch could see.

"I didn't call you, because I... Well, I'm just ABOUT to explain it, so if you'd just shut up and listen, I'll..."

The exhausted features that'd been forced into smooth serenity just a second ago lost control right under observing light blue eyes. They grew strained, drawn.

"Yeah, I was there, but that doesn't mean I..."

Filled with anger like liquid swelling the skin.

"What're you saying, then, 's MY fault?! Contrary to what you might think, baby brother, I did not shoot her, you know?!"

Hate. Somewhere hidden underneath all that pressing sorrow, guilt, pain, there was hate. Not at the other man on the phone, Hutch knew. But at someone. Something.

"Nicky..." A sigh, colored by guilt. "C'mon, don't cry. Don't... Why don't you come here so... But..."

Another flash of hot red fury, rushing over his face like a lightening.

"If you don't wanna bother to get your lazy ass down here then why would I have had to call you in the first place?! I don't care what business you've to..."

A sudden silence as he listened to words that visibly hit him like physical blows. Then, whispered, through gritted teeth, "Fuck you, Nicky. Just..." Resigned, he hung up.

The show was over, and, amazed, appalled, Hutch watched the curtain fall. An eternity passed. Hutch was pretty sure he'd never studied that curly head for so long.

"Starsk?" he finally asked carefully.

His partner looked up--and Hutch realized that the show wasn't over. It'd been INTERRUPTED.

'This is the act, buddy, isn't it? I'm the audience.'

"That was Nicky," Starsky informed his friend matter-of-factly.

In every other situation Hutch would have laughed. "I heard. What'd he say?"

"Huh?" the smaller man asked absently, nursing his candy bar. "Oh. Uhm," he shrugged, "nothing really."

Hutch raised his brows. 'Nothing really. Fuck you, Nicky. Nothing really. C'mon, Starsk, at least leave me some intelligence here.'

"You didn't call him?"

"No," Starsky answered, another shy smile crossing his face. "Forgot. The hospital did today. He was sorta... pissed." A shadow played over his features, but vanished, before he looked at Hutch again. "He's not coming. Has some unfinished business, I don't know, so 'bout the funeral, I guess-"

"Detective Starsky?" a very young mans voice interrupted him from the door. "David Starsky?"

"Yep," Starsky answered, looking up. "That's me."

"D'you ask for a list of passen-"

"Yep.."

"See, I told Nancy you were for real," the gun grinned, handing over a thin file. "There you are. I'll tell her she's got no friends left with the cops now."

"Yeah," Starsky nodded absently, already flopping through the pages, "you do that, kid. Thanks."

Somewhat annoyed at the interruption, Hutch watched the kid stroll out of the office, leaving his partner busily going through the pages of names.

"Hey, give me some," he finally said, holding out his hand to accept the pages.

"Nah, 'sokay, I can-"

"Starsky."

Glancing up apologetically instead of joining in the banter, Starsky quickly grabbed a few pages and placed them on Hutch's desk. "Sorry."

'Did he just apologize for that?!'

"Uh... 'sokay," Hutch smiled warmly, and tried to focus on the names, but found his gaze wandering over the edges of the papers to his partner every too often.

"Bingo," Starsky suddenly exclaimed, grinning broadly.

Feeling somewhat caught red-handed with his gaze focused on his partner, Hutch blinked, startled. "Huh?"

"LeRoy Dushku," Starsky informed him, shoving the page with the name on it over to Hutch. "There. See? Passenger number 123."

"Yeah," Hutch said, looking at the name. "What's he doing here? I thought he'd left for... wasn't it Detroit or something?"

"I don't give a rat's ass 'bout where that turkey came from, the important thing is he was on that plane."

"And someone must've picked him up," Hutch added, the familiar routine of case-working easing his over-nervous mind.

"Right. And the guys who'd pick up a LeRoy Dushku-"

"-are the guys we usually know," Hutch concluded with an agreeing nod. "It's a long shot, but it's possible."

"Long shot? I'd say it's a straight giver. Whatever little punk waited for Dushku to arrive with that plane saw us in the hallway, drew the wrong conclusions and shot at us."

"Why'd he do that? We hadn't even seen him."

Starsky shrugged, excited. "Gee, why do people do stupid things, Hutch? Course they're dumb. Maybe the guy was high or somethin'."

"Hmkay. So-what're we gonna do now?"

Thinking, Starsky chew on his lower lip, before answering with a doubtful look, "Huggy?"

"Huggy," Hutch nodded, already standing, grabbing his jacket off his chair.

Starsky's phone rang. Momentarily tangled in the sleeves of his jacket, the curly haired man gestured for his partner to pick up the phone.

Rolling his eyes, Hutch complied. "Yeah, this is Detective Starsky's desk, wha... Oh." The playful expression vanished from his face. "Yes. Sure. Thanks. Hey buddy," he called after Starsky, as he hang up, "that was the morgue. They're done with the autopsy." Starsky nodded curtly, the glass door to the hallway falling close behind him.

"Uhm. Starsk!" Coming after him, Hutch stopped him gently, placing a hand on his shoulder. "They say you can... go down there any time now. They need a signature so you can get her to an... underta-"

"They need my signature?" Starsky interrupted him quietly. He hadnt looked up at his friend, yet hadn't shrugged off his hand, either.

Surprised at the question, Hutch stammered, "Uh... Yeah, well... They need somebody's signature, I guess. It's just that they're sorta... crowded down there and..." As a sudden thought hit him, he bent in closer, lowering his voice. "Y-you WANT to go see your mother, don't you?"

A nervous grin flickered over the strained features. It was awfully hard to look on the control they were forced into place with, Hutch thought.

"You make it sound like I'm gonna visi..." Starsky replied hoarsely, but let the sentence fade, realizing the harshness it contained. His ever outbursting black humor started to bother him, he decided. More so, because it visibly bothered Hutch. Could the man look more appalled?!

"Honest, Hutch, I... I don't think I want to go down there and... It's not really HER anymore, anyway, you know," he offered with a wry smile, seeking understanding.

The blond stared. Not understanding. Of course he'd never been in that situation, yet he just knew he'd always want to see a beloved one he'd just lost. He'd always want to say goodbye.

"I really think you should go, Starsk," he voiced his thoughts.

"No," Starsky replied with a soft shake of his head, his eyes pleading with Hutch. "No, I... I can't, Hutch. I just can't." Biting his lip, he thought for a second, then looked into his best friend's eyes once more, almost fearfully as if dreading to not find what he was looking for.

"You do it, hm? Okay?"

"Starsk, no, that's-"

"Hutch, please. Please."

There wasn't a single thing Hutch could refuse his friend when he looked at him like that. And he knew it. They both did.

"Okay," he sighed. "I'll do it."

"Thanks, man," Starsky grinned, visibly relieved, and squeezed Hutchs arm. "You're beautiful. Meet you at Huggy's."

"Starsky," Hutchs voice held him back. The curly haired man turned, raising his brows questioningly.

"C'mere," Hutch said softly.

"Hutch-"

"Come here."

Sighing under his breath, the smaller man trotted back to his friend, looking like a kid awaiting a lecture, an expression that surprised Hutch, even hurt a little.

"Hey," he said, frowning, "come on, look at me."

Hesitantly, Starsky obeyed. Again, the blond thought he saw fear in the midnight blues. Fear of--something.

"I'm here, buddy," he said clearly, looking straight into Starsky's eyes. "You know that, right? I'm here. Always."

Surprised crossed Starsky's eyes, then a tiny smile twisted at the corners of his mouth. No reply would come past the lump in his throat, though.

"Just wanted to tell you that," Hutch said, smiling ever so lightly, before he turned to head for the morgue. "See you at Huggy's."

 

****

 

Even the loud, violent way death had chosen to sneak itself onto Rachel Starsky's face hadn't manage to take the beauty that'd always been sparkling through the exhaustion, the everyday struggles. The smooth lines of her mouth, her nose, were uncharacteristically slack, trying to give the appearance of sleep where no dreams would reach her.

Hutch had never seen her sleep, he realized. He'd always seen an energetic, almost nervous small woman, her ever-excited outfit a constant reminder of his friend. Maybe that'd been what had drawn him to her in the first place.

Though at times it seemed that Dave Starsky couldn't differ more from his mother, and apart from the bright, violet eyes they didn't have much in common physically, the openly displayed will to take on life with everything it had to give had a clear inheritance in the family.

But now those sparkling blue eyes had closed forever. The sudden realization wrenching at the quiet visitor's heart.

He'd signed the papers like his friend had asked him to, and after a moment of hesitation had decided to say his goodbyes then. He'd willingly been left alone in the cold, white room, the pathologist leaving with a parting squeeze to his shoulder.

Before that gesture, Hutch had been able to manage with his usual calmness. Sign the papers, say goodbye, leave. No big deal.

But that squeeze, the tiny, everyday gesture of comfort, was now working its way up his throat, forming itself to a huge lump in there. Why would anyone want to comfort HIM here? It wasnt like HE'd lost someone, now, was it?

Then why the hell could he feel the moisture starting in his eyes?

'Pull yourself together, Ken! You dont want Rachel to see you cry here, huh?!'

"H-hey Rachel," he said, surprised at how loud his soft whisper echoed through the room. His own voice so quivering, unnaturally high-pitched by pressing tears. He cleared his throat. "Uhm... 's me, Ken. I..."

A tear slid away from lashes that tried to push it back. Startled, he quickly wiped it away.

"I just wanted to say... Uh..." What was wrong with him?! It wasn't like he'd never seen a dead person before, was it? He knew this wasn't Rachel, this was only his own need to talk to the long gone, to voice his emotions. Yet--somehow it was different from all the times before. He couldn't seem to stop the tears from falling.

"S-Starsk... uhm... Dave's gonna stop by la..."

'Are you lying to the DEAD here, Hutchie?'

"I-I mean, he's..." His voice broke, badly, and he covered his eyes. "God, Rache, I don't know if I can do this. I-I don't know if I can get him through this, I... I'll try, b-but..." He was rambling, but he didn't care. "I don't know what to do. I," he added with a light laugh through finally accepted tears, "I really could use some help here, y'know?"

How much he longed for the woman's voice to stroke his ears, her laughter to fill a room, her eyes to open.

The past day seemed to crash down on him now that he was alone, unobserved. He'd been so busy taking care of Starsky, being concerned ABOUT Starsky he hadn't had the chance to really let the information sink in yet.

Rachel was gone. Rachel would never ever return.

A scene, etched by the years at the corners, started to replay itself before his inner eye. "Here, she wants to talk to you."

Once more, he saw a considerably younger Ken Hutchinson look up at his excited room-mate at the academy. "M-me? Bu-"

"Yeah, here he is, Mom," Starskyd said and handed him the phone with an encouraging grin.

"H-hi, uh, Mrs. Star-"

"What's this about you not wanting to come for Thanksgiving?!" That'd been the first words he'd ever heard the woman utter.

"I-I just... I don't want to be a bother."

"Oh, Pooh," two Starsky-voices had cut further explanations off. A pillow had landed at the back of Ken's head. The happy confusion he'd come to approve over the months he'd known David Starsky by then had once more taken over. He'd found it incredible how... at ease he felt around the smaller man. And obviously with his mother it'd be no difference. The woman had never met him before, yet her son's suggestion was enough to invite him for Thanksgiving.

"Uhm, uh, yeah, well... Pooh?"

"Mom," Starskys voice had called out from behind him as his friend had bend over his shoulder, "tell him he HAS to come! Every year I bore myself to death over there with you guys, and now that I've GOT the chance to bri-"

"She says to shut up, Starsk," Ken had grinned at him, dragging the phone a little further away. The easy banter he'd developed with the younger Starsky had instantly found its way into his conversations with Rachel too.

"What?" he'd asked at a question, then bowed his head a little as he'd had to answer it with, "No. They're away over the holidays. I... Well, actually I don't know where. No, they... Oh, it's not that bad, I'll know when I get the postcard," he'd laughed.

Rachel hadn't. Rachel had, in a voice none could have resisted, ordered him to come to New York. And so he had.

'I shouldn't be here,' he thought now, so many years later, so far away from where he'd first met her. 'Starsky should be here.'

A guilty feeling started to gnaw at his stomach, though he knew it wasnt his fault that he wasnt the one shed--expected. The one she needed to be here.

Itd been the first time he'd seen Starsky refuse his mother anything, he realized. The easy, caring relationship the two had shared had never ceased to amaze him. Jealousy rose at first, but after he'd been more or less adopted, drawn into the family, that had vanished.

And now here he was, the adopted part, the outsider, saying the goodbyes Starsky couldn't bear to say.

"This is all wrong," he told Rachel, feeling as though he heard her answer. It'd be an excited, fierce nod, sped by anger, and then she'd have called her son to talk some sense into him. They'd traveled that road before, more than once. After Terry's death, after the ordeal with Simon Marcus, after so many shaking events.

They'd made for a good team, Hutch though with a warm smile, the tears now drying on his face.

"Hey, tell you what," he whispered, the confidence Rachel Starsky had always been able to place in him starting to show like a cure to some unknown disease, "I'll take care of it. We're gonna make it. Promise. If not," he added with an affectionate laugh, recalling something shed once said to him, "you can kick my butt, 'kay?"
Itd been on one of the several occasions she'd called him after having been told something by her son--that surely had been accompanied by a "But, hey, don't tell Hutch I told you that, huh?", Starskys secret code for seeking his mother's help.

"Ken," Hutch could still hear her voice in his ears, "don't you let this get you down, ya hear me?"

"It's okay, Rache, hon-"

"No, it's NOT okay! Your promotion's a GREAT thing, and if they don't see that, they're..." She'd had to restrain herself from insulting his parents.

Not that'd he'd really have minded, though.

"Just don't let this get you down," she had repeated in her firm, yet so gentle voice. "Or I'll come by and kick your butt."

Brushing the tears off his face, Hutch slowly approached the table the body lay on. "Thank you," he whispered, bent down and placed a light kiss on her forehead. "Thank you. For everything."

He turned and left.

 

****

 

Aspirins didn't help shit. Not that he hadn't known that before, but it never ceased to annoy him every time he took them. Usually after having been coaxed to do so by Hutch. For being such a health nut freak, his partner sure had a thing for aspirin, Starsky thought. He'd never understood, why. Aspirin didn't help shit.

In fact, he'd found them to INCREASE his headache as he drove down the quiet streets of the suburb CR had sent him to. It'd turned out that the car he'd seen at the airport had been called in stolen the same morning.

The owner, an elderly man whose retirement had come as a relaxing vacation, considering his large house, complete with swimming-pool, had described the thief as a young, "really sorta nervous" man--'High-doped,' Starsky had translated the non-cop-words--and after his precise statement, had offered the pale young detective an aspirin with a glass of water.

"Are you feeling okay, officer? No offence, but you look beat."

"Yeah, 'm alright," Starsky had smiled friendly. "Thanks."

Yet, he'd never found himself able to resist elderly people's charms and pleas, so he'd accepted the aspirin, the glass of water, the advise of "going home and getting some shut-eye now, huh?" and the warm goodbye, before dragging himself back to his car, exhausted; spent.

Checking his watch, he found that more time than he'd thought had passed with him listening to the old man's story of his car.

'Hutchs probably already done in... Well, done--there.'

Without looking, he passed the road back into the city.

'But... who knows how long these... things take? Are you up to waiting 'round at Huggys, Davy? No, definitely not. Sooo, what's it gonna be 'til it's time?'

He was lying to himself. He knew that. Yet, over the years, he'd gotten pretty good at that. Very convincing.

Sure, Hutch wasn't done THERE yet, and he didn't want to wait at Huggy's alone. Ergo--he had to spend some time elsewhere. Right? Right. Naturally.

"The Office," he read a colorful sign at the side of the road, a small diner appearing in the distance. He grinned. "That's neat. 'Hey honey, where've you been all day?'-'Office.'"

Chuckling, he pulled over.

 

****

 

"Hey Hug."

"Hutch."

Surprised at the urgent tone of voice his friend greeted him with, Hutch raised his brows as he eased himself onto a bar stool. At this time of the day, the place was nearly empty, merely a few figures who looked like they'd spent the night in there sat slumped on one table in the background.

"What gives?" the blond asked.

"Is this I hear 'bout Starsky's mother true?" the lean man asked, genuine concern clearly evidence in his melodic voice.

"Yes," Hutch answered quietly.

"Aw, man, that sucks."

"Yep," Hutch smiled, accepting the cup of coffee his friend placed before him with a grateful nod. "That sucks."

"Curly top home then?"

"No, he's... somewhere, checking on..." Suddenly frowning, Hutch looked over his shoulder. "He's not been here yet? 'Kay," he added quickly, "dumb question. Still..."

He checked his watch. He'd taken quite some time with Rachel. How long could it take to check out CR's results and drive to Huggy's? Not this long, right?
'Hm. Maybe CR found something. Stop worrying, Hutchinson, it's not like he's gonna do something... stupid. Right? Right.'

"He coping?" Huggys voice broke through his thoughts, and he looked up, thought, shrugged.

"It just happened yesterday, so..." But as he recognized his own emotions in the dark eyes, he sighed, his gaze dropping. "I don't know, Hug. I don't know."

Silence settled for a bit, before Hutch cleared his throat as if wanting to change a topic they hadnt voiced in spoken out words.

"You hear something about LeRoy Dushku being back in California?"

"Yeah," Huggy answered, frowning. "You figure Dush's got somethin' to do with..." Unsure how to finish, he let the sentence trail off.

Hutch tilted his head to one side. "Possible. Why, you heard something?"

"Actually I did, yep. Word on the street is Vic Monty called him back from New York coupla days ago."

"New York, huh? I thought it was Detroit," Hutch muttered to himself, before looking back at Huggy again. "He's back in the business then?"

The other man shrugged. "Seems so. Word is Monty promoted him to delivery."

The last word was emphasized like it was a high top position in a firm or something. The mocking expression was replaced by another thought as Huggy snapped his fingers, saying, "Speaking of Vic Monty--you know that kid Todd... uh... Something?"

"Todd Something," Hutch repeated as if searching his memory for the very precise name. "Doesn't ring a bell. We bust him? You know I only remember guys I busted."

Throwing him a 'ha, ha'-glance, Huggy explained, "In fact you DID bust him, Blondie. Three times, I think."

"Oh, THAT Todd Something," Hutch grinned. "Yeah, I know him. Why, he up to something?"

"Hey, I'm no psychic, but every time kid came in here in the last few days, he's been waving hundreds 'round like a flag. Said he's getting rich now, y'know. New job."

"New job," Hutch repeated slowly. "Promotion season at Monty's, huh?"

Huggy shrugged. "I'm not saying that."

"I know," Hutch smiled. "Thanks, Hug." Again, he checked his watch, and sighed.

"You want 'nother coffee?"

Thinking a beer'd be more like it, Hutch nodded and settled for more waiting.

 

****

 

Five coffees, two beers and a thousand dreadful thoughts later, Hutch parked at Starsky's apartment, slamming the door of the LTD shut with so much force that the battered car protested loudly, throwing the door open again as if by its own will.

For once losing his patience with his old vehicle, Hutch kicked the door shut angrily, wheeled around and stormed inside the apartment. He didn't expect Starsky to be in, as, again, the Torino wasn't there.

Looking around, he quickly realized that his partner hadn't been home all day. The place looked exactly like he, Hutch, had left it that morning. Clothes, he'd recklessly thrown out of the way when digging for some clothes to borrow, still lay on the ground, and he ruefully picked them up, carrying them to the kitchen, where there were still the spots of spilled coffee and his half-full coffee cup.

Staring at the breakfast mess, then back at the clothes in his hands, Hutch sighed, turning to carry the stuff into the bedroom.

'You're a slob, Kenny, you know that? Starsky sees this, he's never gonna let you hear the end of this.'

Secretly glad hed found something to occupy himself, he returned to the kitchen to clean up there.

 

****

 

Those outside streets really needed some serious work-overs. For example, they tilt. They constantly seemed to tilt to the left, and Starsky was having a hard time to keep the Torino on the right side of the road.

The fact that he didn't quite manage was lost on him.

The setting sun sending annoying sparkles infiltrating the air in the car, the driver squinted his eyes, trying to see better. A sudden thought hitting him, he wearily lifted his arm to check his watch, but what with the shaking and rattling of the car, he couldn't quite make out the numbers.

Shrugging to himself, he squinted into the red big sun, deciding it probably was--late.

'Hutch would know,' he thought with a giggle. 'Hutch can tell the time by just staring into a cloud for a minute. Gotta ask Hutch what time it is when I'm back in the city.'

Plan made, he stepped down on the gas pedal a little harder. A truck drove by, seemingly out of nowhere, hooting loudly.

"Aw, fuck you!" Starsky yelled, leaning out of his window. "What're ya, drunk?! Jeez!"

Shaking his head at the rudeness of some drivers, he drew his head back in and corrected the position of the Torino. "Oops. Wrong side." Again, he giggled, peeking back over his shoulder at the vanishing truck. "Sorry, pal. My fault."

Really trying to focus now, he wondered if maybe HE was drunk. But--nooooo, he'd just had... Well, not enough, he decided, physically winking at the ridiculous idea. Besides, he'd never drive drunk, right? Right.

To be on the safe side, though, he slowed down a little. You couldn't speed up on streets tilting like these, anyway.

 

****

 

Hutch jerked awake at a sudden slamming sound that cut through his dream like a knife.

"Huh?! Wha-Ow!" Frantically throwing his head up from the couch to look over his shoulder, he lost his balance and crashed to the ground with a low thud.

"Oh, hey, Hutch! Did I wake ya? Sorry."

As sleep had been pressed out of him like the air after a blow, Hutch blinked to fight overwhelming drowsiness as he dragged himself to his hands and feet, then slowly all the way up to a standing position.

"S-Starsk?"

"No," a giggled voice replied from behind him, footsteps indicating his partner's way first to the kitchen then out of there again, "Tinkerbell. Course me, dummy. I live here."

"Wh-where've you been?" Hutch asked, turning on his heels to follow his friend's too quick movements. "Starsk?"

"Yep, in here," Starsky answered from the bathroom, where he was busy rummaging through the medicine cabinet. Small bottles fell to the ground, spilling their contents. Not noticing, Starsky stepped in half of the mess.

His eyes so wide it started to hurt, Hutch let his gaze wander from his partner's scrambling hands to the sink. An open beer bottle stood in it, delicately balanced in the middle.

"Wh-what're you doing?" the blond asked, his voice as blank as his eyes.

"Huh?" Starsky muttered, casting his friend a brief look. More bottles fell, crashing into the sink. "Oops. Wha' was tha' ?"

"You're drunk," Hutch stated. Slowly, but steadily, as the drowsy feeling vanished, suppressed anger clawed its way free to the surface. In the absence of a way to let it out, he placed his hands on his hips, drawing in a deep breath.

Starsky, though, frowned as if thinking about that, pursing his lower lip like a little boy, then nodded.

"Yep. You know wha' , Blondie, yer right." Snapping his head back forward again, he exclaimed a triumphant "Ta Daaa" and snatched one of the bottles that still stood in the cabinet out of it to hold it for Hutch to see. "BUT I've got somethin' 'gainst it." Not waiting for Hutch's answer, he started fighting the bottles lid.

Hutch felt like chocking on his own fury. His gaze wandered over his shoulder, then back, his eyes darkening by the second. "Did you DRIVE home?"

"No, fle-"

"Starsky!" Hutch snapped. "Did you drive home?!"

A sudden wave of embarrassment crossing the other's face, he bowed his head, nodding. His fingers finally getting the lid off, he let a few pills fall in his open palm and, trying to put the bottle into the cabinet again, sent it flying into the sink with the others.

"I wanted to take a cab," he started to explain while grabbing the beer, obviously getting ready to swallow whatever hed found. "But, I-"

"Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! What the hell are you doing?!" Hutch called out and grabbed his friend's hand, successfully unclenching the trembling fingers from the bottle. "Give me that!"

At the startled look he received for his action, he sighed, pinched the back of his nose in a desperate gesture. "Jeez, Starsk, you're loaded."

"I wanted to take those," Starsky said as if Hutch had missed to understand the procedure. "My head hurts."

"Yeah, you take those with the beer, your head's gonna hurt worse, buddy, believe me. Now, c'mon, throw those away, and we'll get you settled." Despite the fury that gnawed at his mind, the blond managed to keep his voice calm, almost soothing. There was no use in lecturing a drunken Starsky, anyway.

What he'd failed to recall, though, was that there was no use in arguing with a drunken Starsky, either.

"I don't wanna settle," the smaller man said, disdainful of the idea. "I wanna take those. My head hurts." Clumsily, he tried to reach up where Hutch held the bottle away from him, but lost his balance in the mess of slippery pills he'd created earlier.

"Starsk!"

Before Hutch could reach out, the drunken man completely lost his footing, crashing to the ground. After a first startled second, he blinked, looked up at his friend and started to laugh.

Hutch rolled his eyes, eerily sad at the sight, all anger vanished in the air. "Come on, buddy," he said quietly, put the bottle away and crouched down to help Starsky up again. "You're going to bed. C'mon. We're gonna talk about all of this later, alright?"

Starsky giggled as he found it difficult to keep standing. "The room's spinnin'."

"Yep," Hutch nodded, while placing an arm around the smaller man's waist, "I bet it is. And now come on, Starsk, come... Nope," he swatted away Starsky's hand that reached for the sink, "no pills for you tonight. Tomorrow. I promise. Tomorrow you can take all the aspirin you want."

"Hm," Starsky thought about it. "'Kay."

Happy, he leaned against his friend and let himself be guided out and into the bedroom. There, Hutch eased him down onto the edge of his bed, going into partner routine as he started to untie the sneakers, while all the time talking to Starsky in his special soothing 'talk-to-confused-Starsky'-voice. "I waited for you at Huggy's, y'know."

"Why?"

Looking up, Hutch smiled, winked. "Never mind. You feelin' a little sleepy now?"

"Hm," Starsky shrugged. "The room's spinnin'. You make it stop?"

"I'll try," Hutch promised with a warm smile and carefully pushed his friend down onto the mattress. "Close your eyes, buddy."

"Hm," Starsky said again, his glassy eyes fluttering close already. "Hey Hutch?"

"Yes?" Hutch asked, turning to look at him from where hed gathered a blanket from the end of the bed.

"You very mad?"

"Furious," Hutch replied softly, brushing away a stray curl from his friend's forehead. "And now sleep."

"Love ya," Starsk muttered and fell asleep.

Hutch sighed, carefully dragging the cover over the sleeping form. "Love ya too, buddy. But I'm STILL furious. And now sleep."

Starsky hadnt even heard it. He was dead to the world.

 

****

 

If there was one thing in the world that he hated more than Starsky's car, it was Starsky's couch.

His back was killing him. Not that he could have slept, anyway, what with his partner's Z's waving from the bedroom like comic-signs and his thoughts racing in circles.

He'd seen Starsky drunk before, even this drunk, desperately drunk, beyond fun. Beyond a good time. But he'd never ever seen his friend DRIVE drunk. Not to mention on the verge of OD'ing himself with half a bottle of pain killers on top of alcohol.

That was serious stuff, and of course at the moment, Starsky was entitled to screw up a little, but still--it scared Hutch. Like it always scared him when he couldn't READ his partner, couldn't DO something, just--babble nonsense. They'd TALK about this in the morning, his own voice echoed through his mind. Yeah, sure. He could vividly imagine that conversation. He'd say his say, and Starsky would cradle his exploding head and nod. They'd been down that road before.

'Well, what DO you want, Kenny? Him breaking down completely? So you can be there for him? Mother hen him? That what you want?'

He thought about that and finally found himself whispering in the darkness, "Yes. That's what I want."

As if on cue, Starsky whimpered loudly in his sleep, a wail that rose to a keening cry.

Hutch was off the couch like a shot, stumbling over his own feet on the way to the bedroom.

"Buddy. Buddy, hey," he said softly as he saw Starsky was sitting up, having woken himself with his own cry, searching, panicked eyes darting around the darkness frantically.

"Starsky, it's okay." Careful as to not startle his friend, Hutch sat down on the bed next to him, restraining himself from touching him before Starsky had snapped out of it enough to acknowledge his presence.

"Hutch." It was a strained whimper, still slurred from the alcohol.

"Right here, buddy. It's okay I'm right here," Hutch answered it and reached out for his friend, flinching when Starsky jerked back.

"No! Hutch. Want Hu-"

"Hey, I'm HERE," Hutch interrupted him with urgency coloring his gentle voice, and cupped Starsky's chin to make him look in his eyes. "See? Me. Here. It's okay, buddy, it was only a dream."

Confused eyes searched his. "Hutch?"

"Yes," Hutch smiled, "yes. Me. 'Sokay now, Star-" The rest of the sentence was cut off by the smaller man throwing his arms around Hutch's shoulders, dragging him into a tight hug. As his friend slowly overcame his surprise, and returned the embrace, he started to sob uncontrollably.

He knew it was probably the alcohol, but still the sudden force of the reaction frightened Hutch. Swallowing past a quickly building lump in his throat, he drew his partner in a little tighter, constantly stroking his back, his hair, rocking him like a child.

"Shhh, 'salright, Starsky. It's okay. Alright, babe, let it out. 'Sokay, I'm here. I'm here."

They sat like that for what felt like an eternity, Hutch's t-shirt slowly soaking through with tears. Finally, when the blond had already assumed his spent partner to have fallen asleep in his arms, Starsky's tiny, quivering voice whispered into his ear, "I'm sorry, Hutch. I'm *sniff* sorry."

Sensing his friend's distress, Hutch bit back his reply, just keeping up his soothing gestures and occasional mumbles.

Indeed, there was more to come. "I... I know you're mad. Y-you oughta be, I mean, I... Hey," pushing away weakly, Starsky sniffed again as if bracing himself and peeked up into Hutch's confused eyes, "y-you can yell at me now, y'know. I-I know you want to. And I deserve it. So--go on."

Despite his heart breaking, Hutch found himself smiling affectionately as he drew his partner into his arms again. "Let's just skip the yelling part, okay?"

"But-"

"You're still drunk, buddy."

It'd been said comfortingly, half-joking, but Starsky sobbed once more, sensibly ashamed of himself.

"Hey, buddy, I didn't mean to-" Hutch started quickly, but yet another weak shove cut him off.

Sliding away from his friend, Starsky tried to regain his composure, wiping his eyes with trembling hands. "I'm sorry for bein' so... so stupid, Hutch. I... 'Snot gonna happen 'gain. I promise. It's just..."

"Shhh," Hutch soothed. "I understand."

"No, really," Starsky replied, his voice urgent. "I mean it. I'm sorry I lost it like that. I'm sorry you thought you had... had to stay here. I'm okay now, honest. Just go home, huh? Your back must be killing you, sleeping on that couch all the time."

'Right now,' Hutch thought, 'it's not my BACK killing me...'

Still, he forced himself to remain calm, pushing his heartache aside. "Youre rambling," he informed his friend softly, and stood up from the bed, thereby allowing Starsky to lie back down again. "Try to get some more sleep, hm? Im not going anywhere."

Ignoring his partner's doubtful glance, he tucked him in carefully, smoothing the blanket with one hand before stepping away from the bed.

Starsky was still out of it, that much was obvious. Whatever he'd say would meet deaf ears, anyway. Better let him get some much needed rest before dealing with things.

"Hutch-"

"Shht," the blond ordered, raising the Hutchinson Finger. "You sleep now. I'll be outside."

Swallowing a protest, Starsky gave a submitting nod and rolled over onto his side, curling up.

Hutch sighed and turned for the couch.

 

****

 

Hutch wouldn't have minded some aspirin for himself when he sat in Starsky's kitchen the next morning, nursing a much needed cup of coffee.

He'd called Dobey to inform the captain he and Starsky wouldn't be in that day, and his superior had been more than understanding.

That'd been some while ago, and apart from an occasional moan, Starsky had slept fitfully and quiet, leaving Hutch to brace himself for what he knew would have to follow once the curly haired detective would get out of bed.

'Whatever he'll say,' he decided, wiping his face with his free hand as if to re-arrange his strained features, 'I'm not gonna let him off the hook. Not this time, buddy.'

"Hey," a soft call from the door snapped his head up, startled.

Starsky leaned against the doorframe, wearing the shorts and t-shirt he'd slept in, and rubbed his arms as if cold. "What time is it?"

Hutch shrugged. "Afternoon." He kept his voice as low as possible, seemingly afraid one wrong word might crumble the fragile looking form. Starsky was deathly pale; his puffy red eyes, swollen from the crying and booze, stood out against ashen skin.

As if he'd read Hutchs thoughts, Starsky arched his lips to a slight smile as he looked down at himself, then frowned back at his friend. "Why didn't you wake me?"

Hutch shot him a glance, but saved the breath. Starsky knew perfectly well how stupid that had sounded.

Yet he wouldnt give up this easily. "What about work?"

"No work for you today," Hutch answered and stood up, approaching his partner. To his utter surprise, Starsky backed away.

"I'm gonna take a shower."

"Yeah," the blond nodded after a second. "Uh... okay. I'll make breakfast. What d'you want?"

"Coffee," came the reply from the bedroom.

Hutch rolled his eyes. "And?"

"More coffee." With that, the door to the shower fell closed, the sound of the water roaring filling the apartment.

Standing unmoving for a moment to gather his wits, Hutch finally turned to prepare a 'real' breakfast, partly to keep himself from acknowledging the dread he felt steadily rising.

"Uh, this is gonna be so much fun," he muttered under his breath, while searching his friend's cupboards for a pan.

When Starsky returned from the bedroom, dressed in his usual jeans and shirt, Hutch had managed to not only overcrowd the table with food, but also created a major mess out of the whole room. Egg shells covered what was visible of the breakfast bar through the spots of spilled coffee, and seemingly each and every bottle of everything you could have in bottles stood openly around. The only neat place in the room was a small spot on the bar Hutch had used to pile the bottle lids into a tidy heap.

Starsky whistled approvingly. "You're amazing, Hutch. A slob, but amazing."

"Im gonna clean it all up again," the blond offered with a smile while gesturing for his friend to sit down at the table.

Nodding a 'yeah, suuure', Starsky shuffled over to the table and sat down, instantly reaching for the cup of coffee Hutch had already placed there for him.

"So," the taller man started uneasily after a moment, seemingly busy with shoving scrambled eggs around in a pan, "how're you feeling?"

"Oh," Starsky shrugged casually, "you know how it is. Head's throbbing like hell, stomach's doing summersaults, all in all--I feel like dying, but, hey, thanks for asking."

"At least you're not grumpy," Hutch offered dryly, somewhat glad to join in the easy banter. It was a good start. "Care for some scrambled eggs?" he asked, holding up the pan. "Only slightly burned."

"Uhm... no thanks," Starsky replied with a wry smile. "I'll settle for the un-burned coffee."

The lightness was fading fast. "Starsk, you need to eat."

"You're tellin' me. But not right now, 'kay?"

"You haven't eaten all day yesterday."

"How'd you know?" the smaller man asked innocently, though exasperation was etching his voice. He wasn't up to this. He was beat and tired and definitely not up to this.

A fact Hutch knew perfectly how to use. "I know YOU," he replied matter-of-factly and, ignoring the protesting glances, placed a plate in front of his friend. "Eat."

"Hutch, I really appreciate your caring, but if I eat, we'll see it all again soon, so what's the point of it?"

"Humor me," Hutch said simply, putting a fork he'd grabbed from somewhere into Starsky's hand. "There. Start."

Starsky sighed, but submitted and started to shove pieces of eggs from one side of his plate to the other.

Suppressing the urge to first yell at his friend and then forcefully spoon-feed him, Hutch watched for a few seconds, then sat down across from Starsky, rubbing his eyes. "Buddy, we need to talk."

Surprised, he saw the curly head drop a little as though its owner had expected this to come. Biting his lip, Starsky sat absolutely still, once more looking like a kid awaiting a lecture. It was an expression Hutch had come to loathe over the past day.

Since he'd expected his friend to protest or start defending himself--anything--Hutch had no further plans as to what to say. "Starsk..." His voice trailed off. Unnerved, he bent a little closer over the table, the situation steadily starting to distress him. "C'mon, look at me."

Silently, Starsky obeyed. The expression on the pale face was one so miserable Hutch found himself tempted to just let it go at once and drag the smaller man into a bear hug. He sighed again, a feeble gesture to keep control.

"We need to talk about what happened yesterday."

"I'm sorry," Starsky offered immediately, his brows arching like a sick puppy's.

Hutch looked away. He couldn't say what he needed to say with his partner looking like this. "I don't want you to apologize," he said. "I want you to explain to me what happened."

"I screwed up, I know."

Hutch opened his mouth to interrupt him again, but thought differently.

"After CR I drove to the car's owner and..." A shrug. "I think I just forgot I was supposed to meet ya." He grimaced at himself, looking down again.

Letting a moment pass, Hutch watched the eggs grow cold, waiting for more. "Where d'you drive to?" he finally asked.

A wry grin rushed over the other mans lips. "Office."

"Huh?"

"That's some place out there in Rocky Beach."

Hutch frowned. "What d'you do in Rocky Beach?"

"Car owner," Starsky replied. "Told ya."

"So you got the man's statement, found a bar on the way, got loaded and thought it wise to drive back to the city from ROCKY BEACH?!"

As the blond's voice had risen considerably, Starsky flinched, bowing his head even more. "'Msorry," he mumbled.

Hutch drew in a deep breath, fighting for control. He hadn't meant to yell at his friend. The man was confused, scared, everyone could see that, yet the mere thought of what could have happened was enough to send him over the edge of his patience.

"I know," he finally said, exasperated. "I know you're sorry. It's okay. I told you, you don't need to apologize, I just want to understand what drove you to do that."

A desperate little sigh escaped Starsky, but he quickly locked all signs of protest away, shutting Hutch out with an almost visible gesture. "I don't understand it myself, Hutch, okay? Guess I was just... I don't know, confused, whatever. But it's not gonna happen again, I promise. Now just--let it be, okay? Please?" He looked up, pleading with his partner.

The urge to yell was getting harder to fight with each passing second. Hutch wanted to just grab his friend, rattle him, hug him, let him break down at his shoulder, just like the night before. 'Can you only do that when youre drunk? What happened? Why're you shutting me out like this? I'm HERE, Starsk. See me.'

"I cant just let it be," he said, letting the despair shine through his voice. "I care about you, don't you know that? You hurt. I wanna BE there."

For a moment, not more than a split second, it looked like he'd succeed. There was something--scrambling at the firm expression in the midnight blues. Something that wanted to come out. Something that wanted to be seen.

But whatever held it back was stronger.

"You're here," Starsky said with a shy smile, his voice not entirely steady, but enough to convince Hutch that yet another chance had passed. Another time, hed failed. "I know that. And I thank you for that. And I'm sorry for doing something stupid. And," he added, holding up a hand to keep his friend from interrupting him, "I WANT to apologize. I know I must've scared you to death, so--sorry. Okay? Just sorry. And now let's go to work. 'Nough soapy scenes for one morning."

Hutch watched him, unbelieving. Who the hell was this guy?! "Starsk, you're not going to work today."

"C'mon, Hutch." The darker mans voice was completely calm, not a hint of the usual ever-pressing temper in it. He sounded even--cheery. Ready to take on another day.

Another day of pain too much to bear in the open.

"We've got a case to solve. Hey, by the way," he was already half-way through the living room, Hutch still staring after him from the kitchen table, "what did Huggy have ta say?"

Not listening, the blond's gaze wandered to the untouched breakfast.

"Hutch? Ya comin'?"

"Yeah," he hesitantly answered, pushing himself to his feet. "Yeah, I'm coming."

'Just a little more time. That's what he needs. Give him more time. Be there. Just--be there.'

Yet he couldn't seem to shake off the dread flowing through him as he followed his partner to the Torino. "Starsk-we're taking my car."

Starsky turned, frowned, then shrugged. "Okay."

Hutch froze in his tracks. "You're not going to fight me over it?"

For a split second, Starsky stopped, visibly confused, not sure as how to react. Fear was starting to show until finally, Hutch released him, brushing his arm as he walked by. "Get in, buddy. Just get in the car."

Overwhelming relief broke free on the exhausted features. Nodding gratefully, Starsky complied.

'We're not through, yet, partner. Not through.'

 

****

 

After having spent a whole day with Todd, the idiot, LeRoy Dushku was ready to kill. The news had brought the story about the airport shooting that evening.

"Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmyg-"

"Shut up, freak!!!" Dushku had cut off Todd's frantic ramblings, snatching the remote control out the shaking hands. "Not hit anyone, huh?! Everything's gonna turn out fine, huh?! Fuck. We're fucking screwed, boy! I'm gonna call Monty."

"No! Dush, c'mon, you can't tell Mon-"

"Hell I can't."

So it'd been agreed they'd wait a day to let things settle down a little before making their appearance at the Monty Residence. In secret code words, it'd also been settled that once they'd gotten there the other day, some would take care of the Toddy Prob.

The kid was a dead man. And he knew it, Dushku cold sense that. Yet--where could he flee to? It was probably easier to just pretend, get high, let things pass, block out the truth.

'Just keep it up,' Dushku thought as he saw Todd swallow a shiny white pill before starting the engine to drive them to the Monty Residence.

"Watch the street, Toddy," he teased, enjoying the fear that radiated from the shaking man.

"'Ey, no worries, man. I'm gonna watch your back, Dush. Huh? Huh?"

"Yep," the older man nodded coldly, a humorless grin snaking over his lips. "You do just that, kiddo. Just that."

 

****

 

Hutch was on the verge of breaking down. His back hurt, his head hurt, and on top of it all, he was driving the LTD with Starsky sitting next to him, HUMMING some damnable tune, seemingly as relaxed as he could possibly get without melting into the seat.

The unbearable eeriness of the situation was slowly but steadily getting to him. 'YOU're feeling down? How the hell you figure HE's feeling?!'

But THAT was the point exactly. He didn't know.

"You think old Vic's gonna talk to us?" Starsky's casual voice drew his attention to his right. "I mean, after all, he owes us, doesn't he?"

Hutch shrugged. "We'll see. Hey, you wanna stop over there for a coffee? We're in no hurry."

"Hutch, I'm NOT hungry. Save it." The light chide was accompanied by a playful slap onto the blond's arm.

Hutch could have screamed in frustration. His 'okay'-gesture came off rather curtly, sped up by anger, and he forced himself to ignore the flinch it caused.

"Hey, uhm, sor... Maybe later, huh?" Starsky stammered, grinning wryly. "When we're done there."

Though that offer, sounding like a submission, only added fuel to the blond's anger, he answered it with a light smile. "Okay. I'll hold you to it, though."

"I know," Starsky replied with a grin, but Hutch couldn't shake the feeling he'd heard dread underneath it.

They drove on in silence for some time.

"Hutch."

At the cop tone, Hutchs own work modus snapped on immediately. "Yeah, what?"

"That car."

Following his friend's gaze, Hutch saw a blue Sedan cross the main street before them. "That the car?" he asked, adrenalin building.

"Yes."

"Sure?"

"Yes."

He didn't need more assurance. Siren wailing, they sped up, racing over a red light. To their surprise, though, the race didn't last long. Pulling over in a one-way street, the Sedan stopped, waiting.

Confused, Hutch cast his partner a glance, raising his brows questioningly.

Starsky shrugged, drew his gun, unlocked the safety.

Slowly, carefully, they emerged from the LTD, every sense focused on the situation. Casually, they strolled closer, when suddenly, a shot penetrated the air.

Thrown to the ground by reflex, the detectives checked on each other--'Y'okay?'-'Yeah, you?'-'Yeah.'--and, guns drawn, inched closer to the car. Total silence had settled again.

Another checking glance, then Starsky, who had the driver's side covered, called out, "Police! Get out of the car! Now!"

None of them had expected the order to be complied, yet indeed the passenger door opened and LeRoy Dushku stepped out, slowly, his hands raised above his head, a smug grin on his face.

"Detectives. I'm glad to see you again. Hutchinson and... Something, isn't it?"

For once none for the wise-crack, Starsky throw open the driver's door, only to jump out of the way when Todd's bloodied body nearly hit his feet. "What the..."

"This man," Dushku explained quietly while Hutch checked him for weapons, "attacked me at the airport two days ago. I've been his captor until now. I'm so glad you came."

"Oh, I bet you are," Hutch nodded, keeping a rough hold onto the man pressed against the car.

"Believe it or not," Dushku smiled, only to be shoved again the hard metal even harder. "Easy, detective."

"Easy my ass!" Starsky called out from the other side, ready to reach out over the car's roof to grab the man, but couldnt get close enough due to Todd's body blocking the way. "You tell us what happened here right now, or so help me I'll-"

"Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah," Dushku chided, his arrogance tearing on Hutch's nerves. "Am I arrested, then read me my rights. If not, get me to the precinct so I can give a statement. Whatever choice you make, I'd highly appreciate it if you could keep your pitbull off me," he said to Hutch, who'd by now produced his cuffs.

"You are under arrest on the charge of murder of... uh, Todd... Well, that kid over there."

Dushku shrugged. "He blew himself."

"You have the right to remain silent and I'd highly appreciate it you would make use of that," Hutch continued as he cuffed the man more roughly than necessary and started to shove him over to the LTD. "If you REFUSE to make use of that right, you're gonna be sorry. Now get in there and stay put."

With that, he slammed that back door shut behind the man and turned, suddenly scared of the situation he'd have to deal with now.

Maybe he should just go back to reading rights.

But then he could hardly turn away from the sight that met his eyes as he approached the Sedan again. Starsky was crouched down next to Todd's still body, quietly looking directly into unnaturally wide, dead green eyes. His gun rested casually against his thigh.

Somehow he reminded Hutch of a kid studying a dead animal. Confronted with death for the first time. The interested, completely emotionless expression, the uncaring stare. He didn't make the slightest attempt at closing the dead man's eyes.

Hutch cleared his throat, stepping up behind him.

"That's him," Starsky said quietly, not looking up. "That's the guy who shot her."

"Yeah," Hutch breathed.

A pause. A tilt of the curly head. Slowly, he raised his gun, nudging a slack cheek with the barrel.

"Starsk."

Another nudge. Harder. "Funny, huh? How old you figure he was? Twenty?"

Not sure where they were heading here, Hutch frowned, and shrugged. "Guess so. Starsk, we need to call this in."

His partner didn't react. A third nudge. Almost a blow this time.

"Starsky."

"You know what's scary?"

'YES! You are!' "What?"

Blinking, Starsky looked up at Hutch for the first time, suddenly frowning as if he'd just snapped out of a trance. His gaze wandering back to the corpse, he pushed himself to his feet. "Nothin'." Without looking back, he shuffled away, gun still in hand. "Nothin'."

 

****

 

Hutch was pretty sure he couldve written down LeRoy Dusku's statement without the guy actually dictating it to him. Every once in a while he had to slow himself down, suddenly noticing he was a sentence or two ahead of the 'witness'.

Once they'd arrived at the precinct after having to wait for the unis to swamp the scene, Starsky had in a very weary, tired voice asked to be "excused", saying he didn't feel well. He'd even finally agreed on taking the days off Dobey offered him once more, but at Hutch's suggestion he'd give him a lift with the LTD, had refused. Said he needed some time alone. Pleaded with Hutch to just let him go, call a cab.

And so the blond had, unwillingly, but understanding. Hoping even. Maybe this whole nightmare was about to end now that they got the killer. It had worked before. Traumas ended this way, didn't they?

He called Starsky a couple of times, but his partner didn't pick up. 'Maybe he's out, walking. Or he's at the park, taking pictures.'

He sure wouldn't do anything stupid--again. Would he?

"Cap'n, uh..."

"Get out, Hutchinson. Someone else can do the statement."

"Thanks."

"Yeah. And Hutch?"

"Hm?"

Dobey looked at him from behind his desk, opened his mouth, then thought differently. "Just..." Shaking his head, he winked.

Understanding, Hutch nodded and left the office.

 

****

 

The Torino was parked in front of the place.

And though he didn't like to admit it to himself, that fact alone sent a wave of relief through Hutch as he pulled over next to his partner's car, emerging from the LTD slowly.

'See, Kenny? You're exaggerating. He's probably just... sleeping. Mourning. Finally. You're seeing things.'

Hesitantly, he approached the front door, stopping with hand on the knob. 'D'you know what you're doing, Hutch? You think it's wise to just burst into his... Oh, c'mon, this is Starsky.'

Decision made, he let himself in, carefully closing the door behind him after the first acknowledgement of silence. Nothing seemed particularly out of place, the blanket on the couch was neatly folded, his own clothes that he'd left at the apartment the day before on top of it.

'So far...'

It was then he registered the smell. The distinctive smell of booze. Not beer. Liquor. His face falling, he continued on his way to the bedroom. 'Aw shit, Starsk, not again.'

There was no Starsky in the bed, but an empty bottle of Jack Daniel's on the ruffled cushions, a small puddle underneath it, soaking the mattress. Next to the bed stood another bottle, Vodka this time, open, but seemingly untouched.

Hutch felt his chin drop and tried to swallow past his initial shock. For all the years he'd known Dave Starsky, the man had never been one for hard drinking.

"Starsky?" The quivery whisper went unanswered. Hutch cleared his throat, calling out louder the second time. "Starsk? It's me, Hutch."

Forcing himself to continue his search, though he wasn't sure if he really wanted to see what he'd surely find, he made his way over to the closed bathroom door, hesitating to knock, then just opened it slowly. He was met by resistance instantly as something on the floor kept the door from opening fully.

Someone.

"Oh God, Starsk."

Using more force, hating himself for maybe accidentally hurting his friend, Hutch pushed the door open enough for him to slip into the room and crouch down next to the crumbled man.

Starsky's eyes were closed, his pale features glistering with perspiration. It seemed as though he'd tried to make it to the toilet in time, hed passed out cold on the way.

His heart racing in starting panic, Hutch lightly touched the sweaty forehead, felt for a pulse on his friend's neck. It was there, rapid, shallow.

Never taking his hands off the trembling form, the blond looked around the room frantically. "What d'you take, Starsk? C'mon, I need some help here."

A slurry voice, muffled against the cold floor broke through his litany. "Hush?"

"Yes," Hutch exclaimed instantly, both surprised and overwhelmed with relief at hearing his name. "Yes, 'sme, Starsky. I'm here. Can you hear me? Starsky?"

"Cold," came the whimpered reply. A violent shudder proved the statement.

One hand resting on his partner's chest, Hutch struggled to get out his jacket. "Yeah, okay."

Once he'd managed, he covered Starsky with the soft material, his hand wandering up to brush through damp curls. "Starsk, what d'you take? You know that? Huh? Can you tell me?"

'Gotta call an ambulance,' he thought, yet he couldn't leave his friend, not for a second. "Buddy, I need to know what you've taken. Starsk."

"Sor... ry." A tiny sob escaped Starsky's lips. "'Msorry. Hutch?" Ever so briefly, his eyes fluttered open, searching for Hutch, but when they were met only by the white ground his face lay on, he closed them again. "Y-you... there?"

"Yeah! Yeah, I'm here, buddy. 'Sokay, well fix this. Everything's gonna be okay, just tell me what you've taken." He was begging now, fear edging his high-pitched voice.

"Bedroom," Starsky mumbled, his voice fading audibly. "Sorry..."

"Bedroom? It's in the bedroom?" His hands still intertwined in the material of Starsky's sleeve, Hutch scrambled to the door in his crouched position, looking over his shoulder desperately.

"Gonna have to leave you for a sec here, buddy. Be right back, you hear. Right back. Don't... don't go anywhere," he used their old running gag.

It went unheard.

The blond was stumbling over his own feet as he raced back to the bedroom, knocking over the vodka bottle, but not caring. His eyes searched frantically, until suddenly he saw it. Starsky's sleep medication. The one he used for his nightmare troubles.

The small bottle was lying open on the ground, a little distanced from the bed, but within an arm's reach of the Jack Daniel's bottle.

"Aw shit, buddy," Hutch muttered as he grabbed the bottle out of pure reflex. He didn't need to study the label, he knew what they were. And he knew that on a list of particularly stupid things taking them together with, Jack Daniel's had a very high ranking.

Pills in hand, he ran to the bathroom again. Starsky had rolled himself onto his side, feebly trying to get out from under Hutch's jacket. His hand connected painfully with the door when Hutch pushed it open again, yet the drowsy man didn't notice.

"Hey, hey, hey, I told you to stay here, didn't I?" Hutch chided softly, gently grabbing his friend's arms to sit him up against the wall.

"Sorry." The remains of fear slowly left the dull eyes, their violet color almost grey now, murky. "G-gone."

"Not gone," Hutch said, "told ya, be right back. Is this what you took?" He held up the small bottle, waiting for Starsky's reply. "Starsk? Is this the stuff?"

"Hm-mm... couldn't... couldn't sleep," Starsky slurred, struggling to keep his eyes open.

Hutch sighed, putting the bottle away. His hands once more resting on his friend for his own comfort as much as Starsky's. "Before or after the whiskey?" he asked with sad sarcasm.

A lopsided grin appeared on Starsky's face as he heard the question. "Tha... that's wha' I thought."

Understanding, Hutch tipped his finger under his friend's chin to take a closer look at him. "Threw 'em up?" he asked hopefully.

"No," came the faint reply. "Didn't make..."

"Okay," Hutch said, the urgency to react calming him like always. "It's okay, we'll fix it."

Stroking his friend's head, he once more looked around, searching. Finally, he spotted what he'd been looking for.

Mouthwash.

That'd do. Voice of experience.

"Hey, buddy, I need you to do exactly what I tell you now, 'kay? Will you do that?" While with one hand keeping Starsky steady against the wall, the blond stretched out to grab the bottle of mouthwash with the other one, clipping the lid open.

Starsky's head had lolled forward, meeting his friend's chest, when Hutch turned back around. "Hm-mm."

"Good. Come on, look at me. Lift you head. That's it."

Encouraging further, Hutch steadied the curly head with his free hand, restraining his partner when he flinched at the approaching smell. "Don't fight me, buddy. Just swallow the stuff, c'mon."

Muffled protests faded as Starsky's eyes snapped open fully. The deep concern, the trust, love he saw reflected in there was enough to make him follow the order. Grimacing, he swallowed a large gulp of the mouthwash.

"Good boy," Hutch said, watching the liquid kicking in efficiently and finally put the bottle away, while fumbling to help Starsky turn around again. At the sound of painful retching, he started to calmingly rub Starsky's back. "Don't fight it, buddy, c'mon."

Fortunately with Starsky's stomach already as upset as it was the procedure didnt take very long. Completely spent, he fell back against his partner, panting, eyes closed.

"Okay?" Hutch asked softly, wiping the sweaty face with a cloth.

Starsky barely managed to nod. It was obvious he wanted to say something, but just couldn't find the energy.

'Later,' Hutch decided. They'd say everything later.

"Hey, tiger," he coaxed, "how 'bout getting you to bed, huh? Feel a little sleepy down there?"

A sniff answered him, followed by a strained whimper. "'Msorry."

"Yeah, okay, Starsk. Okay. Come on, I'll get you settled. Lean on me, can you do that?"

But his partner was apparently lost, didnt hear him. "'Msorry."

Continuing his soothing, as useless as it was, Hutch guided his swaying friend to his feet, more or less carrying him the way back to the bedroom. There, though, he stopped in his tracks, sniffing. "Aw great."

His gaze falling on the spilled vodka soaking into the carpet, Hutch sighed and turned them both.

"Come on, buddy boy, it's the couch for tonight."

"'Msorry."

"Yep, 'kay," Hutch panted, his arms tiring. Relieved when they finally reached the couch, he carefully laid his burden back on it, kicking the blanket and clothes of it, then turned around it to quickly gather the blanket up and unfold it over his shaking partner. "There you go. You sleep now, 'kay? Close your eyes, buddy."

"'M-"

"Sleep, Starsk," Hutch cut him off softly, easing himself down on the armrest next to Starsky's head, soothingly stroking the curly head.

The occasional mumbled apologies fading at last, Starsky was soon asleep.

 

****

 

Cleaning never had a calming effect on Hutch. Creating a mess had. Therefore he settled for preparing something light for dinner instead of cleaning the breakfast mess in the kitchen. The only thing he did--more out of the need for space than acknowledgement of Starsky's kitchen--was to shove the egg shells and other garbage onto a quickly growing heap on the breakfast bar.

He'd tried to clean the carpet in the bedroom, but couldn't stand the smell. Not that he was particularly sensible to the smell of booze, but the thought of his best friend sitting on his bed, numbing his pain with that stuff--alone--was enough to make his own stomach revolt.

Actually the thought of Starsky BUYING that stuff in order to get kicked out was enough for him to feel sick. His partner hadn't chosen to talk to him, hadn't chosen to seek help, but had bought a month's supply of booze and nearly OD'd himself with sleep medication!

Frustrated, Hutch watched an egg fall down to the ground, looked, lost in thought, then threw another one behind.

Why hadn't his friend talked to him?! Why did he always keep on apologizing?! He didn't really assume Hutch to be mad at him, did he? His mother had DIED, for Christ's sake. In front of his eyes. He was ENTITLED to break apart.

Just not alone.

Not by himself.

THAT was the one thing Dave Starsky was not allowed to, as far as Hutch was concerned. He was not allowed to push his partner away!

When a third egg splattered on the floor, the blond closed his eyes as if to restrain himself from taking apart the whole room, and finally turned without looking back. He only stopped his angry march when he'd reached the couch.

Starsky's sleep was always restless, his ever-energetic composure seemingly not effectible by sleep. Seeing him lie totally still, unmoving except for the steady rising and falling of his chest was almost too much for Hutch to endure.

Starsky looked like death warmed over, dark smudges embedded in the smooth skin under his eyes like bruises. His normally olive skin glistered in the bright golden light of the afternoon sun breaking through the windows at the far ends. Damp ringlets clung to his forehead and eyelashes. Carefully brushing them off with his a gentle hand, Hutch sighed at the warmth radiating from his friend and turned to head for the bathroom.

Only then did he realize Starsky hadn't cleaned up the mess from the night before. Pills, shoved aside carelessly, crowded the ground like ants. Again, Hutch felt like vomiting as the image of his drunken friend swallowing his sleep medication hit his mind. How utterly desperate could a person be to not be able to sleep after half a bottle of Jack Daniel's?!

'What went through your mind when your brain started working again enough to make you realize you swallowed pills on top of whiskey?! Huh, buddy?'

Closing his eyes, he grabbed the cloth he'd used before off the ground, trying to avoid looking into the room.

'Stop it, Hutchinson, stop it! He did NOT try to...' He couldn't even think it. 'He crawled into the bathroom. You know that Starsky would never... Never...'

Reaching his friend, he eased himself onto the ground in front of the couch and ever so softly wiped his friend's face, swallowing back the tears that threatened to fall.

"You didn't do that, right, babe?" he asked unhearing ears in chocked whisper. "No, you didn't do that."

He couldn't help it, a single tear slid from long lashes, dropping onto Starsky's arm. Softly brushing it away, Hutch sat back on his legs, fighting for control. "God, Starsk, I don't know what to do here."

As a high-pitched sob escaped him, he bit down on his fist, scrambling to his feet and into the bedroom, closing the door quickly, but quietly, turned around to lean against it, and slid down to a crouch, crying in earnest now.

 

****

 

God, that smell was awful! When had his place been turned into a bar?! And why was Starsky shouting his name like crazy?

'We drowned at Huggy's 'gain? Wha... I don't feel drunk,' he thought, confused, and blinked.

"HUTCH! NO!" At the heart-wrenching sob that followed the scream, Hutch snapped back to reality instantly. Starsky's place. Starsky's bedroom. Starsky?

"Starsk!"

"No, Hutch, please! No! No!!!"

Falling over his own hands as he scrambled to his feet, Hutch reached for the doorknob, rushing into the living room, sleep leaving him like the color of his face. He was terrified.

"Hutch!"

"I'm here!" Hutch answered out of reflex, throwing his head around when he found the couch empty. "Starsk? I'm he-"

Freezing dead spot in his tracks at the sight of his friend's form crumbled on the ground in front of the couch, his feet entangled in the blanket, arms flailing, Hutch jumped over the headrest of the couch, panic clawing his heart.

"Buddy, hey. Buddy, it's okay, I'm here. Right here. Hear me, Starsk, c'mon, hear me."

At the sound of Hutch's voice, Starsky calmed down instantly, shaking hands feebly grabbing Hutch's shirt, brushing his face.

Capturing the flailing hand, Hutch bent in close to Starsky's face. "Shhh, 'sokay, babe. I'm here. Right here. You with me now? Starsk, wake up."

Midnight blue eyes flickered open, tears running down the pale cheeks as if freed from behind a barrier. "Hutch," he sobbed. "Want Hutch."

They were the same words he'd used the night before, and Hutch frowned, shaking him softly. "It's me, babe. I'm here. Hutch is here. It's okay."

"Hutch?"

"Yeah. Yeah, me. Come on, you with me now, right?"

Sniffing, Starsky let himself fall forward into Hutchs accepting arms. "Hutch."

Feeling like crying himself again, Hutch placed his face on soft thick curls, rocking them both slowly. "Yeah, it's me. It's okay. Wanna tell me 'bout your dream? Hm, buddy?"

A soft shake of his head sent tickly curls brushing against Hutch's neck. Pushing away a little, he looked down into unwilling eyes. "Buddy, it might help. C'mon, you can tell me."

A loud sniffle. No reply.

"Please, babe, tell me. It's about your mother, right? About what happened?" Brushing the tears off the dark face with both thumbs, the blond arched his lips into a warm smile. "Tell me, buddy. It's gonna help."

Another sniffle. A feeble swatting gesture at the comforting hands, until Hutch slid away a little on the ground, leaving the man his space. "'Bout you," Starsky finally whispered.

"What?"

"'Sbout you," Starsky repeated, wiping his eyes. "The dream. It's you."

Dread started to gnaw at Hutch's stomach like an ill feeling. "Me?"

"Yeah. You. You get shot. You die there on those... those steps..."

'Steps?' Hutch wondered, but remembered Starsky's father's death. "Is... Is that the same dream you had last night?"

"Yeah," Starsky sniffed. "'s always you."

"Aw God, babe, why didn't you tell me?"

Struggling to get to his feet, Starsky swayed, and followed him, reaching out to steady him, appalled when the smaller man flinched away.

"Starsk. Talk to me. Now."

"I... I can't, Hutch. Please. I can't."

But this time the blond wouldnt let it go by that easily. Enough was enough. "I'm HERE, Starsk. Right here. Talk to me."

Closing his eyes, not able to look into the blond's eyes, Starsky said, "If you want to leave, that's okay."

Silence. Silence stretching itself so long, the curly haired man couldn't bear it and finally looked up again, swallowing dryly at the furious glance he found himself the target of. "Hutch-"

"How dare you?"

"Hutch, listen-"

"How fucking DARE you?! I-I-I..." Sending the couch shoving over the floor a bit with a backward kick, Hutch clenched his jaw, working against his stutter.

"Hutch-"

"What do you need to hear so you'll know I WON'T leave?! I don't WANT to leave!!! I want you to talk to me!"

Starsky closed his eyes, a tear leaking out. He took it silently, his acceptance only adding fuel to Hutch's anger.

"Damn you, answer me!" Hutch yelled, stepping forward to grab the smaller man's arms. Starsky would endure the rough grip without any notable reaction. "Starsky!!!"

"I know you'll leave," Starsky whispered.

The hands holding his arms fell. "What?"

After a moment so tensed to seemed to press the air out of the room, Starsky looked up, his eyes clear, so pain-filled their mere glance scalded Hutch's heart. "I know you'll leave. They all do. I tried to... to be good, so you'll... stay... But I failed."

Hutch gulped. "They all do?" he whispered. "They ALL do?! They... Who am I, ANYONE?!"

"N-no, I didnt mean-"

"I don't give a rat's ass what you meant!!! I'm NOT anyone! I'm your best friend! Stop pushing me away! STOP PUSHING ME AWAY!!!" he repeated furiously.

Helplessly, Starsky reached out as if to grab Hutch's arm in a calming motion, but the blond jerked away. "Don't touch me! I don't... I-I don't believe you! I... Can you imagine what I thought when I saw you there on the ground?! I thought you... I... Fuck!" Again, he kicked the couch, aimed at it directly this time.

"Hutch-" Starsky was begging.

"No, you hear me out now! You wanna take on everything? You're sorry? Then you're gonna hear me out now! I love you, buddy, it's KILLING me to see you like this! It's KILLING me to watch you draw yourself away from me! What'd I do? Huh? What'd I DO to you so you don't think you need me anymore? Huh? WHAT?!"

"You... Wha... Nothin', Hutch, nothin', it's... oh God, no, it's not your fault, it's me, I... You know it's not true. I... I... Course I... need ya."

"Oh yeah?! Show me."

Starsky bowed his head.

"Show me," Hutch repeated, his voice stern. "Tell me. Now." Backing away, he sat back on the couch again, looking up at his partner expectantly.

Hesitant at first, the curly haired man started, "I'm sor-"

Hutch opened his mouth.

"Let me say it!" Starsk hurried. "Let me. I'm sorry for what happened today. I didnt mean to... You know I didn't. I'd never do that. But..." He drew in a deep breath. "After Pop died, I..." Exasperated, he threw his hands in the air, at the lack of words. "They all left. There. I said it. My friends left. And then I left. Or WAS left," he added grimly.

"It's so hard," he continued after a moment's thought. "It hurts so much. Too much to.. share. You want that?!" he asked as another thought hit him, pointing at himself. "You want a whiny pathetic-"

"Don't say it," Hutchs whisper kept him from it. "C'mere."

Slowly, hesitantly, Starsky made his way over to the couch, sinking heavily down next to his friend, his head hanging.

Laying a warm arm around the quivering shoulders, Hutch drew him into a half-embrace with his face once more resting against his chest. "You can share everything with me, Starsk. Everything. You can whine and cry and yell and scream and-whatever! You can do everything, I'd NEVER leave. Never. Face it, buddy," he said, nudging Starskys cheek, "you're stuck with me."

"Hutch," his friend sobbed, scrambling hands clinging to the blond's shirt, "she's dead. M-my Mommy's dead."

"I know, babe," Hutch said through his own falling tears. "I know."

"Why? Why can't I have my family? What'd I ever do?"

"Oh, babe, nothing. You did nothing. It's not your fault."

"Yes, it is," Starsky whimpered. "Oh God, it's my fault. If... If I wasn't a cop-"

"Don't go there, buddy. C'mon, you know that's not the truth."

"But because of me he shot her!" he insisted weakly. "Because I'm a cop, that kid shot my Mom. Nicky's right, it IS my fault."

Hutch froze in his soothing. "N-Nick said WHAT?!"

"H-he said... He said I... I was there when Dad was shot. And now-"

'That stupid little son of a bitch!' "Starsky, look at me."

Sniffing, Starsky obeyed.

"Nicky knows shit."

A shaky laugh broke free, as Starsky snuggled up on Hutch again. "You're mean."

Hugging him tight, Hutch let go of a deep breath. "You know me, buddy."

"Yeah," Starsky replied drowsily. "Hutch?"

"Yes?"

"Can we... Can we talk 'bout my Mom? Now?"

"Love to," Hutch said, stretching his long legs out, settling them both more comfortably. "Let's talk about Rache."

****

"It's okay, Nicky. Yeah... Yeah, I'll take care of... I... Don't worry. Yes. Yes. Hutch and I are on our way to the morgue. Yes. No, in New York. Next to Pop. Yes. 'Kay, see you there. Okay. And, Nick... Love ya, baby brother."

Hanging up the phone, Starsky remained unmoving for a moment, his hands hanging by his sides.

"Y'okay?" Hutch's voice drew his attention away from his darkening thoughts. Gathering his wits, he turned around quickly, trying a wry smile.

"Yes," he said in genuine honesty.

"Nicky okay?"

"Yes."

'Pity.' "Good. You ready?"

"Yes." Snatching his jacket off the couch, Starsky followed his partner to the door. "Hutch?"

Turning, Hutch raised his brows questioningly.

"I'm scared."

Smiling warmly, Hutch opened his arms for a hug. Gratefully, Starsky accepted. "I'm here, babe. I'm with you all the way."

Sighing deeply, Starsky nodded, and pushed himself away again. "'Kay. Let's go."

Holding the door open for his partner, Hutch patted his back. "Yeah. Let's go say goodbye."

THE END