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Wuemsel's Fanfic Corner

Creeps


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Co-written by Torinogirl67.
Thanks to Mandy for the great beta-work!

"Uhm... Uh... St-Starsk... ?"

Great. Monday morning. Rain drumming against the window outside. And he was fairly sure he was out of peanut butter.

AND Hutch was stuttering.

"Starsk? Y-you there? `Lo?"

Not to mention the fact that he was CALLING in the middle of the night.

"Starsk? You-"

"Yes!" The bark didn´t come out very impressive, due to Starsky´s face being pressed into the warmth of his mattress. As if he could shut out Hutch´s nagging voice just by melting into his bed...

"I knew you were there."

But, unfortunately, he had been heard, anyway. "Ya oughta be a detective, Hutch, y´know that?"

The nervous laugh at the other phone only managed to increase his annoyance, but then, maybe that had been the plan after all. Maybe Hutch had woken up that shiny bright peanut-less Monday morning and had thought to himself, 'Hmmm... I think I´ll bug Starsk today. Yep, seems like a nice day for that.'

"D-did I wake you?"

But THEN, maybe, just maybe it was something else after all, since his normally all brainy partner´s voice had a decidedly sheepish tinge to it.

With a tired grunt, Starsky pushed himself up, so that he lay propped up on his elbows, staring down at his mattress with longing eyes. "No," he sighed. "`Sokay. Whoever would sleep at..." Glancing at his clock neatly placed on his nightstand, he rolled his eyes once more. "... six o´clock in the morning, anyway?"

"Oh." Pause. "Is it that late?"

Another deep sigh, and Starsky finally struggled into a sitting position, rubbing tired hands over still heavy eyes. "Hutchwhat is it?"

"Uhm..."

Starsky rolled his eyes.

"Well..."

"Are ya gonna tell soon? `Cause otherwise I´ll go to the john first."

His time to sigh now, Hutch muttered, "I need you to pick me up."

"I´m GOING to pick you up in two hours, dummy! You called to ask me that?! Are you drunk?!"

"No," Hutch replied, the answer coming out more like a whine than anything else. "Stranded."

Sleep fading slowly, Starsky felt, almost against his will, a grin spreading on his face. "Stranded?" he repeated innocently.

"Uh huh."

The grin widening as he could actually see his partner SOMEWHERE clinging to SOME phone (God knew whose...) before him, Starsky glanced at the rain outside his bedroom window. "Stranded as in 'Gilligan'-stranded?"

"No," Hutch replied, stretching the word, unnerved, and was about to add something else, when Starsky, coming to his feet to walk over to the window, cut him off .

"No? Hm. Bahamas-like then?"

"No," Hutch forced out through gritted teeth.

"Pity. I always wanted to get a postcard from there."

"Are you through?!" Hutch almost yelled, his patience audibly reaching its very limits. "I´m freezing here, and I think I lost a toe-"

'Oh, man, THIS is going to be SO good,' Starsky thought to himself, his own gaze involuntarily wandering down to his own bare feet. "Okay, buddy, shoot. What happened?"

"Can I tell you when you get here?" Hutch asked, having to force the begging tone into otherwise telltale annoyance.

"Depends."

"On what?!"

"If I come and get y-"

"STARSK! Would you PLEASE move your lazy ass and PICK ME UP?!?!"

Biting his lower lip, Starsky waited in silence.

"Please."

The pathetic tiny voice enough to finally touch Starsky´s just woken up heart, he gave a gracious sigh. "Yeah, yeah, I´ll get ya. Where are y-"

"Pretty please."

"I said I´ll get you," Starsky replied, the grin making a re-appearance.

"Oh. Good."

"Though," he added, already fishing around on the ground for his jeans and a fairly clean shirt, "I´d hurry if you said Please, Starsky, be my knight in shining armor and rescue m-"

"PLEASE get into your parade of a car and get me the hell out of here!" Pause. "Pretty please with cherry on top."

"Atta boy," Starsky praised contentedly as he slid into his worn out sneakers. "`Kay, where are you?"

Even a bat wouldn´t have been able to hear the mumbled reply.

"Huh?" Starsky asked, freezing with his hand hovering over his nightstand, where his car key lay. "Where?"

A deep, absolutely agonized sigh announced Hutch´s then clearly stated answer. "'Lonely Hearts Motel'."

A second of utter silence passedand Starsky burst into laughter. Falling back onto the bed, he nearly lost his grip on the receiver.

When his high-pitched giggles had eased so much he could at least breathe again, he quickly drew the receiver back to his ear, working on his best Bogart imitation to break through his gasps for air. "Aw, shweetheart, why didn´t ya just say you wanted to meet me? I love it when a babe gets all romantic on me."

Resignedly, Hutch just made a few "hm-mm"s and "uh huh"s and otherwise let his partner continue to ramble on, until he was finally, mercifully, out of breath.

"Done?" he then asked dryly.

"Yeah, yeah," Starsky gasped out through giggles, that were slowly turning into a serious hiccup, "almost... Wait, I got one more.... Or, no... I´ll save that for when we´re at work."

"You´re so good to me, buddy."

"Yeah," Starsky panted, wiping tears from his eyes. "Yeah, right. Uhm... don´t move..." Another wave of hysterical giggles cutting his advice off, he winked to no one in particular, grabbing his jacket. "I´ll get you."

"Okay," Hutch breathed, relieved. "Thanks."

"Yeah. See you.Oh, and Hutch...*giggle* Don´t do anything I wouldn´t do."

"I´ll try to remember that," Hutch replied patiently.

"Yeah," Starsky nodded eagerly, "but IF you do it--take pictures."

And with that, he hang up, leaving a very wet, very tired, very pissed and very, very helpless Hutch holding onto a receiver in a crappy phone cell across the street of the brightly lit motel. His head following his hand, when he hung up he leaned his forehead against it, muttering a soft "I´m never gonna hear the end of this."

****

And how right he was.

"Hey, sugar, looking for a ride?"

"That´s so funny, Starsk," Hutch grumbled from where he was standing next to the Torino, gazing through the half opened passenger window.

Unable to keep the sympathy, that just HAD to flood you at the pathetic sight that was a soaked Ken Hutchinson, at bay, Starsky flashed him a warm smile, reaching over to open the passenger door for him, since Hutch himself seemed too busy hugging himself tightly.

"C´mon, buddy, get in."

Acknowledging the gesture, Hutch returned the smile, but didn´t make a move to get into the car. "What, you´d let me onto your precious seats like this?"

Starsky chuckled, but kept himself from making a wise-crack. "There´s a blanket in the trunk," he informed his friend gently and frowned, when a sudden realization hit him. "Where´s your jacket?"

Even through the thickening curtain of rain, it was obvious that the blond blushed. "Inside."

Nodding in slow-motion, Starsky studied him closer, his forehead furrowing as the wheels inside his head started to slowly get in motion. "Oookay," he said, his talking-speed matching everything else. "Care to tell me why you´re outside in the pouring rain without your jacket?"

"Actually," Hutch answered, dragging the corners of his mouth into a pained smile. "No."

"`Kay. Want to GET your jacket then, so that we can get you someplace warm?"

"Actually," Hutch repeated, the quivery grin widening slightly as he used his limited acting abilities. "I´d rather have you get it. And," he added, averting his eyes, "if you´re on it, anyway, you might also want to get my shoes."

Starsky stared, his chin traveling south. "Your...shoes..." he muttered, dumbfounded.

"Yeah, you know, large brown things? Look a lot like feet?"

"Oh," Starsky exclaimed, his partner´s teasing effectively kicking him into bantering mood again, "THOSE shoes. Why didn´t ya say so? Of course I´ll get `em for you, buddy. Why did I drive out here for half an hour if not to get my partner´s shoes?"

"Glad you see it that way too," Hutch muttered and after a pause arched his brows into a most heart-wrenching sick puppy look as he lifted a shaking hand to point at the passenger door. "May I wait inside the car? I´m, uh, sorta....cold," he quaked out.

Starsky watched him, every hint of a smile fading, and finally rolled his eyes, opening his own door. "Oh hell... Get in."

Beaming gratefully, Hutch jerked the door open and crawled onto the passenger seat, instantly drawing up his legs to hug his knees to his chest.

Watching from where he was doing a pretty good job at getting soaked himself now, Starsky sighed, threw the driver´s door shut and swiftly headed for the trunk to retrieve the woolen blanket he´d mentioned before.

"There you go," he told his partner, when he opened the passenger door again, startling Hutch enough to flinch.

"Thanks," Hutch replied with a tiny smile and took the blanket with trembling, ice cold hands.

At the pathetic sight, though, Starsky swatted them away to wrap the soft material around the soaked man´s shoulders himself.

"`S no fun bugging you, when you freeze on me," he muttered, when Hutch flashed him an utterly grateful grin.

With a last pat to wet blond hair, Starsky turned, throwing the passenger door shut, and drew his own jacket around him more tightly, as he started his way across the street, but stopped suddenly, jerking his head back in a frustrated gesture, and turned, all but sprinting back to the car.

"Room number," he said curtly, when he once more opened the passenger door, again startling his friend, who had dozed off in the warmth of his blanket.

"Huh?"

"Room number," Starsky repeated, unnerved.

"Seven," Hutch answered and sniffed.

"Your lucky number, pal, huh?" Starsky wise-cracked, threw the door shut for the second time and finally made it all the way over the street to the smallish looking building that looked so incredibly un-Hutch-like he had to shake his head in disbelief.

The interior even topped that. Dim light lay flatly on the eerie colorless walls like dirt, shadows seeming to creep over them, as small dark spots changed places, swift legs carrying the motel´s best customers over their areas.

"Yuck," Starsky muttered. "I hate spiders."

As if in response, a particularly fat black insect lowered itself right next to him, and the tough street cop jumped. "Urgh! Hello there," he mumbled, watching the enemy with awe, as he tried to sneak around it in order to get to the reception. Beady little eyes seemed to follow his very movements.

Shuddering, he took a large step away to come to a halt in front of the empty reception that looked as if Norman Bates´ little brother was running the place.

'Funny,' he thought, looking around for a bell in order to get some attention, 'Hutch didn´t look THAT drunk...'

"What d´you want?" a sudden, snarling voice from behind him sent him whirling around to meet the swamp-colored eyes of a small, nearly bald man, whose distrusting frown seemed to have been engraved into his sweaty forehead.

'But then, maybe all that standing in the rain sobered him up,' Starsky continued his way of thoughts, shaking his head unconsciously.

"Well?" the man, who Starsky assumed to be the owner of the... establishment, growled, tilting his head to one side as he studied the intruder much like Starsky himself had done with the spider before.

The best wide grin he could manage under the circumstances popping up on his face, Starsky nodded friendly. "Mornin´."

"Hmpf," the man answered.

"Uhm," Starsky continued, working his hardest against the urge to simply turn and buy Hutch new shoes. "I need the key for room number, uh, seven. Please," he added after a second, arching his lips up even more.

The man stared at him, his gaze wandering over him from head to toe. "Seven, huh?" he repeated, the mountains on his forehead even rising.

"Yup."

"And why exactly THAT room?"

Thinking for a moment, definitely starting to doubt this was how he wanted his days to start, Starsky finally settled for the truth. "A friend of mine... forgot some things in there, when he left. I´m here to get `em."

Norman Bates´ little brother gazed at him, the swamps darkening. "Friend of yours?"

"Yeah," Starsky replied, puzzled. "He must have been here, like, an hour or so ago. Tall, blo-"

"You mean that blond creep, who I sent flying into next weekend, when I threw him out?"

Taken completely off guard, Starsky stared back, chin dropping. At the other one´s smug expression, though, he quickly regained his wits and without another word produced his badge from his jacket.

"Okay, police. Turn around."

"Hey, what... Man, I didn´t-"

"I said," Starsky sternly cut off the startled rambling, "turn around. Hands in the air, where I can see them."

"You should rather check out your fine friend, pig," the man spat, slowly turning, as he wanted to mouth off, but didn´t quite find the courage to do so.

"I count to three, and then I´ll pull my gun. One. Two-"

"Okay, okay," Little Bates hurried to exclaim, whirling around, raising his hands. "Don´t get all moody here, man. Calm down. But I´m telling you, you should listen to me, I´m-"

"YOU listen, pal," Starsky cut him off, as he checked him for weapons and, finding none, turned around him to look directly into fear-filled eyes. "It´s," unnerved, he checked his watch, "almost seven in the morning, I didn´t have peanut butter OR coffee yet, and I had to drive through the rain for half an hour to collect my wet noodle of a partner, who´s right now sitting out there with NO shoes and NO jacket, so believe me when I say I´m postively starting to get pissed. And you don´t want to deal with me when I´m REALLY pissed. Got that now?"

Mutely, the man nodded.

"Bright boy. So-room number seven?"

A shaking hand reaching into his blotchy, baggy pants, Norman, jr. snarled something unintelligable and handed the detective a single key.

"What was that?" Starsky barked.

"Here you are," was the growled answer through gritted teeth.

"Thought so."

****

"WHAAAA! Wh-wha´..."

"Oh. Sorry. Were you asleep?" Casting his dishevelled looking friend a glance of genuine guilt, Starsky held out Hutch´s jacket and shoes for him.

"Just dozing," the blond muttered, running a hand through his still damp hair, leaving it sticking out at odd angles. Taking his stuff, he flashed his friend a quick grateful smile. "Thanks."

Nodding, Starsky laid his hands onto the steering wheel, but didn´t start the engine. "Any warmer now?"

"Yeah," Hutch replied, smiling again. "Thanks.

"`Kay. Feet warming too?"

"Yeah, I´ll, uh, I´ll put on my sh..." Trailing off, his gaze dropping, Hutch drew in a deep breath, eyes squeezing shut as if expecting a blow. "Okay, give it to me straight."

"My GOD, Hutch," Starsky instantly started to ramble, as if he´d hardly been able to control himself before, "what the HELL were you DOING here?! Oh, no, wait--do I want to know? I think I want to know, but... is it gross? I don´t want to hear anything gross, but then... I really want to know what happened. Okay, tell me. No, wait, don´t tell me. Or, no, tell me. Or NO, wait, let me guess: you were abducted by aliens with bad taste, who brought you here for genetic experiments with spiders. Did you SEE all those SPIDERS in there?! Urgh, yuck! Double-yuck! And that GUY! PLEASE tell me you´re not the 'blond creep' he kept talking about, for I really-"

"He called me WHAT?!" Hutch cut him off, his head jerking up from where he´d been busy studying the car´s floor.

"Who cares what he called you, tell me what the hell HAPPENED!"

Sighing deeply, Hutch squinted at him. "D´you promise not to laugh?"

"What, are you KIDDING?!"

Eyelids dropping in frustration, shoulders slumping, Hutch drew in a deep breath. "Okay, here´s what happened."

Fortunately for him, he didn´t see his partner´s wide-eyed 'yearning for spectacles'-look, though he assumed it to be there, anyway.

"I met this girl, Cindy... no, Sharon... oh," he winked. "Whatever, and-"

"You don´t remember her name?!"

"D´you want to hear what happened or what?!" Hutch snapped, shooting his friend an annoyed glance, and Starsky quickly lifted his hands as if in self-defense, closing his mouth.

"We met at this new place down Franklyn Boulevard, and she was really nice and, uhm, well, she was nice."

"Nice," Starsky repeated innocently, but at Hutch´s glare shut up again, once more raising his hands.

Ignoring the remark, Hutch continued, blushing, much to his friend´s increasing amusement. "And she suggested to drive out here to... you know."

It took all Starsky had to let this go by without a comment, but for the love of his suffering friend he did.

"Well," the blond continued with a sigh. "It all went fine at first. I mean... `cept for the place, of course."

Starsky grinned, but tried to suppress it.

Suddenly hesitating, Hutch trailed off, eyes darting about nervously in a way that, in a rush, pressed all amusement out of his partner´s mind.

"Hutch?"

As the blond failed to answer, he bent closer, a concerned frown quickly finding its way onto his forehead. "Hey, buddy, y´alright?"

"Uhm..."

"Hutch, what happened then?"

Shy light blue eyes peeking up at Starsky, Hutch´s voice faded to a boyish whisper. "Fell asleep?"

"You fell asleep," Starsky repeated incredulously, paused and grinned, slightly at first, then wider. It looked like a zipper being drawn open.

Hutch shrank in his seat, his chin almost touching his chest.

"You fell asleep in a creepy, spidery motel room with Cindy-Sharon-Whatever-Who-cares at your side and you dare to tell ME? Hey, wait a second," he added, grin vanishing as fast as it had appeared. "There´s more, isn´t there? Why were you outside? Without your shoes? And your jacket? Oh my... Hey, you´re okay, aren´t you?" Concern clearly coloring his words, he reached out to gently force Hutch´s head up as if to inspect him closer. "You´re not hurt, are you? What happened? Did she do anything to y-"

"Starsk, calm down," Hutch interrupted him with an assuring smile and took his partner´s hand to place it back down. "I´m fine."

As if on cue, he sneezed.

"Gesundheit," Starsky muttered dryly.

"*sniff* Thanks."

"Okay." Patience was audibly fading quickly. "What happened? And no backing out now," Starsky added, his ownseldomly usedwarning finger making an appearance.

"I don´t know!" Hutch exclaimed, exasperated, obviously knowing exactly what had happened. "She´d brought a bottle of wine, and we had a few drinks, and then I just got tired and I don´t KNOW what happened then. Next thing this Norman Bates-imitation is all over me, yelling some crap `bout me having tried to violate her--and then, bang, I´m out on the street, in the pouring rain, without my God damned SHOES!"

"She put something in the wine," Starsky stated quietly.

"Don´t SAY!" Hutch snapped, but instantly bowed his gaze. "Sorry." Again, he sneezed.

"Gesundheit again."

"*sniff* Thanks. Sorry again."

Smiling, Starsky winked, casting his friend an understanding look. "Put your shoes on, Hutch."

As his friend obediently bent down, he started the engine, and when Hutch came up again, the Torino sped away through the dawning morning and the yet thickening rain.

"Hey Starsk?" Hutch asked after a few minutes, his voice drawled from exhaustion.

"Hm?"

"What´d I ever do to them?"

Puzzled, Starsky shot him a quick glance. "Huh?"

"Women."

"Oh."

"I mean," Hutch continued, fumbling with his jacket, that he kept hugging to himself like a comfort blanket, "do I have easy target tattooed on my forehead or what?!"

Wincing in sympathy, his friend reached over to briefly squeeze his shoulder.

"I really just wanted to have some... fun," Hutch finished lamely. "Is that a crime?! Why can´t they leave me the hell alone? I´ve never done anything to anyone!"

"Hutch-" Starsky started to soothe, but was interrupted by yet another snap.

"Don´t Hutch me! I have every right to be upset. That girl had no right whatsoever to do such a thing! I was perfectly nice to her, and I laughed at her stupid jokes all night long, and I paid for the room, and I paid for her drinks earlier, and what does SHE do?!"

Mouth open for an answer, he suddenly froze, one hand buried into the bundle that was his jacket. After a second, he drew the hand back out, holding only his badge, his ID and his drivers license in it. "Steal my wallet. Great." With a low thump, his head fell against the passenger´s window. "Juuust great."

Casting him a quick look full of sympathy, Starsky bit his lip, knowing that no matter what he´d say, he´d get snapped at.

"Some hot shot detective, me, huh?" Hutch muttered from where he was still softly pounding his head against the window in a slow rhythm. "Let myself get robbed by a chick."

"At least you got the wine," Starsky replied. "And stop hitting my car."

Grumbling something intelligable, Hutch let his head fall back against the headrest, staring at the ceiling. "I hate women."

Glancing at him briefly, Starsky smiled and patted his cheek. "Nah, you don´t. But keep on telling yourself. Leaves more for us other guys."

A chuckle breaking free, Hutch tried to suppress it, sighing in mock annoyance. "Your sympathy´s overwhelming, buddy, you know that?"

"`S how I am," Starsky grinned, and this time Hutch, too, had to laugh.

****

"This is even more yucky than your motel."

"Starsk," Hutch sighed and sneezed loudly over the sound of the latex gloves snapping against his wrist.

"Gesundheit," Starsky muttered innocently, his gaze fixed on the sight before them, so that he missed the annoyed look he received for that.

Carefully entering the dimly lit room, Hutch frowned in concentration, as he approached the lifeless form on the floor, one arm coming up so he could breathe into his sleeve.

"Think I´m gonna be sick," Starsky muttered dryly from where he stood in the doorway, unwillingly gazing around the dark, damp cellar his partner was slowly pacing.

"Hold it," Hutch mumbled, his voice too muffled to hear. Yet he had to agree with his partner--the sight was sickening.

The dead man´s skin was ashen, dried blood from various deep cuts made his face look like it was rusting. His eyes were obscenely swollen shut, and a cracky, yellowish substance stuck to his parted lips, mixing with dried white foam like sugar on a child´s mouth.

Apart from that, nothing could be seen, since the whole body had been wrapped in thick ropes. A huge net that held him, who couldn´t struggle anymore.

As small as the wrapped up corpse looked in the middle of the room, as big an image it was, graved into the mind of everybody who´d set eyes on it. Like a testament of evil, something that couldn´t be, couldn´t be lying in an ordinary cellar room, in an ordinary house.

"Man..." Starsky whispered, secretly averting his eyes, wiping one hand over them.

It wasn´t like you looked at something that had once BEEN a someone. Instead, you were looking directly, openly at whoever had done it. A handwriting so harsh it scalded your fingers when you touched the paper it had been written onto.

Insanity. They were looking at insanity itself.

"Can I touch him?" Hutch asked one of the many lab guys, who were swabbing the crime scene, stoic expressions on pale faces, questions circling in so many heads.

The air was thick with questions, like fog, choking, its smell sweet, silky.

Mumbling a reply, the young man nodded, and Hutch lowered himself into a crouch next to the corpse, inhaling deeply before he carefully reached out with both hands to tip two fingers against each side of the slack face.

"Yuck again," Starsky mumbled from the door and enthusiastically followed a leaving lab guy outside and up the stairs out of the cellar. "Hey, uhm, d´you guys have anything yet?"

Rolling his eyes at his partner´s graceless escape, Hutch turned his attention back to the victim and frowned, when he noticed small, reddish spots covering parts of the man´s neck. It looked almost like a rash, yet unlike any the detective had ever come across, and the striking contrast it bore to the yellowish, ashen skin didn´t confirm the first impression, either.

"Hey," Hutch exclaimed, looking up, addressing no one in particular, "what´s this on his neck? D´you notice that?"

A wave of shrugs answered him, along with several mumbled replies that, summarized, told him he´d have to wait for the autopsy report.

Eyes darting about the working crowd, Hutch secretly lifted his brows. "Thanks, guys."

He pushed himself to his feet, once more covering his face with his sleeve to inhale, and made his way back over to the door, careful as to not disturb the crime scene´s neatly laid out ornamentation, that consisted of a mass of photographs, all showing the victim in various states of living decay. Placed in tidy rows around the body, they showed eyes wide with terror, that had swollen shut at some point, and skin that had been torn off the flesh underneath it by his own clawing fingernails. A body covered in sweat, twitching in pain as cramps forced it into curled up positions.

Insanity, Hutch thought, his steps quickening, one hand coming up to squeeze his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger. He was walking through an insanity field, not unlike the one a battle would take place at. Organized death, organized pain.

His body ever the professional, it waited with the next loud sneeze until he was outside. He stopped briefly to wipe his nose.

"Dobey wants to see us," Starsky greeted him outside the building, leaning against the Torino, where he´d obviously spent the last few minutes, since the small crowd of curious tenants had finally left.

Giving a small nod, Hutch walked around the car and came to a halt at the passenger side, laying both arms on the hood to rest his head on them.

"Hey," Starsky´s worried voice reached his ears from the other side. "Y´okay?"

Nodding against his arms first, Hutch glanced up at him, drawing in a deep breath. "Air," he mumbled. "Just need some fresh air."

Grimacing in understanding, Starsky, too, turned to lean against the car, facing his partner.

"What time is it?" Hutch asked after a moment.

Starsky looked at his watch. "Almost nine."

With a frustrated sigh, the blond head fell back against Hutch´s arms. "Good morning."

Starsky smirked, but remained silent, watching his friend eagerly breathing in more air as his forehead rested on his folded arms. Pale he looked, Starsky noticed with worry starting to nag him. Pale and exhausted. But then, no wonder he did. From what he´d managed to get out of his grumbling partner on their ride back to Venice Place after their early encounter with Bay City´s lower underworld, it seemed that Hutch had been walking around in the rain for quite some time before he´d found a fairly decent citizen (on his way to the motel, though) who´d had heart enough to give a soaked, shoe-less man a dime for a phone call. And though Starsky knew--and had almost used violence to convince himself of it--that there were no lasting effects of whatever drug Hutch had been given, the thought alone still worried him. No matter how harmless a case, Hutch and drugs was one mixture to scare the willies out of him.

Not to mention the plain sympathy he felt for his friend, who had a point after all, when he ranted about his bad luck with women...

"Achooo!"

Startled, Starsky´s head all but snapped up from where he´d rested his chin on his arms. "Jeez, Hutch!"

Sniffing, suspiciously inspecting his sleeves too, Hutch rolled his eyes and got inside the Torino. "Whatever happened to Gesundheit?"

Mumbling an unnerved chant of "gna, gna, gna" to himself, Starsky followed, and off they drove, leaving insanity behind for the time being.

****

"And what about Christine? You left Christine, didn´t you?"

"Starsk-"

"And Abby! You left Ab... oh no, wait, the second time she left you. Bad example. Uhm... how `bout-"

"Starsky," Hutch cut his excitedly rambling partner off again, more fiercely this time, "will you just shut u-"

Either unhearing or ignoring, Starsky snapped his fingers, stating, "And here, what was her name again, Diana? That nurse, who... took your place apart and tried to kill you..." he finished lamely, flashing his glaring friend an apologetic smile. "I admit that was a bad example. But, hey, this Lauren-girl, she was a hot-"

"That was YOUR girl, mushbrain."

"Oh." Stopping in his tracks, thinking, Starsky grinned. "You´re right. Hm. Thought I knew her better than I should."

Rolling his eyes at his friend´s mumble, Hutch rushed through the glass door into the hallway leading to their squad room, but couldn´t escape Starsky´s following voice.

"And Roxy! What about Roxy! That was a nice girl. Actually," he added, suddenly subdued, "she woulda been nice enough for me too."

"Yeah," Hutch muttered absently, "sorry about that. But, don´t forget, she dumped me the same evening for this ballet dancer."

"Yeah, well, no sympathy here. You deserved that."

Stopping with his hand on the already open squad room door, Hutch raised his brows at him. "I deserved to get dumped for a ballet dancer?!"

"That was my girl."

"I didn´t see your sign on her."

"`Course not! She saved that for the ballet dancer, didn´t she?"

"Aw! Low blow, partner."

"Oh?! How low can you hit a guy who got dumped for ballet dan-"

"STARSKY! HUTCHINSON! My office, now!"

Flinching in unison, the detectives exchanged a quick glance, instantly side by side again, when it came to face the dragon´s wrath, and hastily crossed the squad room, heads bowed, Starsky slightly hiding behind his partner´s taller form.

"Sit down," Dobey bellowed, once they´d arrived at the doorway and turned to get behind his desk again.

Silently, the detectives obeyed, Hutch heading straight for the first chair, and Starsky kicking the door shut, before he followed his partner.

"STARSKY! What are doorknobs for?!"

"Uhm... close doors?" Starsky replied, honestly puzzled that he was yelled at.

Sighing, Dobey winked, but shot Hutch, who couldn´t help chuckling, a reprimanding look.

"Brilliant, detective."

Still confused, Starsky shot his partner a boyish 'what´s with him?'-glance, but was ignored.

"I want you two on the Weitzman-case," Dobey said, changing into business-tone.

Exchanging a confused glance, the detectives settled for a synchronized shrug.

"Okay," Starsky replied. "Who´s that?"

"A judge," Hutch informed him, unconsciously slipping into teacher-tone. "Clayton Weitzman. He was responsible for the sentence in the Donaldson-case."

Starsky frowned, a newspaper headline flashing up in his mind. "The black family´s house, that got burned down by that nazi?"

Hutch nodded gravely. "Right. The one who walked away a free man. Thanks to Weitzman." Lost in thoughts, he paused and frowned, then asked, "Uh... case? What case?"

"I thought you were at the crime scene this morning," Dobey barked, visibily not having the day he´d wanted, either. "Weitzman was found in a cellar in Worcester Avenue today, after he´d been reported missing a few days ago."

"Oh," Starsky muttered, his turn to get grave now, "THAT case. Aw, Cap, d´we have to? That was gross."

Ignoring his partner´s half-whine, Hutch frowned. "You put us on a case like that? Isn´t that Feds´ area?"

Suppressing a sigh at his detective´s unwanted cleverness, Dobey dropped his gaze, seemingly suddenly busy in studying some files on his desk. "You´ll work with agent A.J. Locklyn, a profiler from the bureau in San Francis-"

"Awww," yet another nagging whine cut him off from the curly headed part of the duo. "I don´t wanna work with no agents, Cap. They´re annoying."

"So are you," Dobey replied dryly, "and still we let you work with them."

Swallowing a giggle, Hutch shot his taken aback partner a quick, sympathetic gaze.

"And, besides, it´s an order," Dobey continued grimly. "You´ll work with this guy, and you´ll behave yourself, got that?"

"Yes, Cap."

"Yes, Cap ´n."

"Good," Dobey nodded, pointing his index finger at them. "And this is important, you hear? The mayor´s been calling every five minutes all morning. I want you to keep this away from the press, and I want you to get this guy, and fast!"

"Whoever said it was a guy?" Hutch muttered grimly to himself, but was unheard.

"Any questions?" Dobey asked, his tone making it clear that if there were, it wouldn´t be appreciated.

"Yes," Starsky replied, though. "Why d´we need a psycho Fed guy for this? We never needed a-"

"That´s a PROFILER, Starsky," Dobey cut him off. "And if I hear one complaint from him, you´ll be organizing traffic, until your uniform fits again, understood?"

Blinking in surprise, Starsky let his eyes wander over to Hutch, then back, mumbling a very small, "My uni fits perfectly."

"But he´s got a point there, Cap´n," Hutch came to his partner´s side, though more quiet than his ever hot-headed friend. "We´ve been managing pretty well without any help before."

"Actually it´s too wide..."

Ignoring Starsky´s mumbling with visible stretching of his patience spam, Dobey turned to Hutch. "Agent Locklyn is specialized in cases like this. He could be of a lot of help."

"It´s always been too wide, I don´t know what you´re..."

Shooting his still lowly rambling partner a gaze, Hutch frowned at Dobey. "Cases like this?"

"It´s not my fault I look fat in black. All men in my family´ve always looked fat in black..."

Breathing in with hardly restrained exasperation, Dobey fixed his eyes on Hutch, trying to block out the unnerving figure next to him. "'Sadism in crime and the psychology of torture'," he read out from one of the papers on his desk.

"I mean, honest, it´s no wonder cops get bugged on the streets, if they´re forced to walk around looking like-"

"STARSKY!" two unnerved yells finally shut the rambling detective up efficiently, and, flinching, he gazed up first at Hutch, then at Dobey, the embodiment of innocence.

"What?"

More sensing than seeing Dobey´s face reddening a shade, Hutch all but jumped to his feet, reaching out to drag his friend outside.

"Did you two say somethi-"

"Starsky, c´mon, we better leave," Hutch almost whispered, quietly giving thanks to whatever powers kept Dobey too busy drawing in deep breaths, so that all their eardrums might be spared.

"Oh hey," Starsky grinned. "Good idea. I´m starving. I didn´t get breakfast, y´know," he added, shooting Hutch an accusing glance, while he lazily stood up, unaware of the danger he was in, as Dobey watched him through narrowing eyes.

"Yeah," Hutch replied in a nervous laugh, pushing his friend towards the door in front of him, every now and then checking the situation behind them. "I know. Know what, I´ll buy you breakfast. Just come ON now."

Planting his feet in surprise, Starsky turned to flash him a grateful smile, but instead had Hutch running directly into him, since the blond had chosen just that moment to glance over his shoulder.

At the unexpected blow, the smaller man instantly lost his balance, and both detectives landed on a heap in front of the door, just in time to have it being opened into their backs, shoving them away a bit.

On the other side of the room, Dobey watched, eyes widening--and burst into laughter.

"I´m sorry, I didn´t mean to... interrupt anything."

At the sudden, soft, female voice coming from the half opened door, all three men froze, Dobey slipping into a helpless coughing, Hutch blushing up to the very tops of his ears, as he desperately tried to struggle his way out from under his friend, and Starsky turning slowly, his gaze meeting two seemingly endless legs that disappeared somewhere in the high air above his head.

Letting himself fall backwards slightly, he managed to prop himself up on one elbow and flashed the face belonging to the legs his best Starsky Special Ear-to-Ear- Grin. "Hi th-"

Before he could finish his greeting, though, he was roughly pushed on his side again, as Hutch, swearing under his breath, dragged one leg out of the humans made heap. "Get off m-"

"Hi," the long-legged intruder replied with a smile, watching the scenery going on at her feet in clear fascination. "D´you gentlemen need any help?"

"No!" Hutch snapped and finally freed his second leg by kicking against Starsky´s hip, sending his partner sliding over the floor a bit.

Having landed on his back, Starsky continued to grin at the stranger, utterly unimpressed by the blond´s action. "No, thanks. I think I´ll just stay here."

Stumbling to his feet, Hutch drove frantic hands through his dishevelled hair, suppressing the urge to kick his friend once more. "Get up, meathead!" he hissed, but was ignored.

Instead, he found himself the object of the woman´s attention suddenly. She held out a long, slender hand to him, presenting him with a friendly smile. "A. J. Locklyn. Pleased to meet you, Detective... ?"

"Hutch," Hutch stammered and, annoyed at himself, quickly added, "-inson. I-I mean, Hutch...inson," he finished lamely.

"And I´m Dave," Starsky announced from where he was getting to his feet, too, now and gently took the hand Hutch had been too confused to accept. "SO pleased to meet you too. A.J. it is?" he asked with an innocent smile.

"Agent Locklyn is fine," she replied with an amused wrinkling of her nose and drew her hand away to once more hold it out for Hutch, who looked at her, blinked and quickly turned away, since he had to sneeze.

"Bless you," Locklyn said, and he nodded, about to thank her, but had to sneeze a second time.

"Never mind him," Starsky told her, waggling his brows slightly. "He´s allergic to beautiful women."

Glaring, Hutch whirled around, his notorious index finger popping up, but before he could shoot (or rather stammer) back a reply, Dobey decided to leave his desk area and swiftly came to stand between the two detectives.

"Agent Locklyn," he greeted the suit-clad, black-haired woman, "it´s a pleasure to have you here."

"Oh yes," Starsky muttered and received a reprimanding look. "I mean since we have this... case-thingy we need so much help with and all."

Hutch sneezed.

"Gesundheit," three voices said in unison, and he tried his best to smile thankfully instead of rolling his eyes with a comment.

"Thanks."

Looking from one detective to the other, Locklyn smiled again, before gazing back at Dobey. "I think we´ll work together just fine. I heard a lot about you."

"It´s all tr-" Starsky started, but was interrupted by Dobey quickly suggesting, "Why don´t you take Agent Locklyn outside to show her the crime scene pictures?"

Grin never leaving his face, Starsky swiftly saluted and opened the door more, awkwardly trying to hold it open for Locklyn. "Aye, aye, Cap. Miss..."

Shooting him an amused glance, Locklyn nodded her thanks and left the room. "Thank you, Detective."

"Dave," Starsky called after her, following without looking back at his partner, who caught the closing door, dragged it open again, froze--and sneezed.

****

"Wow, that woman is really-"

"Don´t say it," Hutch cut his staring partner off, waving his index finger at him.

"Something," Starsky replied in a high-pitched mutter, completely innocent. "I was gonna say something."

"Sure you were." Lifting his hands as if to tiredly rub his eyes, Hutch secretly peeked through his fingers at A.J. Locklyn reading one of the many crime scene reports at Starsky´s desk, which his ever helpful partner had left her for her work with his most gracious smile.

The detectives themselves were standing at the coffee machine across the room, Hutch sitting on the shelf, as they waited for the coffee to run through.

"Think she likes me?" Starsky´s boyish whisper drew him out of his inspection, and with a disbelieving frown he glanced aside at his friend, whose gaze was focused on the beautiful woman concentrating on her reading. "I think she likes me."

"Starsk, she doesn´t even know you."

"So? I don´t know her, either, and I definitely like her. Besides, you´re one to talk, Mr. Lonely Hearts."

"That," Hutch replied, unable to keep his earlobes from turning slightly red, "hurt."

"Sorry," Starsky said, clearly not meaning it, and continued to dreamily observe Locklyn´s every moves, frowns, the way she absently stuck a stray lock of black hair behind her ears. "Is that coffee through now?"

Bending a bit forward to check on the busy coffee machine, Hutch answered "nope" and slid down from the shelf, reaching for two relatively clean cups. Unnoticed by his partner, he carefully, as to not arise Starsky´s attention, poured the coffe into them and was on his way across the room, before Starsky had even seen him move behind him.

"Here," he smiled at Locklyn, while sitting down at his desk across her, placing the steaming cup in front of her. "Coffee?"

"Thanks," she smiled back with an amused squint at his grumbling partner in the background. "How thoughtful of you."

"`S how I am," he replied with a modest wrinkling of his nose, before letting his gaze wander down to the pictures spread out in front of her. "So, what´re you making out of this? Any theories yet?"

Locklyn lifted her brows as if surprised, stating, "Quite a few actually, yes."

"Oh? You´re fast."

"I´m good," she corrected quietly, having the charming smile on his lips shrinking.

"I see. Well, `kay, let´s hear some of your billiancy. Who´s our killer?" he asked, slipping into a rather cool tone himself.

Her eyes sparkling as she took the challenge with obvious delight, she cast him a direct look. "A woman. Our killer´s a woman, probably in her early twenties, maybe thirties, extremely intelligent, not married, probably unemployed... Shall I go on?"

Honestly impressed, he gazed down at the pictures. "And you can tell all that just from looking at those?"

She gave a mute, self-contend nod, and he whistled appriciatively.

"That´s pretty impressive."

"That´s nothing," she smiled. "Pics are easy. It´s moving targets that can get kind of... unpredictable."

"Moving targets?" he repeated, unable to keep himself from slowly getting drawn into their tensing conversation.

Again, she nodded softly. "Yes. Take you, for example. You seem to be hard to read."

Blushing slightly, he averted his eyes with a shy smile, that faded the second she added, "...but yet indeed you are quite the contrary."

An annoyed light blue gaze snapped back at her. "What´s that supposed to mean?"

The most self-contend expression settling in her equally piercing green eyes, she bent even closer, and, almost involuntarily, he followed her movement, until they were facing each other with their noses nearly touching.

"You are smart," she said quietly, "and you know it. You´re attractive, and you know that also. You want to control things, and it scares you if you can´t manage. You´re out-going, but when it comes to women, you turn romantic. You like sun-sets, you like music--and you´ve recently been disappointed by someone."

The silence that followed could have smashed a grown up bull.

At her innocent blinking, Hutch finally hoarsely cleared his throat and was saved by his phone ringing.

"Ph-phone," he told her, shakily pointing at it.

"I forgot," she replied with an obvious chuckle, "you´re also a great detective."

A light, nervous laugh escaping him, he nodded and picked up the receiver. "Hutchin... Hi. Yep. Okay. Thanks." Hanging up, he turned on his chair to call for his partner, who was already standing behind him with his brows lifted questioningly.

"The part of the cellar Weitzman was found in belongs to the apartment of a Randy Thackery," Hutch explained. "The unis have checked, but he´s not home."

Shrugging, Starsky replied, "I wouldn´t be, either, if I had my cellar full of... Uhm," he quickly cut himself off at the glance he received from Locklyn "If I had a body in it. So, what now? Check his place ourselves?"

Already getting to his feet, Hutch nodded. "We´d better, huh? Might find something there."

"`Kay. Uhm... are we taking... I mean..." Trailing off, he clumsily nodded at Locklyn with his chin, and Hutch rolled his eyes, turning to the still sitting agent.

"D´you want to come with us?"

"Since it´s my job," she replied sarcastically, reaching for her jacket she´d draped over Starsk´s chair, "I think I will, yes."

And with that, she gathered together her notes and left the room, not waiting for the detectives to follow.

Staring after her for a moment, before he, too, started to move, Starsky gave a low whistle. "She´s one hell of a woman, I tell you that."

"Hm-mm," Hutch muttered, unheard, as he unwillingly followed his eager partner outside. "Hell is one word I would use."

****

Squeezing his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger, Hutch leant against a wall in Randy Thackery´s tiny hallway, willing an aspirin to appear out of nowhere for him to grab.

After having been forced to listen to Starsky´s endless rambling about his car, he was working a major headache, but at least he´d felt the connection between him and the other part of the audience fastening, as they´d exchanged a few glances at the driver´s excited tale.

And as he now secretly glanced at the agent wandering through the rooms, her smooth features drawn in concentration, he couldn´t help his mind starting to wonder, starting to form a circle of curious questions that´d bothered him all the way to the apartment.

"How d´you know it´s a woman?" he asked quietly, lifting his brows, when she turned to look at him. "This is a man´s place."

"Yes," she replied, "but this is not our killer."

"How d´you know that?" Starsky, who was just re-entering the hallway from Thackery´s equally tiny kitchen, asked around something he was chewing.

Looking from one to the other, Locklyn folded her arms in front of her chest, explaining quietly, "The killer´s aim was to show. To arrange. The crime scene´s neatly, distinctively arranged. Like a painting. It´s a message, if you want. She´s talking to us, she wants us to get to know her. She´s challenging us." She paused, glancing around with a mockingly questioning expression. "Does this look like the place of a person who would challenge anyone?"

Following her gaze, Starsky shrugged. "It sorta smells, but..." His glance falling to a huge spider hanging in its cobweb in one high corner, he grimaced in disgust. "Yuck."

Hutch chuckled softly at that, before looking at Locklyn again, whose gaze had also followed Starky´s and had come to rest on the spider.

"What´re you saying, tidiness is a characteristic going for women only?"

"No," she replied quietly. "Expressing clear messages is."

"Touché," he said with an acknowledging nod and was about to add something else, when Starsky´s mumble interrupted him.

"I hate spiders. Yuck. Double-yuck." Turning as if wanting to get out of the spider´s sight, he took a large step aside and jumped, when he almost stepped in yet another eight-legged inhabitant. "Triple-yuck!"

Exchanging an amused glance with Hutch, Locklyn stepped past Starsky to reach up into the corner and let the spider there creep onto her outstretched hand. "What, a big boy like you´s afraid of a little spider, Dave?"

For once, Starsky followed his friend´s example and blushed a dark shade of red. "I didn´t say I was AFRAID of it," he defended himself, but nearly lost his balance when he bounced back, as Locklyn turned to face him, the spider on her hand. "Okay, NOW I´m saying it. Get that thing away from me."

Visibly enjoying the scenery, Hutch stepped next to Locklyn with an evil grin spreading on his lips. "C´mon, buddy, face your fears." As if to underline his words, he, too, reached out, making it look as if he was tickling the insect. "See, it´s totally harmless."

"Just make sure you don´t take it with you when we leave, Nature Boy, yeah?" Starsky grumbled, secretly backing away even more, when Locklyn turned to head for the nearest window, muttering a clearly amused "Men."

Starsky looked after her with a violent shudder, before casting his still chuckling partner a very, very dirty glance, mouthing a silent "Low blow."

Bending his head in mock guilt, Hutch pursed his lips and followed Locklyn to the window, where she was carefully releasing the spider into the freedom of the outside world.

"Truth now, Agent, why´re you so sure it´s a woman?"

"First of all," she started seriously, "the pictures are showing different states of decay, different states of appearance, so to speak. Focusing on looks, on the outside, on the FACE. That´s a very female way of thinking. She could have taken his picture from the distance, but most of them show the face, and the face only, with special emphasize on the eyes." A quick dry smile crossed her lips, as she added, "I believe you´re familiar with the fact that women tend to look into a man´s eyes first, whereas MEN chose to inspect... other parts of the female anatomy."

"So I heard," he replied ironcially.

"I bet you only heard. Fixation on eyes is a clear female characteristic. As is the urge to hold fast, to keep--to catch, so to speak. Judge Weitzman´s body was wrapped in ropes, in a net, with nothing of his body left to see. You could say he was completely in her hold, completely caught. Unconsciously, women savor that idea. It symbolizes power, control."

"Is she starting to scare you too?" Starsky asked, stepping next to his partner, who almost jumped, startled, as he´d been torn out of his intense listening.

"Women in general," Locklyn replied, locking eyes with Hutch, though she was answering his partner, "tend to scare men."

The detectives stared at her, then in unison cleared their throats and turned towards the room, leaving her behind.

"There´s nothing in the kitchen," Starsky started, slipping into business-tone.

"You mean now," Hutch wise-cracked and earned an unnerved glance.

"I meant there´s nothing in it that could be of any use for us, and DON´T," he added, lifting a warning finger, "say it."

"Oookay," Hutch replied, raising his hands innocently and turned to once more take in the shabby appearance of the place. "I hate to admit it, but I think she´s right."

"You´re scared of women?"

"No, I mean about Randy Thackery not being our killer. Look around."

"Yeah, I know," Starsky nodded. "Seems to have been your ordinary shoot`n-run-fella. Not a wrapper-psycho."

Casting him a quick glance at the very fitting description, Hutch suppressed a chuckle and went on, "But maybe he was in on it. If our profiling genius is right, then someone must have helped our killer to get a man like Weitzman down into the cellar, right?"

"Isn´t that," Locklyn suddenly interfered, walking past them to the door, "rather sexist, Detective? D´you honestly doubt a woman can commit a crime all on her own?"

With a last, sparkling grin, she vanished through the door, her heels clacking on her way down the stairs.

Turning from where he´d looked after her to his dumbfounded partner, Starsky smirked. "She´s got a point there, part-"

"Stuff it, Starsk. Stuff it."

****

Aspirin.

"Hey."

A kingdom for aspirin.

"*sigh* What?"

An injured little-boy-frown crawling over his forehead at his partner´s unnerved reply, Starsky hesitated, but finally couldn´t keep his wondering to himself any longer. "D´you get this psycho babbling? I don´t get it."

"What a shocker," Hutch muttered, instantly regretting his words, but unable to help his grumpiness, since his head was positively starting to kill him, like it had been all the way to Huggy´s, where they were sitting at a table right now, Starsky waiting for his long longed for breakfast, that by now had turned into lunch, whereas Hutch grimly nursed a glass of water.

Agent A.J. Locklyn they´d left at the precinct. She´d wanted to work on her notes a bit more and maybe catch the autopsy report, too, in case it was already available.

"See? That´s exactly what I mean," Starsky continued, his tone matching his expression. "Profiling Babe would know why you´re mean to me right now, but me, I-"

"I´m sorry," Hutch sighed deeply. "I have a headache. And..." he added, stopped, sneezed, sniffed. "PLEASE don´t call her Profiling Babe."

"Sorry," Starsky said, "I forgot you´re officially on the anti-female side now. Can´t say I´m sorry about that, though," he added with an unmistakable grin.

"Aw, Starsky, please," Hutch shot back with a wince. "Don´t tell me you´re really thinking about hitting on her."

"`Kay, I won´t tell."

"That woman´s the most irritating, annoying, unnerving cause for a headache I´ve met since-"

"This morning?" Starsky finished innocently.

"Yes," Hutch growled.

Watching his friend, Starsky shrugged. "I bet she´d be nice to you, too, if you stopped bugging her all the time."

"I´m doing nothing of the kind," Hutch fiercely defended himself, paused and added with a frown, "And what d´you mean, she´d be nice to me too?"

"Well, it´s obvious that she likes me."

"Only for you, Starsk."

Annoyance starting to color his voice, Starsky frowned. "What´s it to you, anyway? I thought you hated women."

"Only trying to protect you," his friend muttered grimly.

"Good idea," Starsky shot back, getting to his feet. "Start with sarcastic partners." With that, he turned, heading for the men´s room, but stopped when he caught a glimpse of Hutch tiredly rubbing his face, his shoulders slumping forward with his elbows resting on the table.

Instantly feeling bad for his lack of patience, he changed his way to approach Huggy, who, at that time of the day, was busy behind the bar. "Hey Hug?"

"No time, Stars-" Huggy cut him off hastily, but was himself interrupted by the detective´s pleading voice.

"You see that miserable blond heap over there?"

"Huh?" Puzzled, Huggy glanced up. "What d´you want?"

Blinking sweetly, Starsky smiled. "You still got that bottle of 'Blintz Emergency Aspirin' somewhere?"

Understanding, Huggy nodded. "One aspirin on the rocks for the down-waved beach boy. Got it."

"Thanks," Starsky said and turned for his original aim, but stopped after a step, glancing back at Huggy. "And, Hug, put it on my tab."

"I don´t think there´s any place left on that," Huggy grumbled and was rewarded with an innocent shrug.

"Start a new one then."

Unaware of all that, Hutch sat with his eyes closed against the stabbing pain behind his eyes, his thoughts once more wandering off to a certain FBI agent he couldn´t seem to keep them away from lately.

He had to give his partner that he got taste; A.J. Locklyn WAS one beautiful lady. But still, he couldn´t help shuddering at the cold he´d noticed in the woman´s piercing green eyes. Cold that might be caused by her job, that might be just a shield against the insanity she was forced to face each and every day. After all, he didn´t know what it was like, standing at the abyss of the human soul forever, forever staring down into it, forever reaching out for the souls who´d fallen inside to draw them closer, to lock eyes with them, to feel what they felt, see what they saw, think what they thought.

He couldn´t imagine what it was like, watching pictures of the horrible sight that hours before had shaken him, and see a human being taking them, doing what was shown, feeling the urge that had run through the killer at that very moment.

Maybe, in order to be able to face all that fire, you had to ice your eyes. Maybe you had to build a shield of freezing cold covering them, or otherwise your lids would also burn. Maybe you had to draw a mirror over your own, so they couldn´t see inside.

Maybe if they could, you would one day find yourself on the wrong side of that abyss.

"One Pain Pill Cocktail for the blond beauty from that admirer over there," Huggy´s voice broke through his thoughts like thunder, as he placed another glass of water along with two small white pills in front of the startled blond and pointed at Starsky, who was on his way back through the mid-day crowd.

Shaking his head slighty as if to clear it, Hutch flashed Huggy a quick, grateful smile, instantly reaching out for the small, round life-savers on the table. "Hug, you´re beautiful."

"I know, but he´s," the bar owner replied, glancing at Starsky sitting down again, "paying."

"Later," Starsky winked absently, not even looking up.

"Later, later, later, always later," Huggy muttered to himself and turned to head back for the bar. "If he paid one day, I could open my own casino in Vegas, I tell you that."

Chuckling, Starsky waved after him. "Listen to our boy. As if he could run such a place, when he can´t even collect from some little street cops. Jeez."

Having gulped the aspirins down, Hutch smiled at him with obvious relief and gratefulness. "Thanks for the drink."

Starsky winked. "Just don´t want you to feel neglected, what with Pro-Ba... Uh, A.J. `round now."

Grimacing in mock hurt, Hutch gave an injured sigh. "I´ve always known you were just keeping me around `til a pair of longer legs strolls along."

Starsky grinned. "That´s why I love you, Blondie, you´re of the brainy type."

Hutch laughed at that, but grew serious again, when he asked, "What d´you really think of her?"

"Who, Pro-Babe?"

Rolling his eyes, Hutch nodded.

Starsky shrugged. "She´s-"

"EXCEPT for her being a hottie," Hutch cut him off, unnerved.

"Oh." Pause. "Dunno, Hutch. I don´t know her that good. And, by the way, neither do you. Just what is it that´s bugging you about her so much?"

"I don´t know," Hutch replied, exasperated. "It´s just that... I don´t know." He sighed.

"Hmmmmmm," Starsky made, tilting his head to one side. "Maaaaaaybe you´re sorta scared... so to speak," he grinned, "`cause deep down you know she´s smarter than you."

Hutch stared at him for a moment and then very quietly stated, "Low blow."

Once more shrugging innocently, Starsky replied, "Truth hurts, pal," and turned on his chair to call over to the bar, "And what the hell d´you have to do to get some food in this place?!"

"Pay," came the unimpressed answer from Huggy.

Shoulders slumping, Starsky turned to his partner again. "Lend me money?"

****

They were strolling down the hallway back to the squad room about an hour later, when they were stopped by an overworked looking uni, who pressed a thin folder into Hutch´s hand with a mumbled "autopsy rep" and swiftly continued on his way, ignoring the detectives´ thanks called after him.

"People are getting friendlier every day `round here," Hutch muttered grimly.

Next to him, his partner shrugged, taking the folder out of his hands. "Maybe his day started on socks too."

"Funny, Starsk," Hutch growled.

Nodding absently, as he was scanning the first page, Starsky replied, "I know" and frowned.

"What?" Hutch asked, stepping closer to look over his friend´s shoulder. "Probs understanding it again, buddy?"

Flashing him a dirty look, Starsky pressed his lips shut, paused, and finally mumbled, "What´s a Therid...That word," he finished sheepishly, pointing at it in the text he was holding.

"The-ri-di-i-dae," Hutch corrected, pointing at each pronounced syllable with his index finger.

"Yeah," Starsky rolled his eyes. "That."

"Theridiidae," Hutch repeated like a teacher wanting an unwilling pupil to show he´d understood.

"Yes," Starsky snapped, unnerved. "THAT."

Suppressing a grin, Hutch answered, "That´s a black widow spider. Obviously they found venom in Weitzman´s system," he added as if to himself, absently taking the folder again. "So that was that rash I-"

"SPIDER?! Wrapper psycho is now SPIDER psycho?! I want another case."

Casting his friend an innocent look, suppressing an evil grin, Hutch adjusted the folder in his hands, glancing at the ceiling as if lost in thoughts. "If I remember correctly, one bite of the Theridiidae is enough to kill a grown-up man. Slowly, though, of course. The venom creeps into your system and paralyses your diaphragm, so that you slowly choke to death."

"`Triffic," Starsky mumbled, an involuntary hand coming up to softly brush over his neck.

"Yeah, isn´t that fascinating?" Hutch replied enthusiastically. "D´you know the Theridiidae´s venom´s fifteen times as toxic as that of a rattlesnake?"

"No," Starsky answered, paling slightly. "That´s ONE thing I didn´t know. Thanks for enlightening me."

"Oh, there´s more," Hutch quickly said, folding his arms in front of him as he continued, "D´you know that the Theridiidae tends to eat the male alive after mating?"

Starsky swallowed dryly. "Really," he stated quietly. "How neat."

"Isn´t it?" Hutch grinned, but quickly forced a lecturing expression onto his face again. "There is a fair chance of the male escaping the attack, though. If it´s fast enough," he added with a smirk.

"Run, Itsy Bitzy, run," Starsky muttered and shuddered.

"But if the male´s NOT fast enough," Hutch went on unmercilessly, "the female will-"

"Oh, shut up and gimme that!" Starsky cut him off, all but jerking the folder out of his grasp and headed for the squad room, mumbling a disgusted chant of "Spiders, yuck, of all things gross, of COURSE it HAD to be spiders... HATE spiders..."

Laughing amusedly to himself, Hutch followed.

Inside the squad room, again seated at Starsky´s desk, A.J. Locklyn lifted her head to flash them a greeting smile. "Had a nice lunch?" she asked friendly.

Shooting Hutch a dirty look, Starsky muttered, "Very" and sat down on his partner´s chair, across the agent, placing the report in front of her. "We got Weitzman´s autopsy report."

"And?" she asked, lifting her brows in interest, as she opened the folder.

"He was bitten by a Theridiidae," Hutch said from where he stood behind his partner, secretly nudging Starsky´s shoulder.

Rolling his eyes, Starsky bent a bit over the desk, trying to look into Locklyn´s face. "That´s a Black Widow Spider."

Glancing up, she flashed him a cool smile. "I know."

"Most people do," Hutch muttered innocently, flinching a bit at the slight kick to his leg he received for that.

Either not noticing or not caring, Locklyn continued to scan the report, nodding to herself as she read, then looked up, fixing a direct look on Hutch. "A Black Widow Spider. Very female a weapon, Detective, don´t you think?"

Puzzled, the blond frowned. "I know I´m sliding onto the sexist road again here," he started, acknowledging her grin with a nod, "but aren´t most women scared of spiders?"

"First of all," Locklyn replied, "yes, you are being sexist again, and secondly, though I hate to admit it, you happen to be right, most women are. As well as a handful of men on earth, I believe," she added, casting Starsky an amused glance.

"I´m not SCARED of spiders, I just don´t..."

As his partner searched for the right word to describe his feelings towards spiders, Hutch secretly placed his fingertips onto the back of Starsky´s shoulder and immitated a creeping motion upwards.

"WHAAAAA!" Jumping up so violently he knocked over his chair, Starsky stumbled backwards and stared at his partner´s hand that turned from a creeping claw to a laughing mouth.

Gulping down air, he blinked, opened his mouth, closed it and finally stated shakily, "I did that on purpose."

"Sure, buddy," Hutch nodded and sat down in his now free chair. "Sure."

"Are you clowns done?" Locklyn asked patiently, studying the report again.

Exchanging a perfect little-boys-glance, the detectives both bowed their heads.

"Sorry," Starsky muttered.

Hutch sneezed.

"Gesundheit," Starsky muttered.

"*sniff* Thanks."

Watching them calmly, Locklyn paused and finally lifted her brows questioningly. "Okay now?"

"Hm-mm," came the synchonized reply.

"Good. Well, were was I?"

"Spiders, female, Hutch´s a sexist," Starsky answered.

"Right," she nodded, ignoring both the comment and the blond´s angry glare. "As I said, it IS a female characteristic to be afraid of spiders, but also this particular spider, the Black Widow Spider, is known to be a symbol for female urge to gain control over the man after he´s violated her, so to speak."

The detective stared at her, dumbfounded. "What d´you mean," Starsky finally asked, "sex?"

Locklyn nodded. "It is a known phenomenon in the female psyche that, though copulation is sought, the actual act is seen as a violation, an intrusion, so to speak, that--in a woman´s mind--should be punished."

Listening in fascination, Hutch suddenly felt fingers closing over shoulder, and when he glanced up, he met his friend´s paling face.

Unaware of the terror she´d settled in a heart that was easy to impress, Locklyn continued, "For that charcateristically female behavior the Black Widow Spider has always been a symbol. An educated woman like our killer would logically use it for her means to exemplify her message to us."

"Logically," Hutch repeated sarcastially.

"Are you saying our killer first slept with the judge and then left him in a bed of spiders?!" Starsky asked incredulously.

Unimpressed, Locklyn waggled her hand. "Don´t exaggerate, Dave. One would have been enough."

Swallowing dryly, Starsky staggered a small step backwards, glancing over his shoulder as if looking for an escape way. "Uhm... anyone else want some candy?"

Hutch shook his head at him, amused, though his gaze kept wandering to the agent, and, locking eyes with her, he swiftly produced a dime from his jeans, snapping it up for his partner to catch.

"Here, buddy. My treat this time."

Pushing the coin into his own pocket, Starsky left, not missing to throw his partner, who didn´t look, a grim "gna, gna, gna"-glance, before letting the door fall shut behind him.

"He´s easy to scare," Locklyn observed, nodding after the leaving detective with her chin.

Hutch shrugged. "Sometimes. But," he added, slipping into business-tone, as his expression and tone grew serious, "tell me, what is it that has you so sure the woman we´re looking for is so utterly clever and educated? If there´s one thing you learn doing this job, it´s that everybody can plan and commit a murder. You don´t need brains for that. Just a motive."

A slight, eerily annoyed looking frown crossed her forehead. "Is that what you think?"

"Uhm... yep."

"Maybe I´ve been wrong then."

"`Bout what?" he asked, puzzled.

"You being a good detective," she replied tonelessly.

As he let the words sink in, an irritated laugh slipped off his lips. "I take it we have different opinions about that then."

"We definitely do. See," she explained, "though you may not have learned that doing your job..."

He flinched at that, but was ignored.

"... murder is NOT the same thing as murder. What you´ve come across have probably been drive-by shootings or, I don´t know, a husband shooting his wife in a case of momentary jealousy or-"

"Is there an insult at the end of that sentence?" he cut her off. "For I think there is."

Smiling in mock apology, she leant back in her chair. "My point is, you may work on finding out about a killer´s motive, but you are never trying to THINK like a killer. That´s understandable," she added quickly. "It´s not your job. But still, sometimes, it´s helpful to not only see the facts behind a crime, but the psychology too. The emotions, so to speak. Whatever it was that had that woman thinking she was right to do that."

"Right?" he asked, lifting his brows. "How can it be right to torture another human being to death in the most cruel, inhuman-"

"For you," she interrupted him fiercely enough to have a startled frown cross his forehead, "it may seem like this. Cruel, inhuman. But for her, it was the right thing to do. The right punishment for a man like Weitzman."

"Punishment?" he repeated.

"You are familiar with the judge´s vita, Detective, aren´t you? His, let´s say foible for racists, his unique sentences? His specialization in discrimination? There are many people out there who´ll probably think he deserved what he got."

"Including you?" he asked softly, tilting his head to one side.

She hesitated, her eyes averting, and when she answered, her voice was so cold it made him shudder. "We are not talking about me here."

The furrow even deepening on his face, Hutch watched her in silence, working on his reply. There was something in her posture he couldn´t read, something strikingly hot threatening to break through the freezing cold, and though she wouldn´t meet his eyes, he could sense the discomfort forming in her own.

The sound of Dobey´s door opening tore him out of his thoughts, though, and when he looked up, he saw his superior standing in the doorway, grimly staring down at him.

"Where´s your partner?"

"Candy," Hutch replied, slightly pointing at the door with his thumb.

Rolling his eyes obviously just for the gesture, Dobey informed him, "They found another body. 211 Jever Street."

Instantly getting to his feet, Hutch grabbed his jacket he´d draped over his chair, Locklyn following his example mutely. "We´re on it."

"You do that. And Hutchinson," Dobey called after him, "it´s Randy Thackery."

Stopping in mid-step, Hutch briefly widened his eyes at him, then turned and left the room, Locklyn on his heels.

The door hadn´t fallen shut all the way, when he froze for the second time, light blue eyes once more widening, though this time the surprise in them seemed to be tinged with disbelieving fury.

Puzzled, Locklyn stepped aside to be able to look past him and noticed his partner in the most enthusiastic conversation with a rather smallish, blond woman, who was leaning against the wall in the hallway, one feet against it to expose her knee from under a short black skirt that matched a red shirt.

Starsky, obviously indrawn, had one hand against the same wall, half caging her in, laughing at something she´d just said.

Her eyes wandering back to Hutch, Locklyn found him to have paled a few shades, but before she could verbalize her confusion, the blond had already approached his flirting friend, placing a firm hand onto his shoulder to drag him away from the girl, who herself fell instantly silent, her foot finding the floor again.

"Ken..." she whispered, startled. At the same moment Starsky exclaimed an irritated "Hutch!"

At her reaction, though, he turned, half in his partner´s grasp, and shot her a puzzled glance that met Hutch, too, a second later. "You two know each other?"

"We´ve met," Hutch replied dryly, casting the girl a dirty look. "I wouldn´t dare to assume you at least still got my wallet?"

"Uhm..." she muttered, averting her eyes guiltily. "I-I sorta-"

"Wait a second," Starsky cut her off, easily freeing himself from Hutch´s grip. "THAT´s her?! That´s Cindy-Sharon-"

"Tina," the woman said in a small voice.

"Whatever," Starsky continued without listening to her. "Who drugged and robbed you last night?!"

"Starsk," Hutch hurried to mutter assuringly, "let it b-"

But Starsky wasn´t about to let it be. "YOU," he turned to the poor girl, all his flirtatous delight instantly having turned into glaring anger, "are unbelievable, showing up here after you pulled that stunt on him!"

"Uhm..." the girl started, ironically enough throwing HUTCH a helpless glance.

"Starsk... this is a police station. She probably got arrested."

"SO?!" Starsky exclaimed, not going to be calmed down. "And you´re a cop. She STILL could have known better than to show up here! Listen, lady," he turned to Tina, pointing a warning finger at her, "you should be lucky you´re a girl, `cause otherwise I´d-"

"What?" Locklyn, who´d suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere, asked, stepping next to the enraged detective. "You´d what, Dave?"

"You stay out of this," Starsky growled, not even really looking at her. "You´re a girl too. Naturally you´re on her si-"

"Starsk," Hutch muttered, gently, yet urgently grabbing his partner´s shoulder once more, "I´d shut up now if I were you. C´mon, drop it."

"But I don´t WANNA drop it," Starsky shot back. "I want to-"

"Later, partner, `kay? They found Thackery´s body."

Visibly unwillingly, Starsky averted his eyes from Tina. "How?"

"Don´t know yet. Let´s go and check."

With a glance back at Tina, Starsky angrily informed her, "You are one lucky person, Tanya."

"Tina," Locklyn corrected behind him.

"Whatever."

****

What had once been Randy Thackery´s face was now an obscenely swollen, greyish mass of crusted welts and popped up red spots, like an exaggerated version of the measles.

"Don´t say it," Hutch muttered, as he slowly entered the damp room with his partner at his side, "yuck."

"Double-yuck," Starsky replied quietly, taking in their surroundings, a cellar room, much like Randy Thackery´s own. A lonely bulb hang in the middle of the ceiling, casting the horrible figure underneath it in a bright white light like a ray directly from heaven onto something directly out of hell.

A man´s personal one. A man´s body´s one.

Thick, crusted, bloodied ropes were drawn over his body, torn at some places, where convulsions had obviously forced his limbs out with supernatural strength that pain used to stir in humans. Cramped fingers had closed over wispy strands of rolled up bindings like claws.

But what struck the three officers--as well as the lab guys--as the most horrible were the two matches that had been forced into the dying man´s eyes in order to keep his lids up. The effects had been minor, though, since Thackery´s eyes had swelled shut around the items, blueish spots marked the pressure points inside the half-closed orbs.

"Triple-yuck," Hutch said with a nod and looked at Locklyn, who´d stepped around from behind the detectives, circling the body, careful as to not step on the neat arrangement of pictures draped around it. "Does this change your theory?"

Surprised, she blinked up at him. "Not at all."

"My God." Crouching down next to Thackery, Starsky inspected a short strip of ashen skin that hang out from under a blue fingernail. The man had scratched off his own skin. "Whatever drives a person to do such a thing?"

Catching his glance, his partner grimaced and crouched down on the other side of the body, so that they both looked up at Locklyn still wandering about the room.

"Insanity," Hutch answered quietly.

"Righteousness," Locklyn replied, an icy look finding the blond, who didn´t notice.

"Okay. Insane righteousness."

Her deep sigh finally made him look up, surprised. "It´s always refreshing to have an amateurs´s opinion..." A pause. "...to ignore."

At the remark, Starsky´s brows shot up and he turned in his crouching position, glancing at her, then back at his indignant partner with a low whistle.

"Your diagnosis doesn´t inculde insanity then, Dr. Locklyn?" Hutch asked, his own velvety voice doing a pretty good job at having the temperature in the room drop a few degrees.

"My diagnosis," Locklyn replied, "is my concern."

Light blue eyes met green ones, but it was Hutch, whose gaze nervously wandered aside after a second, the sensation of having the agent seemingly looking right into his soul too disturbing for him.

"I-I, uh, I´m gonna call for a check-up on Thackery," he muttered, pushing himself to his feet.

Confused at his partner´s reaction, Starsky looked after him, as the blond almost fled from the room. When he turned ahead again, he found himself directly looking at A.J. Locklyn, who´d taken Hutch´s place on the other side of the body.

"Is your partner always that easy to get to?"

"Not always," Starsky answered with a wry smile. "He´s having sort of a bad day."

"So I noticed."

"Yeah, well, but," Starsky continued, the unconscious need to defend his friend stronger than the urge to use the opportunity, "usually he´s a really nice guy. You just caught him a little... grumpy."

Interest flashing through her eyes, she tilted her head to one side. "You two been partners long?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Seven years. He´s my best friend." After a pause, he added (knowing full well about the effect that line had on women), "Closer than brothers, y´know?"

And he wasn´t to be disappointed. "Aw, that´s so cute."

"Ya think?" he grinned. "Just that?"

Her own smile widening a bit with her eyes starting to sparkle, she lowered her voice. "You know perfectly well that YOU are more than just cute, Dave."

"Oh?" he made, most willingly playing along. He seemed to have completely forgotten the body at their feet. "Is that all you can tell about me, Doc?"

"Weeell," she drawled, "even my abilities have limits."

"You are quite a charmer, aren´t you?"

"Who," she replied, blinking innocently, "me?"

"Detective Starsky?" a voice behind him kept Starsky from coming up with a fitting reply.

"Huh?" Turning, he saw one stoic lab guy looking down at him through expressionless eyes.

"Your partner wants to see you outside."

"Yeah, `kay, I´ll, uh... thanks," he replied, standing up with a regretful glance at Locklyn, who followed his example. "Did I mention already his timing´s perfect?" he muttered, and she laughed.

Outside the building, Hutch waited for them, leaning against the Torino. "Thackery was recently released from Cabrillo," he started, before Starsky and Locklyn had even come to a halt in front of him. "Manic depression. It seems his one-year-old son died five years ago. Drowned in the bathtub. Thackery was right beside there, watching."

"Watching?" Starsky repeated, raising his brows in disbelief.

Hutch nodded gravely. "Didn´t do a thing about it. His wife admitted him after that, and he´s been in Cabrillo ever since. Until," he added, "they let him go six months ago under the condition he´d take his medication and agree to a continuous therapy. There´s no indication he ever met the judge in person. Nothing."

Starsky frowned. "And whose cellar is this?"

Hutch shrugged. "Dunno yet. They´re working on it, though."

His partner sighed. "This case is starting to give me a headache."

"Welcome to the club," Hutch mumbled, squeezing his eyes shut with his fingers, then peeked over his them at Locklyn, who´d listened in silence. "D´you see the red spots on Thackery´s face? Theridiidae bites."

"Does that surprise you?" Locklyn asked almost indignantly. "D´you doubt my profile?"

"I wouldn´t dare," the blond mumbled, earning an icy glare, but ignored it.

Sensing the increasing tension filling the air, Starsky quickly stepped between the two, giving his friend a gentle push. "No fighting, kids. You," he told his partner, "get in, and you," he turned to Locklyn, "no one doubts anything about you."

At the grin accompanying that statement, Hutch rolled his eyes with a muttered "yuck" and threw the door shut behind him.

Fortunately for him, Starsky had been too busy holding the door open for Locklyn to hear. Once all three of them were inside, though, Hutch slid closer to the window, flashing the agent a sarcastic grin, barely restraining himself from asking what backseats were there for.

Once more marveling over his partner´s ability of quiet insult, Starsky asked, "All comfy?"

Two icy "very"s answered.

"`Triffic," the poor driver sighed and started the engine.

****

"Sam Meedrah."

"Huh?" His curly head snapping up from where he´d been busy pouring coffee into his cup, Starsky turned, looking after Hutch, who passed behind him, waving a thin folder. "Who´s that?"

"Guy who owns the cellar," Hutch replied and sat down at his desk in the squad room.

"What cellar?"

A deep sigh. "The cellar Thackery was found in, mushbrain."

Flinching exaggeratedly at his friend´s snapping tone, Starsky picked up his coffee and strolled after Hutch, mumbling an all but heart-breaking. "Sorry."

With his usual exhausted gesture of rubbing his eyes, Hutch sighed. "Sorry too." His body on his side for once, a sneeze followed.

"Gesundheit."

"*sniff* Tha...ACHOO!"

Lifting his brows expectantly, Starsky watched him, one hand covering his cup, as he slowly sat down.

"What?!" Hutch asked, unnerved, through a sniff.

"`Nother one coming?"

"No!"

"Okay. Gesundheit."

"Thank you so much."

"You´re welcome." Pause. "Hey, listen, buddy, why don´t you call it a day, and I´ll finish that report, hm?"

"Because I won´t have time to check it for spelling mistakes tomorrow," Hutch snapped.

Eyes popping into sick-puppy-size, Starsky stared at him.

Instantly regretting his words, Hutch bowed his head. "Sorry."

"That was so mean."

Rolling his eyes at his partner´s child-like tone, Hutch gazed up again. "I said I´m sorry. I didn´t mean it, your spelling´s great."

Starsky winked. "I know." Pause. "Headache still bad?"

"Uh huh."

"Want `nother aspirin?"

"I think I´d OD myself," Hutch muttered and leant back on his chair, casting his friend a tired look. "Starsk, why is it women get to us like they do?"

His partner shrugged. "`Cause they´re nice to look at?"

Hutch sighed.

"Oh c´mon, Hutch," Starsky said, exasperated. "You´re not still brooding `bout A.J., are ya? Don´t you think it´s enough now? You hardly talked to her all evening."

"A.J.?" Hutch repeated, stretching the agent´s name, who´d left the detectives half an hour ago. "Whatever happened to Pro-Babe?"

Waggling his brows, Starsky replied, "I promoted her to a name. Had a real conversation with her, y´know."

"Poor you."

Now it was Starsky´s turn to sigh. "Huuuutch. She´s nice, okay?"

"By some ancient definition of nice I´m not aware of?"

"No," Starsky snapped, "by MY definition. And I think you really hurt her, treating her like that. I mean, don´t get me wrong, I appreciate your lack of interest, but it´d be sorta nice if I don´t have to get between you two all the time. What´s your problem, anyway? She´s smart, cute, friendly... Since when is that a reason to be mean to someone?!"

"I wasn´t mean," Hutch defended himself.

"You threw the door shut right into her face. And the squad room door too. Twice."

With absolutely no expression on his face Hutch stated, "Oops."

Starsky rolled his eyes, about to add something else, but was kept from it by his partner, who threw his hands in the air in exasperation. "I don´t KNOW what it is that´s bugging me `bout her, Starsk, okay?! Sometimes you just don´t like people, because you don´t like them. For no reason."

"But not smart, cute girls with legs up to their necks!"

Hutch shook his head. "You´re unbelievable, d´you know that?"

"I happen to hear that a lot," Starsky grinned and finally managed to earn a chuckle from his friend.

"I give up. You go on liking her, she´s all yours. But at least stop trying to convince me, `cause me and A.J. Locklyn, we´re from two different planets."

"You got it," Starsky smiled and paused, then nodded curtly at the typing machine on Hutch´s desk. "So--want me to finish that report now? You really look beat."

"No," Hutch winked, "`sokay. But you can go if you want, I think I´ll manage this alone."

"You sure?" Starsky asked, the idea of calling it a day obviously meeting clear enthusiasm in his head.

Smiling, his partner nodded. "I´m positive. Go."

"Thanks," Starsky announced, getting to his feet, grabbing his jacket. "I owe ya, Hutch. Oh, here." He shoved his cup over onto Hutch´s desk. "Have some coffee."

Hutch rolled his eyes. "Night, Starsk."

"Night," Starsky replied, already half outside the room.

The door had just fallen shut, when Hutch, using only one finger, shoved the cup back over to Starsky´s desk, grimacing in disgust at the idea of drinking the coffee-flavored sugar.

With a tired sigh he then turned back to his report--and sneezed.

"Gesundheit!!!" a faint voice from the very distance echoed through the hallway, and, sniffing, Hutch laughed.

"THANKS, GORDO!" he yelled back at the top of his lungs and once more was about to continue typing, when Dobey´s door was all but jerked open.

"Will you two clowns stop screaming around here ?! Some people are trying to WORK!"

Ducking his head, Hutch muttered an unintelligible apology, suppressing his giggles until the grumbling Captain had vanished inside his office again.

****

The very first thing Starsky did after leaving Metro was to get a week´s supply of peanut butter.

Learn from disaster, Dave, he told himself as he produced the box from his trunk in front of his place, whistling happily to himself on his way up to his door, where he came to a sudden halt, blinking in surprise at what met his sight.

"Hi Dave."

Smiling in puzzlement at A.J. Locklyn standing up from where she´d waited for him on the top of the stairs, he adjusted the box in his arms. "Agent Locklyn," he greeted with a nod. "I have to admit I´m surprised. Positively, don´t get me wrong."

"I´m glad to hear that," she replied, bending a bit closer as she peeked inside the box, then flashed him a questioning smile.

"Uhm..." he started, blushing slightly, then grinned. "Care to come in for a peanut butter sandwich?"

Her eyes sparkling, she grinned. "Love to."

Delighted, he opened his door. "You like peanut butter?"

"No, hate it," she replied, closing the door behind them. "But I know an opportunity, when I see one."

At that, he turned, trying his best to kick the most dumbfounded look off of his face. "You don´t waste much time, do you?"

"Life´s short," she said and looked around. "Wow. You are one tidy guy."

He grinned. "Don´t let this impress you too much. I can get messy too."

Wrinkling her nose ever so slightly, Locklyn gave a very low mew.

Their eyes locking for a few moments, a decision was made on both sides.

Suddenly snapping into hasty motion, Starsky turned, heading for his kitchen. "Uhm, can I get you anything? I have, uhm..." Placing the box aside, he opened his fridge, froze, let it fall closed. "Just a sec." Turning, he inspected his cupboard, too, and was once more disappointed.

"Hm. Well, actually, I have zip, BUT," he added quickly, reaching for the phone next to him without looking, "I could order something. Since you don´t like peanut butter."

"How charming an idea that is," she replied in a low drawl, strolling closer to come to a halt directly in front of him and gently took the receiver out of his hands, "I have a better one."

Their noses almost touching, he studied her expectantly. "I´m all ears."

"How about," she started, slipping into an almost girlish tone, as she lifted one finger to stroke it over his cheek, "you leave your peanut butter behind and come with me?"

"Where to?" he asked playfully, and she frowned in mock hurt.

"Is that really important?"

"Hmmmm..." he made, squinting his eyes. "No."

Featherly light lips touched his. "Thought so." And before he could even respond, she turned, playfully hurrying away from him. "You comin´, Davey?"

He wasn´t going to be asked twice. "You bet, baby."

****

It was raining again. Of course it was. It wouldn´t possibly miss to rain, when Hutch was standing outside, would it?!

"Starsk, come ON," he called out once more and gave the door another loud pounding. "I know you´re there, I can see your car!"

Nothing.

"Either you open now, or I´ll come in. One." Already snatching his spare keys from where he kept it--without his friend´s knowledge--on the door, Hutch continued, "Two," and at "Three!", he was inside, throwing the door shut with a bang.

"Starsk!"

Crossing the living-room, he swiftly entered the kitchen, looked into the fridge, shook his head and once more called out, "Starsky! Hutch is here! Move your lazy butt!"

No response.

Sighing, Hutch walked over to the bedroom door and knocked loudly. "Buddy, get up!"

Nothing.

"Staaaaaaarsk, we´re going to be late!"

Again--nothing.

"Okay. Any OTHER folks who MIGHT be in that room `cept for my partner, you´d maybe want to get under the blanket now, `cause I´m coming in."

Ducking at the expected item that might fly by, Hutch jerked the door open--and froze.

The room was empty.

"Starsk?" he asked uselessly and turned again as if expecting his friend to pop out of nowhere in the living room, then snapped his fingers as an idea hit him and approached the closed bathroom door. Once more, he knocked. "Hey, you in there?"

No response.

"Starsk, if you´re in there, open up. You don´t want me bursting THIS door, do you?"

He was just about to repeat his 'other folks'-line, when a very sudden, very cold, very disturbing feeling hit him. "Starsk?" he asked once more and gently pushed the door open.

Just like he´d expected it, no curly haired detective was to be found in there.

"Damn."

Returning outside the room, he leaned against the nearest wall, squeezing his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger.

Starsky wasn´t there.

Starsky wasn´t there, yet the Torino was. And Hutch doubted his partner had gone for a quick morning jog.

"Where the hell are ya?" he muttered to himself, as he walked back into the living-room, glancing around, searching for a hint where his friend might have gone. And when, he added in his thoughts, taking one of the peanut butter glasses out of the box on the breakfast counter.

Being the neat freak he was, Starsky normally would have stashed his supplies somewhere, not leave them standing around, so he probably left rather hastily right after returning from shopping. And there´d been no dirty clothes on his bed, meaning he hadn´t slept in it.

The only logical assumption was that after leaving the precinct the day before, Starsky had stopped to buy a whole field of peanuts turned into butter, had brought it home--and then had left. Without his car.

"Oh well," Hutch muttered to himself and turned to head for the door, "whoever it is, hope she drives you to work in time, buddy."

****

Whoever it was, she hadn´t. Starsky´s chair was empty, no jacket draped over it, no sign whatsoever that his partner might have showed up at Metro that morning at all.

The few fellow detectives and unis Hutch asked also only shook their heads. No one had seen Starsky.

Concern now edging its way forward in the blond´s chest, he sat down at his own desk, wiping eyes that were narrowed in worry and reached for his phone.

"You got the Bear," Huggy´s voice answered after only one ring.

"Hey Hug, `s me, Hutch. Listen, is Starsky with you?"

"Isn´t that all us other guys´ question usually?"

"Yeah, well, I´m asking it now, so is he or not?" Hutch snapped, instantly regretting his tone, though. "Sorry, Hug. Just getting a bit worried."

"Hey, no sweat," Huggy winked verbally. "But I ain´t seen him since you two left my establishment yesterday."

Hutch frowned. "You sure? He didn´t show up with someone last night maybe?"

"I´m positive, Hutch."

The blond sighed. "Yeah, okay. Thanks, anyway, Hug. See ya."

He had only just hung up, when A.J. Locklyn entered the squad room, nodding at him coldly, before sitting down at Starsky´s desk.

Involuntarily, Hutch flinched at that.

"Morning, Detective," Locklyn said, gazing around questioningly. "Where´s Dave?"

"Not here," Hutch muttered, uninterested in keeping the conversation up, but suddenly frowned, glancing back at her. "You wouldn´t possibly happen to have seen him after you left yesterday?"

"Me?" she asked innocently. "No. Why?"

"Oh, just..." he winked. "Just a thought."

Locklyn watched him for a moment, then smiled slightly, as she stated, "You´re worried."

Hutch opened his mouth to reply something, but was kept from it by a uni passing by, pressing a brown envelope inside his raised hand. Confused, Hutch first looked after the mute officer, then at the item in his hand and finally back at Locklyn. "I´m not worried. I just wonder."

"Wonder," Locklyn repeated with a mocking nod. "A grown-up, good-looking guy hasn´t slept in his own bed, and you wonder."

Stopping his fumbling with the closed envelope, Hutch shot her an irritated look. "You obviously never had a partner, otherwise you´d know that-" With a tearing noise, the envelope opened, emptying its contents onto the desk in front of the blond detective. "Oh my..."

Innocent green eyes blinked, puzzled, as all color drained from the detective´s face at what he was forced to see on the pictures. "Detective? Y´kay? You look like you´ve seen a ghost."

Actually looking very much like one himself, Hutch shot her a glance, but remained silent. Instead, he gathered the handful of pictures together with visibly shaking fingers and stormed past her into Dobey´s office without even bothering to knock.

"Hutchinson! Wha-" Dobey exclaimed, but stopped in mid-sentence, when the detective let three pictures fall onto his desk.

They all showed the same. Starsky, obviously unconscious, lying on his stomach on an eerily colorless, damp looking floor, one slender trail of blood trickling down the side of his face. And right in front of his face stood a small box of glass in which three tiny black spots sat.

"Cap´n-" Hutch started, exasperation nearing hysteria, and Dobey instantly lifted his hands.

"Hutch, calm down. Don´t-"

As if he´d just waited for the chance, Hutch exploded. "Calm DOWN?! D´you know what this means? D´you know what THOSE are?!" He pointed at the black spots on the photos.

Not the master of patience himself, Dobey shot back, "I KNOW, Hutch. I read the autopsy report too, okay?! But losing your nerve won´t help, so calm down."

Knowing his superior was right, Hutch forced himself to draw in a deep, calming breath and let trembling fingers squeeze his eyes shut.

At the heart-wrenching sight, Dobey softened his voice. "We´re going to find him."

"How?!" Hutch asked, his brows arched helplessly.

"I don´t know," Dobey grumbled. "But we will."

A soft noise from the door drew both men´s attention towards A.J. Locklyn, who slowly entered the room, a questioning look on her face. "What´s going on?"

His jaw clenched, Hutch let his head drop, as Dobey turned the pictures on his desk for the approaching agent to see.

"Oh my God," she announced, shocked at the sight. "Are those..." Trailing off, she cast Hutch a glance, and he nodded mutely.

"Poor guy. And he´s so scared of spiders."

"Thank you so much for that information, Agent Locklyn," Hutch snapped furiously. "If you could leave now, that´d be just great."

"Ken," Dobey quietly chided, but was ignored.

"Hey, listen," Locklyn defended herself, hands on her hips, "this is my case too, and I´m gonna-"

"It´s not a CASE anymore, you-" Hutch exclaimed, but cut himself off, biting his lip, before he´d say something he might regret later. "This is my partner on these pictures, so from now on, we´re going to play it by my rules, got that?"

"I´m just trying to hel-" Locklyn started, but was once more interrupted.

"Ever since you got into this, you´ve done nothing but babble nonsense, so how´s that gonna help us?!"

"Hutchinson!" Dobey called out reprimandingly, but again was ignored as the enraged detective approached Locklyn, his blue eyes sparkling with anger.

"How´s your Freudian profile going to match this, huh?! What d´you make outta this? Why would anyone want to punish Starsky of all people?! He´s the most gen-"

"You´re losing perspective, Detective," Locklyn cut him off coldly.

"You watch it, lady, or I might lose something el-"

"HUTCH!" And finally, Dobey was heard.

Panting a bit from anger, Hutch fell silent, though he continued to glare down at the woman facing him.

"I want you AND the agent on this," Dobey went on. "And you will stop this nonsense right now. You have a partner to find."

His jaws working, Hutch swallowed down a much harsher reply and shot his Captain a glance. "More importantly," he stated quietly, "I have one to lose."

And with that, he turned, all but throwing the door shut behind himself.

****

Man, his head hurt.

And what was that damnable annoying noise he kept hearing?! Sounded like someone groaning. God, people had no heart--didn´t the guy know his head was splitting?!

It took him another few moments and a grumbled "aw, shut up" to finally notice it had been his own moans all the time, and the pain that shot through his skull, when he rolled his eyes told him to NOT do that again.

"I didn´t say anything," a surprised voice suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and he frowned ever so slightly as his mind kept on trying to recognize it.

"But I´m glad you decided to finally wake up," the soft voice went on. "I was beginning to get bored here all by myself. You know," the distinctive clacking of high heels accompanied the drawled words, "I must say you disappointed me, falling asleep on me like that."

The frown deepening slowly as a name flashed up in front of his inner eye he still just couldn´t seem to grasp, he flinched softly when he sensed the air being filled with a form next to him. A cold touch ran down his cheekbone.

"I mean," the lazy voice continued, lowering itself to a near whisper, "I thought you liked me."

The cold didn´t go, no matter how hard he tried to scramble away from it. Instead, the hold tightened on his chin, tiny icy claws digging into his skin.

"C´mon, Davey, won´t you even look at me? After all I did buy the drinks."

So he had died and ended up in the Hutchinson Hell. Terrific.

But when he tried to open his eyes, he found only one would open. And all he saw was a blueish white. Dark spots in it. Moving.

An unintelligible noise escaping him, like a mumbled groan, he tried to move his head, wincing at the fierce pain that accompanied that motion. The whole left side of his face was cold, and only now was he starting to realize that he was probably lying on the ground, on his stomach, right side of his face up.

And something was blocking his view.

Something... moving.

"Are you looking now?" the voice asked in genuine interest, and an instant later he felt his face being lifted briefly, then lowered back down. "Good boy."

"Mnjawha...?" he managed to force out through lips that wouldn´t move, with a tongue that seemed to always go another way than he wanted it to.

"Pardon?"

Once more, he collected all his strength and tried again. "Hmnwhere... ?"

A happy giggle answered him. "That´s cute. Do that again."

Dazed or not, Dave Starsky knew when he was being laughed at, and so with an annoyed frown he dragged his mouth close, instead settling for an attempt at letting his gaze wander upwards, away from the whiteness and the spots.

Somewhere--somewhere deep inside--he knew what the spots were. But he didn´t want to meet his own realization just now.

What he did meet, and with a very pathetic version of a scowl for that matter, was A.J. Locklyn´s pretty face that for the first time ever since he´d met her carried a real, honest, open, delighted smile as she stared down at him from her crouched down position.

The truth couldn´t really hurt him any worse than he did already, but it still stung. A little at least.

'Very female, being nuts,' he wanted to say, but instead settled for just thinking it, his gaze lazily dropping once more, but only to be forced up again, when she once more none so gently lifted his face.

"Surprised?" she asked in a girlish tone and laughed.

'Not really,' he thought, closing his eyes as if trying to mutely verbalize the word, though in fact he was struggling against his headache. 'Probably knocked me out,' he figured, his mind wandering off to however much earlier it had been that he´d been sitting next to A.J. Locklyn, soon-to-be lunatic, in her car, looking forward to getting to know the lady better. Coming to think of it, though, all that he had found out and could remember, was that Profiling Babe obviously was a more than profitable occupation--judging from the house she´d taken him to--and that she had a good taste in wine. Well... as far as he could tell.

"I only recently came across a very disturbing anecdote including a guy and wine," he heard his own voice in his head and inwardly rolled his eyes. They´d been sitting on her couch, glasses in hands, and she´d smiled in utter beautiful surprise.

"What, Detective, don´t you trust me?"

Now, lying on a cold, damp floor in some forlorn cellar, about to meet the human Black Widow Spider´s little friends, he wished he could move so he could kick himself for his stupidity. 'You´re SUCH an idiot, David Starsky, d´you know that?! Oh, scratch that, you´re the Godfather of Idiots! Doesn´t watching Hutch´s life teach you anything?!'

So he´d drunk the wine, he´d felt the effects of whatever she´d put in there only minutes later, and after having excused himself in order to more stumble than walk to the restroom, he remembered her worried chant behind him, her grip on his arm, supporting him, leading the way, and then he only remembered falling into darkness.

Literally, obviously, if his mind-numbing headache was any indication.

Forcing his eyes open again, he tried to glare at her, who was still holding his head up, one cold, soft thumb brushing over the gash on his temple, more hurting than comforting, actually.

'Mean, little, psychopathic bitch!'

As if drugging him hadn´t been enough, no she had had to push him down the stairs to the cellar! 'Talk about a chick not being able to drag a guy down somewhere on her own, partner!' he grumbled on, wishing Hutch was there so he could really tell him off.

"Whatever you´re thinking now," she suddenly said, her voice like silk that lay in the cold for too long, "it´s probably not very nice." With that, she once more let his head fall down.

Wincing, when the rough contact was made, he squeezed his eyes shut for a second, thinking that maybe he´d only tell Hutch off, after his partner had shown up and rescued him, after all...

She sighed in a busy matter, brushing imaginary dust off her shirt and checked her watch. "You know, I´d love to stay and," a giggle, an amused wrinkling of her nose,"chat with you, Dave, but I told Ken I´d just go grab some lunch and then be back right away, so I gotta run."

At the mention of Hutch´s name, Starsky´s gaze snapped up to her, unable to hide a hint of despair flashing through it. Hutch. Hutch had no idea. "Y-you--" he started, but this time was cut off by her cheerful grin.

"Oh yes, I almost forgot. Ken says thank you for the pictures. I think he liked them. But," she laughed, "who wouldn´t? You know, you look just adorable when you´re asleep. Like a little boy."

Starsky closed his eyes.

She clapped her hands together once, stating, almost regretfully, "Dear--I gotta run. But don´t worry, I´ll be back as soon as possible, and maybe we get to find out just how messy you can get then."

With that, she turned around, stopped, snapped her fingers, turned again. "Aw," she said teasingly, slowly stepping around his limp form to come to stand behind the glass box. "Almost forgot my present for you." A mockingly frustrated sigh. "There´s just so much on my mind, I guess."

Slowly, for him to watch each of her muscles move, she then lowered herself into a crouching position, her fingers playfully coming to rest on top of the box. The spots in it reacted immediately, swift tiny legs carrying them towards the shadow now hovering over the walls of their world.

Starsky could feel cold sweat mixing with the dried blood on his forehead. He swallowed dryly.

Locklyn watched in amusement. "Aw, poor baby. But... d´you know what they say about confronting your fears?"

His frantically widening eyes darted about, trying to keep the racing spots in sight as well as her face. Fear now sent waves of cold sweat running down his back, and he knew his hands were trembling, though he couldn´t really feel it.

He was horrified. And he didn´t care if she knew. Courage didn´t matter, what mattered where crawling, creeping, eight-legged, black spots.

Again, he swallowed out of mere reflex, his throat so dry it hurt, and whispered a very faint, very quivery "P-please?"

Locklyn rolled her eyes and gave a deep sigh, though it was obvious how appreciated his reaction was. "You know, Dave, this is pathetic. I mean," she added, a grin breaking through the surface, "they are just spiders." The grin widened. "They´re probably more afraid of you than you are of them."

She chuckled, her fingers--much like a spider´s legs--creeping towards the lock of the box.

"Wh-why..." he tried, squeezed his eyes shut briefly in order to regain control over his tongue and tried again, "wh-what´ve I-I ev...er--"

"What you did to deserve this?" she asked innocently, hesitating in her opening of the box.

He gave a weak nod.

Once more, she sighed deeply as if disappointed, muttering an unnerved, "Men. You´re all so egocentric." Her gaze settled directly on his, as she stated in ice cold, clear hate, "What makes you think this has anything to do with you?"

And with that, the box was opened. Swiftly, Locklyn stepped back, away from her helpless victim, who flinched weakly and gave the faintest of panic cries, when the small spiders hurried towards him, like starved wolves. All three seemed to be heading for the same aim, crawling up his arm and shoulder to his neck.

Starsky was absolutely sure he´d never been in such panic before. Never. Fighting with all his strength against the drug still paralyzing his muscles, he frantically tried to move, to roll away, to somehow get the insects off of him, but the results were minimal, twitching more than moving, and when he suddenly felt tiny legs crawl over his chin, up his face, he couldn´t help it--he screamed.

Fascinated, Locklyn stopped on her way out, door already open, and watched as the small insect hurried upwards, tiny legs touching parted human lips--and suddenly, out of pure human instinct, were caught when they closed.

Only for a split second, of course, before Starsky opened his mouth again. His heart raced so fast, it nearly stopped, as he spat the struggling spider out again, the whimpers that followed sounding almost like sobs.

"Yuck," Locklyn stated from where she was standing. "To use your expression. Definitely--yuck." Shuddering in mock disgust, she then sighed as if wanting to clear her mind off the image, and turned. "Really gotta go now. You kids have fun. Oh, and Dave," she added, just before the door fell shut behind her, "word of advice: keep your mouth shut. Bye."

Maybe it was the panic that sobered him enough to at least have his tongue work again, or maybe the drug was simply wearing off, either way, he called after her, high-pitched, terrified. "No! Wait! Please, wait! Please! A.J. wai--"

And in that moment tiny fangs bit his neck for the first time. The pain was stabbing, burning, unbearable, as it came along with knowledge hitting the helpless man just as fiercely.

Another bite followed, and he finally managed to roll onto his back, feeling two enemies crushing underneath his back. The last one, the one he´d spat out, though, was still there, next to his outstretched hand, sitting still as if watching him.

Wide eyes fixed on it, he lay absolutely still, sweat running into his eyes. Was that already a reaction? Or fear? Images of Weitzman´s and Thackery´s bodies circled in his mind. Features distorted by scratching nails. Cramps. Eyes swollen shut.

'Oh God. Help! Someone help me!'

He could hear his own shaky breaths, felt his fingers tremble next to the last spider. Maybe if he just didn´t move... Maybe if he just lay still...

His neck was on fire, waves of pain traveled upwards into his brain, along with beads of sweat running down.

'Just lay still... Don´t move... It´ll go away...'

One tiny leg tipped against his pinky.

And he flinched.

It was over fast. Fangs caught the side of his hand, and out of reflex, his hand came down on the insect, smashing it in his palm.

Breath shaking as well as his hand--his whole body for that matter--he raised his hand to look at the dead insect, and weakly screamed in disgust. Frantically rubbing his burning palm against the floor, he tried to get the small corpse off, thinking at every change of its position that it was alive after all, only waiting for its next bite.

Finally he had it crumbled on the floor, sticky spider remains on his hand, when a sudden wave of dizziness hit him, catching him off guard. Whimpering at the pain that spread in his head, he rolled onto his side, curling into a ball, one hand crawling up as if to hide his face. Instead, though, frantic fingers started scratching at the swollen spots on his neck, softly at first, then more and more fiercely, until he could feel his own nails drawing blood.

But he couldn´t seem to stop.

'Hutch... Hutch, help...'

His other hand fell open, and he stared at one tiny black streak sticking to his palm. A leg?

His breath caught in his throat. Did it move?

'Don´t look! Don´t look! Shut your eyes! And stop scratching!'

But he couldn´t. A whimper, much like a sob, escaping him, he curled up more, suddenly thinking of what was still stuck to his back too...

Hell had many faces. And he was about to meet all of them.

****

"Ken?"

Blinking his eyes, he´d just squeezed shut, open again, Hutch gave a tired "Hm?", as A.J. Locklyn sat down across him. At Starsky´s desk.

Once more, like all the other times she´d done that that day before, he flinched slightly. He couldn´t help it.

If she noticed, though, she didn´t let on. After all, he figured, chiding himself, she had to sit SOMEWHERE, hadn´t she?

"I..." she started softly, trailed off and with a shy glance placed a wrapped up sandwich in front of him. "Here. Thought you might be hungry after all. I know," she added quickly, "you said you didn´t want anything, but..." Once more, her voice faded, and she settled for a warm smile. "Starving yourself won´t help find him."

Their eyes locked for a brief moment, and with a weary smile, he finally accepted the sandwich, picking it up. "Thanks." Unenthusiastically, he unwrapped it, took one tiny bite and put it aside.

She sighed, loud enough for him to hear, and slightly bent over Starsky´s desk to see what he was reading. "Anything turn up while I was gone?"

"No," he replied without looking at her. "I fed your profile to the puter. These are the results. Not much, though."

She frowned. "Wait a second. Doesn´t your computer only show criminals´ records?"

With strained patience, he shot her a warning glance. "Don´t start."

The frown deepened to an angry one. "But if you read my profile-"

"I read your fu--" Biting his lip, he caught himself. "I read your profile twice, A.J., okay? But there´s nothing else we can do right now."

"Oh," she nodded after a moment. "I see. Because you can´t bear to just sit around and twiddle your thumbs, you prefer to do something completely useless?"

His gaze snapping up, he glared at her. "Actually--yes. So if you have a better idea, please enlighten me. But if you´re just looking for another fight, go find someone else, okay?!"

Raising her hands in self-defense, she pressed her lips together and settled for watching him a few moments, before speaking again. "Did you search on the pics again?"

Exasperated, he sighed, one slightly trembling hand coming up to rub his face. "Yes, I studied them for over an hour. There´s nothing on them."

"Hm. How `bout we check on the guy who owns the cellar Thackery´s body was found in?" she suggested after another moment.

Hutch frowned, his patience clearing coming to an end. "That was a man. Did YOU read your profile, Agent Locklyn?"

"Just a thought," she replied innocently. "I just want to-"

"Yeah, well, if all your thoughts are that smart, how about keeping them to yourself and leave me the hell alone?!" he roughly cut her off, but at her startled look closed his eyes, his head bowed apologetically. "I´m sorry. I´m..." He sighed. "I shouldn´t yell at you. I´m sorry. It´s just that--"

"Hey," she interrupted him softly. "It´s okay. I understand."

He glanced up at her thankfully.

"You worry about him," she continued. "I understand."

A bitter smile crossed his lips and with an equally dark little laugh, he pushed himself away from his desk, heavily leaning back in his chair, his hand one more coming up to wipe over exhausted features. "And you´re right," he muttered, giving the files on his desk a disgusted shove. "This isn´t helping a God damned thing. We have nothing where we could even start! He could be anywhere! Hell, he could..." His voice trailed off, and, mumbling into his hand, he added, "He could be dead already."

She watched in silence.

Another bitter laugh broke free. "Starsky hates spiders."

"I know," she replied softly, and their eyes locked for a moment, before she broke the contact and came to her feet, his questioning gaze following her.

"Tell you what, Ken. We´ll find him."

"Yeah," he muttered darkly. "One way or the other."

Her gaze resting on him, she didn´t counter, but let a moment pass by, before speaking again. "Listen, maybe your idea´s not that bad after all. How about you keep on searching the files here, and I´ll go back to the Bureau and check on our archive?"

He glanced up and frowned. "You haven´t done that already?"

There was a very brief hesitation in her reaction, before she answered with an ironic smile, "I guess I was too busy fighting with you."

"Oh." He paused, then nodded. "Okay. I have someone else calling all exotic pets´ shops too. So if we´ll find out something there, I´ll give you a call."

"Uhm... you know, the computer at the Bureau´s pretty fast. How about let me do that search? We´ll be much faster this way."

"Okay," he nodded slowly, tilting his head aside slightly, as he looked at her. "You call me then."

"I will," she nodded and gathered her things to leave. "See you, Ken."

"Yeah," he mumbled, watching her leave. "See you."

The door fell shut behind her, and still his gaze rested on it, unil, slowly, as if not wanting anyone notice it, he reached for his phone, still watching the door as he dialed.

"Phil? Yeah, this is Hutch. Hey, listen, remember that favor you owe me? Hm-mm. I think I need that now. Yep. Okay, I need a check-up on a Special Agent. No, a profiler. Yep. Okay, I hold..."

****

Power.

What an incredible feeling. How could she ever have underestimated it? How could anyone? But then--did they really? If you looked around, did people REALLY underestimate power? People who´d tasted it? And if just a spoonful?

Did the dictator, who had his first enemy killed? Did the armed man, looking down at his begging victim? Did the husband, when abusing his wife? Did the bully child, when ordering the scrawny kid to hand over his money?

Did she?

Fascinating, wasn´t it, how power could develop a sense of its own, a smell of its own, a sound, a taste? How it could run through your system like a drug, like venom, and you´d forget about it being strange to you, you´d forget how you´ve ever felt before. You´d forget the time before power. The time of weakness.

There she stood, behind the half-opened door, peeking around it like she´d had as a child, hiding, and yet she knew with all her self that she wasn´t. Wasn´t hiding. Watching. She was watching. And the moment she´d decide to take just one step forward, she´d be acting. She´d be causing. She´d be sending a flinch through the cramping, sweating body crumbled on the floor, a violent flinch, a fearful flinch.

Just by taking one small step.

Just by being there.

One look from her, and he´d tremble in terror. One smile from her, and he´d whimper. One snapping of her fingers, and he´d beg.

Power. Wasn´t it the strangest thing?

Leaning the side of her head against the wooden door, she continued to watch, every nerve in her body soaking in the delight of the feeling to come. The sense of power running through her veins. She was a junky awaiting the next fix. She was a lover awaiting the desired touch. She was a Goddess about to take or give life.

Well, she thought with an amused sarcastic smile tugging at her lips, maybe about to take or LEAVE life...

He was lying on his side, not where she´d left him, but in some corner he´d obviously crawled into. They always did that, seek the false safety of a corner. She wondered why. As if they thought of themselves as less vulnerable when able to press against stone behind them. Maybe some sort of children´s reflex. Maybe some sort of pre-civilized human behavior. When in danger, hide in the nearest cave. Or, well, corner.

Whatever the case, it fascinated her. Especially with him. He was tough. Okay, not TOUGH, since, after all, he WAS just a man, but he seemed to have come across pain like that before. He knew how to deal with pain. Knew how to fight it.

He´d curled up on himself, obviously trying to stuggle against the severe nausea she knew must be tormenting him by now, and contrary to the others, he´d just given in and kept his rapidly swelling eyelids closed, accepting the darkness. Sweat trickled down his forehead, and just from looking at him she could see he was frantically clinging to some personal mind game in order to keep himself from simply going nuts.

Those bites, they did that to you. She knew. The toxin, it drove you crazy. It settled in your system much like a voice screaming at you over and over that this was it. That you´d have to die. That the last thing you´d feel would be panic. This very panic. It kept you on your feet as long as you could move them, which, in fact, wasn´t very long, anyway.

So either he´d BEEN running and had fallen--or he´d been fighting ever since she´d left him. Either way, she was sorry she´d missed it.

Power at its best.

What struck her as most extraordinary, though, as she kept on studying him from her unnoticed position at the door, though, were his hands. His hands that rested on his back. Cuffed. With his own cuffs.

He´d cuffed himself.

'Sneaky little...' she thought with an impressed smile and leant in more into the room, yet careful as to not make a noise too early to destroy her pleasure. Power, like any good drug, needed time.

Trails of blood had dried on his neck, cheek and throat where it´d run down from the scratches he´d put there himself, and there were blood marks on his jeans as well, where he´d fumbled with his cuffs, hands shaking, evil fingers still trying to break free, trying to dig into itching skin, trying to tear away burning skin.

She could almost picture the whole scene, his desperate struggles against his body´s urge as he´d forced the cuffs out from under his belt and then had ordered himself to stop the fierce scratching and scrambling at the fang marks on his neck and had--with oh so much defeat cuffed his own hands behind his back, where he wouldn´t be able to reach his bleeding neck anymore.

And shed missed it all. 'Crap.' A frown crossed her smooth features. 'Should´ve thought of that. He´d just returned from work, damn it. Of COURSE he´d have his stupid cuffs still with him. Crap. Double-crap.'

But then, maybe this could be fun, after all, since... 'all that blood on his jeans has to be coming from SOMEWHERE'

Finally taking that one small releasing step, she fully entered the room, savoring the anticipated flinch the sound of her heels meeting the hard floor caused.

Silently, she watched his eyes being forced open ever so painfully and really merely to slits, then fall shut again as his whole face contorted in pain and he curled up a tad more, swallowing hard.

"I admit it," she said after another moment, studying her victim unmovingly from the centre of the room, "this is messy. I didn´t think you´d be into cuffs and all that. Though," she added, getting in motion again and finally crouching down beside him to tip one cool finger against his sweaty, ashen skin, "I´ve to admit I find it sort of... stimulating."

His eyes wouldn´t open again, yet he managed a raspy whisper, that even carried the bitter despise he´d felt with it. "Th-thought you...like...like that, honey."

"Oh, I do," she replied in a smooth voice, her finger traveling down his face towards the reddish, swollen bite marks, that were by now surrounded by small red spots.

At the creeping sensation, he jerked away, his back hitting the wall, his eyes fluttering open in utter shock. "No!"

Unmercifully, she continued on her way, a second finger following the first one. "Itzy Bitzy Spider..." When she´d arrived at the fang marks, she stopped, scratching a bit, the very top of her fingernail barely touching his skin. "Itches, huh?"

"B-ba...barely," he muttered, his head wearily lolling aside, away from her touch that followed, unwavering.

"Aw, poor Pooh," she soothed sweetly, "you don´t have to be this brave with me. I bet it itches a lot. You can tell me. I know." She paused, her finger still rhythmically scratching at the blood crusted spots, her gaze, though, wandering down to his cuffed hands--and she grinned.

"`S kinda hard, isn´t it? To stop scratching?"

Knowing full well she´d discovered his bleeding bitten hand, that he frantically tried to get away from twitching fingers that just lay too close, he smirked, managing only a weary grimace. "For some...someone with no s-self discipline."

"Yeah, right. Or for someone stupid enough to cuff his bitten hand to the other one."

He sighed, or at least he tried, wanting to have it sound unnerved, but it came out more like a soft moan, followed by a flinch caused by yet another stab of pain tearing through his already rebelling stomach. "Is...is this p-parta your plan, show up s-some..." He winced violently and drew in a deep breath, before continuing, "sometimes to an-n-noy your victim to dea...death? `Cause if it...if it is, it´s working."

"Aw, no nice," she chided, slapping his face slightly, almost playfully. He winced, though, the lightest touch sending pure fire through his aching skull. "And here I was, about to let you go and all," she went on, joking, enjoying herself visibly, too, "but not after this, I won´t."

"Wh-whadda shame. I´d´ve forgiv´n ya."

"I bet," she grinned and, after a thought, slid her feet under her to sit beside him, one hand coming up to rest in his hair, and it stayed there, no matter how hard he tried to waggle his head away from her touch.

"But maybe I could lay out my whole evil plan to you now. Don´t the bad guys always do that? Tell the captive cop the plan, and then the hero shows up and rescues his sidekick?"

At the silence meeting her remark, she grinned down at him, waited, then stroke his cheek. "Or aren´t you Ken´s sidekick, David Starsky?"

"Tell ya wha...what I am," he mumbled and finally managed to roll his head away from her hands. His eyes stayed closed, though. "P-pissed off. Tha...tha´s what I am."

"Hm," she made after a pause, as if it really interested her. "Pity. Well, I guess it´s okay to tell you the plan then, anyway. Besides, I always liked telling little boys bedtime stories. Spooky ones."

"I c-can imagine," he replied, though, in fact, the thought of A.J. Locklyn getting near children gave him the willies even more than thinking of the spider corpses probably still sticking to his back.

"Yeah," she continued, almost dreamily, "and in those stories, the bad men, they´d always be punished in the end. D´you remember those stories, Dave? Where the good guys would win and the evil would be punished? Like in fairytales? Did you know that the original fairytales hadn´t been written for children? They´d been written for adults. To warn them, so to speak. They were cruel stories. And I´m not talking getting stones sewn into your belly. I mean REALLY cruel."

At that, Starsky actually dragged one swollen lid up to shoot her a brief, disgusted look.

"Oh, Dave, c´mon," she chided, slapping his shoulder, "don´t look like that. I won´t sew stones into your stomach. Believe me, what´s ahead of you is going to be much more painful, anyway."

"Oh, good."

"But, you see now what´s the great plan," she stated, a gesturing underlining her description, "don´t you?"

Silence settled for a moment, as he worked on opening his eyes again, but failed. "`N wh-what evil `s H-Hutch done?"

She hesitated, thought about it and finally reached down to herself drag one of his eyelids open and peek into one glassy, murky blue eye. "Why, fight the heroine, of course."

Maybe it was her action pushing his headache over the edge, maybe it was just time, anyway, his stomach chose exactly that moment to finally do what it´d planned to all the time and emptied its contents in front of her crossed legs.

With a very female shriek, she jumped to her feet, staring down at him still producing more of a mess. "Oh YUCK, Dave! You could´ve at least warned me, y´know?!" she yelled and, in her anger, kicked his back, sending him sliding over the floor a few inches. "Jeez, this is disgusting!"

Despite himself, despite gasping through waves of pain and nausea running freely through his guts, Starsky laughed, sheerly gloating over her strained shoes, until yet another kick shut him up efficiently.

"Shut up! God, I knew why I never talked to the other ones. Damn it, those were NEW, you filthy little rat!" Locklyn ranted on, but, her gaze falling upon him again, stopped herself and drew in a deep breath.

He was indeed a pathetic side, panting for air, nearly lying in his own vomit with his nose, his upper body twitching with the beginning of cramps, while his legs didn´t seem to want to move at all.

But power, oh power--was stronger a light than mercy.

"I just had a splendid idea." Turning at her announcement, she waved a finger back at him, "Don´t move, Dave, I´ll be right back!" and vanished through the door she left open.

For him to see of course.

'`Triffic. Door´s open, and I´m lying here like a stranded fish. Just marvy! This whole thing has been one great peachy tri--' A sudden tearing pain shut his thoughts off, replacing them with an out loud whimper that caught in his throat as dry heaves started tormenting him again.

"Aw, this is SO gross, Dave! Can´t you stop doing that? I HATE it when men do that! My father used to do that too. Gave me the creeps when I was a kid. Okay," Locklyn stopped her own rambling, changing into a busy-like voice as she once more sat down before him, placing an item in front of him, "look what I got. Just´ve to figure out how these things work," she muttered, fumbling with what he briefly saw to be a cassette recorder.

"Women and technique," she smirked, "your smart-ass partner would probably say now."

Starsky laughed, or at least tried, saliva catching in his throat, and when he coughed, trickling down his chin.

Wrinkling her nose, she slid a bit away from him, still busy getting her new toy to work. "Don´t drool on me."

Again, he coughed, shaking his head on the floor a bit as if to clear it. "I...I met lu...lunatics who were nic...er, y´know?"

"Gee, and I have nothing nice to say to you," she countered, not even looking up, but finally found the recorder working properly. "Oookay, here we go. What I want you to do, Dave is... Are you listening?" she asked, exasperated, as his head had lolled forward, his forehead coming to rest against the welcomed cold of the floor.

"Hm-mm," he made wearily, his strength fading as the cramps in his stomach eased, leaving him spend, trembling with weakness.

"Good, I don´t want to explain this twice. So, what I want you to do is talk to your partner."

His eyes--he had no idea how--snapped open.

"You heard right," she nodded, shoving the recorder closer to him. "I´ll let you talk to Ken. Here. Speak freely," she gestured graciously, instantly adding, though,"Well, `kay, ALMOST freely. No "Hey Hutch, I´m here with Agent Locklyn, I just ruined her shoes"-kinda stuff, of course, but if you feel like it, let him know you just spat your guts all over someone´s cellar floor and all in all feel... What´s an appropriate expression, you figure? Death warmed over? Close to death? Well, you´ll think of something, I´m sure."

And with his lids dropping, he thought of something.

'Help, Hutch. I don´t want to die. Not here, not like this. Help! Please, please help. Please understand...'

****

Anne Josephine Locklyn was one hell of a Special Agent. Not only had she been rewarded for courage twice on her career, but she had a list of "solved" crimes that put Kenneth Hutchinson to shame. She had an IQ of 149, she was an extraordinaryly good shot, and her father had died of a Theridiidae bite, when she´d been 11 years old.

That, Hutch couldn´t help thinking, was a fact a normal human being would have chosen to reveal to the investigating officers in a case involving people dying of Theidiidae bites, wasn´t it? But then...

'It´s just a coincidence. Or maybe the Bureau thought her especially fitting, BECAUSE of her history. Since when are you judging people like this, Hutch?' - 'I´m NOT judging! I´m... thinking. That´s different.' - 'Sure it is.' - It IS! I´m not saying she´s-'

"Reading something interesting?"

Flinching so violently, he literally almost fell off his chair, Hutch clapped the file he´d been reading in, shut, anxious eyes snapping up to meet Locklyn´s. "Nope. Nothin´. Y-y..." Briefly pressing his lips together, he once more swore at whoever had passed on the Hutchinson Stress Stutter to him. "You found something?"

"Nope," she replied, shaking her head sadly as she--again(!)--sank down heavily in Starsky´s chair. "Nothing. I´m sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry for," he replied with a warm smile, as his gaze wandered down to meet hers, trying to break through the ice cover of her eyes. 'Do I really know you now?' he thought, unable to keep a frown from forming on his forehead. 'How much do you hide behind the cold? And why do I care?! What are you searching for, Hutch? What are you expecting to find?'

Yes, what was there to find in a green winter? In seemingly passionless green plains? What was it that sent he hairs on his neck up, when he looked at her? He, who knew where the anxiesty in his heart came from, what was he looking for in the gaze of a stranger?

Answers? Or--answers?

'Hell, what am I thinking?!'

"I know," she replied softly, her eyes wandering down, avoiding his sudden stare. "I just wish I could help somehow. I... I know," she continued after trailing off, laughing slightly, "how you think of me, Ken, but I really like your partner. He´s cute. And he´s nice. And I really wish I could be of more help."

Smiling, he watched her. And by mere instict--a cop´s rather than his individual one´s--he didn´t believe her. "I know. I understand. It´s okay."

She returned the smile, and looked away, a nervous finger playing with some forgotten papers on Starsky´s desk.

"Hutch?"

Snapping out of thoughts, Hutch turned at the uni at his side, blinking twice. "H-huh?"

"Uhm, sorry. This `s been in the mail for you."

Staring at the simple brown envelope, Hutch swallowed dryly. There was no return address, no nothing but his name, and not Detective Kenneth Hutchinson, but 'Hutch'.

"Ken?" Locklyn asked concernedly. "What is it?"

He didn´t answer, but tore the envelope open, ordering trembling hands to work. Out fell a tape. A cassette. Nothing else.

"Ken?"

He swallowed dryly. "I need a cassette recorder." Long fingers stroke the tape in his open palm, before his head snapped up, his voice all but a yell. "I need a cassette recorder NOW, damnit!!!"

****

Starsky´s voice quivered. With telltale pain.

Hutch´s eyes closed as if by their own will. As if against his friend´s voice, that he himself was glued to, he visibly savored like music.

"H-Hutch...*cough* Hey... guess... guess, when y-ya hear this, `m..." Again, a cough cut Starsky off, and it lasted, deepening the wince on the blond listener´s forehead like a thumb pressing it in.

From the far end of Dobey´s office, Locklyn watched in silence.

A gurgling sound followed, like someone forcing down pushing bile. And then, there was Starsky´s voice again. Quivery, but his. Determinate, so arrogantly steady. "`S all an act, partner, y´know that. In fact I´m lying on some beach here wi-with a beautiful lady..." A pause. "En-enjoying a glass of ice cold apple juice and some linguini...*cough* ... Talking my pride out to get her...so to speak..." As if it itself had some decency, the merciless cough and audible retching caught him off again, filling a few agonizing moments Hutch and Dobey had to listen to their friend gasping, whimpering, ever so softly crying out in pain.

"D-don´t..." Starsky finally gasped. "Don´t... beat ya´self up `bout... Aw please..." A sudden, blood-curling scream startled both men, sent them both flinching--and then ebbed away into nothingness.

After a pause, Locklyn pushed the 'stop'-button on the recorder on Dobey´s desk next to her and rewind the tape.

"No," Hutch stopped her softly with her finger hovering over the 'play'-button once more. "Not...not yet." Sighing slightly, he squeezed his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger, mumbling a low, "Give me a second."

"At least," Dobey´s thoughtful voice broke through the short silence that followed, "we know he´s alive."

His fingers sliding down on the sides of his nose, Hutch shot him a glance. "We know he´s been bitten."

The Captain frowned questioningly.

"He´s reacting," Hutch pointed out. "He´s vomitting." His eyes darkened and he added in a strained whisper, "He´s in pain."

Locklyn watched from where she sat close to the edge of Dobey´s desk and stated quietly, "Let´s not jump to conclusions, Ken. That all could be because of other possible injuries."

"Now that´s a comfort," Hutch muttered--and frowned. "Wait a second."

"What?" Dobey asked.

Hutch waved the question off, suddenly busy standing up and grabbing the recorder, while at the same time he told seemingly no one to "Rewind the tape."

Finding Locklyn had done that already, he pressed the 'play'-button with one shaking finger and remained in a bend over position, seemingly holding onto the desk´s edges for support, as he listened to his partner´s pain-filled statement once more.

Before the scream would follow, he stopped the tape, locking eyes with Dobey.

Next to them, unnoticed, A.J. Locklyn had grown very pale and very quiet.

"What?" Dobey threw his hands in the air. "It´s a lot of nonsense. What´re you--"

"Exactly," Hutch nodded eagerly. "But it´s not usual Starsky-nonsense."

"It´s not?" the Captain asked doubtfully.

"No, it´s a mess--"

"Excuse me," Locklyn´s mutter cut Hutch off and, without so much as a following glance from the two men, she left the office.

"It´s a message," Hutch completed his sentence, for no good reason grabbing a small block and a pencil from Dobey´s desk and sat back in his chair. "He´s trying to tell us something. Let´s see... We have 'act'. "It´s all an act." As in..." Thinking, he trailed off, chewing on the end of the pencil, and suddenly froze. "He knows her."

"The killer?"

"Yes," Hutch nodded anxiously, "yes, he knows her. "It´s all an act." It´s someone, who´s putting on an act. Someone we... know," he finished in a fear-filled whisper, leaning forward to rewind the tape once again.

"...joying a glass of ice cold apple juice and some Linguini...*cough* ... Talk--"

Stopping the tape abruptly, Hutch swallowed dryly. All color had drained from his face. "Apple juice," he repeated, "and Linguini? On a beach date? Starsk?"

Dobey sighed. "Hutch, maybe you want to hear more than there is. After all, maybe he´s not thinking straight. Maybe he´s--"

"No, Cap´n," the blond shook his head slowly. "No, don´t you see? Apple juice and Linguini." To underline his explanation, he wrote the three words onto the first page of the block and held it out for Dobey to see, pointing with his finger at the first letters of each word. "A. J. L."

Dobey´s chin traveled south. "You don´t think--"

"Listen!" Hutch cut him off agitatedly, lifting his index finger as he reached for the recorder again. "Just listen."

"...ing my pride out to get her...so to speak..."

Eyes locked with Dobey´s, Hutch stopped the tape. "So to speak," he repeated. "That´s Locklyn´s line. She uses it all the time. We´ve even started to make fun of it."

"Do you have any idea what you´re SAYING here, Hutchinson?" Dobey barked. "She´s a Special Agent, for Christ´s sake. She´s been investigating on this. D´you really think she´d investigate against herself?!"

"What a better place to hide?" Hutch shot back and, unable to remain on his chair any longer, jumped to his feet to start pacing. "And she didn´t even made much effort! Hell, she wrote her own profile! Female, of above-average intelligence, educated... God damnit!" Fierce fingers rubbed over his features, as he went on. "She even gave us her motive! All this punishing the bad guys-babble, she was talking about HERSELF! And I didn´t see it! I knew all along something wasn´t right, but..." A a thought hit him and, furstrated, he sank back in his chair, a look of utter despair forming in his eyes. "She knew Starsky hadn´t slept in his bed. Earlier today, before..." He closed his eyes briefly. "She made a wise-crack, and she knew all along! She was playing with me all the time! And I let it happen! I--"

"Hutch," Dobey cut him off, "do I have to give you the guilt speech again?!"

Managing a faint smile, Hutch winked. "Yeah, `kay." Taking a second to calm down, he let his gaze wander over to where Locklyn had been seated before. A bitter laugh broke free. "And, of course, she found out about Starsky´s message before us." His voice faded. "God knows what she thinks is an appropriate punishment for that."

"We´ll find him," Dobey stated firmly, but the blond only smiled grimly.

"Oh yeah? How? Locklyn´s been with us all the time, she knows exactly what we know. She knows I´ve been wasting my time all day long, reading those fucking files! She even joked about it!"

"Hutch, calm down."

"I don´t wanna calm down! I want--"

The ringing of the phone cut him off, and before Dobey could even reach out, he´d snatched the receiver off the phone. "Yes."

"Hi Ken."

He was on his feet like a shot, fury pushing him to physical reactions. "Y-you--"

"I take it you´ve de-coded Dave´s silly little attempt at being smart then?" Locklyn replied sweetly and sighed. "He IS one stubborn guy, isn´t he? I told him to not do that." Another sigh. "Now I´ve to punish him. Well, if I find anything that´ll make a difference, anyway, considering the pain he´s already in."

Dobey could actually watch the receiver in Hutch´s hand start to tremble.

"Why are you doing this? Starsky´s never do--"

"Because I can," Locklyn cut him off quietly.

"But Starsk--"

"Consider his death a prevention. So to speak." He could hear her smirk. "And now, Ken, I´m sorry, but I gotta run. If I don´t show up every few hours and tell Dave he´s still alive, he might begin to think he´s already dead and in hell. What with his eyes swollen shut," she added.

"No!" Hutch exclaimed, pressing the receiver closer to his ear. "No, wait! Don´t go! A.J.? A.J., listen we... we can talk about this. Let´s talk."

She laughed. "Oh PLEASE let´s. Another time." And with that she hang up.

It took all Hutch had to not just grab the whole phone and smash it into the nearest wall. Instead, he slowly let the receiver wander down again and remained bend over with his hand resting on the phone, eyes squeezed shut, until he felt a brief comorting touch on his arm.

"C´mon. You´ve work to do."

Flashing his superior a quick, grateful smile, Hutch nodded and pushed himself away from Dobey´s desk.

****

He wondered how much time had passed. It could not be that much, could it? But then, it felt as if he´d been in the darkness for days.

And the darkness had started after he´d put on his cuffs.

When had that been? How much time had passed since the spiders?

And--though he always fought his mind from going there--how much time was left?

How long had Weitzman and Thackery lain in their cold, damp prisons? Caged in their own bodies like in a box which electricity running through the walls; when you got too close to them, the pain would get you.

He heard himself whimper and bit his lip, feeling saliva trickle down his chin.

When you go too close to your body, the pain would get you. You needed to curl up on yourself inside your mind, run to the farthest spot and hide from your own thoughts. They were all linked to the pain. The pain that had settled in his brain like a parasite, like a huge, clawing spider itself, thick and black and spinning her sticky, slimy cobweb over his nerves, catching his thoughts like flies in it, creeping around in his head...

He snapped awake, swollen eyelids being pushed open slightly, but fell closed instantly at the pain that shot through his head at the action. God, waking up hurt.

Being awake hurt.

Was he awake now?

He shivered. He felt himself shiver. You didn´t shiver in your dreams, did you? No, but you could feel in your dreams too.

He drew in a shaky breath that sent him coughing at the beginning cramps in his stomach. Desperate, he focused on that. After all, the pain the cramps brought were better than thinking about his dreams, about the spiders in his head, the ones he felt crawling up and down his back and cuffed hands... Spiders, tiny ones, large ones, creeping ones... Spiders everywhere... All over him...

Again, he felt his eyes snap half open. He heard himself gasp.

'Focus, Dave. Focus!'

How much time had passed that he kept on dozing off? Enough time for Hutch to have found by now, right?

'Right. That´s good. Focus on that. Focus on Hutch. Hutch will come, and he´ll make it light again. Don´t know how, but he will.' A wry smile snaked over his sweaty features. 'And then he´ll never let me hear the end of this. Compared to this, getting robbed in some Lonely Hearts Motel is an act of intelligence.'

The cramps itensified, cutting off his trail of thoughts. Once more ever since they´d started, he wished that, after all, he hadn´t cuffed his hands. He knew it´d been a good idea then, but right now hugging his knees to his chest, making himself a much smaller target seemed like heaven. Since he´d stopped feeling his legs at all a long time ago, he couldn´t even drag them closer in order to really curl up. All he could do was lay still and let his body twitch the way it needed to.

"Honey, I´m hoo-hooome!!!"

For once grateful for A.J. Locklyn´s piercing voice in his ears, as he felt sleepiness leave him again, he tried to move his head a bit, listening closely to make out her position in the room.

As weak and disoriented as he was, though, he was caught by complete surprise, when he felt a sudden fierce grip in his hair and moaned, when his head was jerked upward.

"How was your day?" Locklyn asked sweetly, her grasp only tightening, when she felt him flinch and struggle uneffectively. "Me, I heard the funniest story at work. About a guy who´s stupid enough to disobey the direct order of the, let´s say emotionally unstable, lunatic killer he´s held captive by."

He swallowed dryly, despite the bitter discharge still dropping down his chin, as fear crept up his spine like the spiders he´d dreamt of.

"Now," Locklyn continued, her voice turning to a stern, quiet drawl, and gave his aching head a rough shake. "Wanna guess what the lunatic, emotionally unstable, ENRAGED killer did to him, when she found out?"

"N-not really," he gasped.

"Pity," she spat and let go off his head that, unsupported, fell back to the ground hard. "I thought I´d give you the chance to prepare yourself, but, hey, have it your way."

Blinking frantically, trying to open his eyes, he moved his head, when he heard her step away, then closer again. "I-I...I didn´t...I didn´t do anyth--"

A swift kick to his stomach shut him up instantly. His breath caught in his throat, he coughed helplessly, upper body sliding forward in a futile attempt at easing the pain now running freely through his whole middle.

"Don´t lie," Locklyn told him sternly. "I hate it when people lie. Makes me lose my style."

He could only cough in response, bile working its way up in his already sore throat.

"And if you puke on me again, I swear to God I´ll kill you right now, got that?"

Watching him struggle to get his breathing under control, she brushed imaginary dust off her shirt as she inwardly brushed particles of mercy off the idea in her mind. With a deep sigh, she then turned to take a few steps away from him, knowing--and hating--that she needed the distance.

"You really had me wondering, you know," she said after a few more moments, forcing herself to glare down at the groaning form of the man she´d doomed to die.

"Happens..." he breathed and coughed again, swallowing back bile. "Happens to many chicks."

She laughed. "No need to get cute, Dave. I meant you had me wondering how I could possibly punish you for this nasty little letter trick you played on me. Which, by the way, was pretty simply laid out, wasn´t it? Even Ken found out."

That brought the faintest ray of hope breaking through the dark slimy cobweb inside his mind. Hutch knew.

"Oh yes, I know what you´re thinking now," Locklyn went on. "The hero finally has made out the bad one. The enemy now has a name and therefore is easier to defeat."

"Ya think?" he managed to ask dryly.

She paused as if thinking her answer through thoroughly, then answered, "Yes."

A frown appeared on his forehead at the sadness in her voice, but when she spoke again, the cold amusement had returned, no sign of her being able of actual feelings left. "But we digress, Dave. We were talking about punishment. So--what am I going to do with you?"

Gathering his strength, he managed a snort. "Why don´t...don´t´cha keep talkin´ t´me? Seems punish...ment e...nough."

"Interesting," she replied dryly, folding her arms in front of her chest. "I never figured you like being hurt. D´you WANT me to make this bad?"

"T-try," he muttered around a stifled whimper as yet another cramp hit his stomach like a stony fist, as if the pain was on his side, throwing the inefficacy of her threats right into her face. After all--he honestly had no idea how she could possibly make him hurt more than he already was.

With a contend grin, she tilted her head to one side, studying him. "You´ve any idea how pathetic you look?"

The question was asked in the most innocent of voices, but it made the hairs on his neck rise immediately. If he could, he was probably paling even more. "No..." he whispered, immediately understanding. "Pl-please don´t do that. Don´t--"

Ignoring his pleas, she turned to head for the door. He could hear her clothes move, when she bent down to pick something up, then approached him again. "I thought about bringing a mirror first, but," she laughed, "you wouldn´t get your eyes to open enough to really enjoy the sight, anyway. So..."

She let the word trail off and took the first picture. He could hear the snapping noise of the camera, could see the faint light of the flashlight breaking through the darkness of closed lids. "No," he pleaded weakly. "Please."

Again, she ignored him, continuing where she´d hushed herself. "So I figured it might be even more entertaining for both of us, if I just tell you."

He knew he wasn´t crying, he was far beyond that, yet his closed eyes decided to start tearing in exactly that moment. As if they themselves sought for the relief of moisture.

There was a short silence, then another flashlight and A.J. Locklyn´s voice, suddenly very soft, suddenly surprised. "First of all, you´re crying."

He held his breath, sensing her disturbed reaction, but then heard her clear her throat, a loud, stern sound like a door being thrown shut. The door to her conscience screaming at her.

Another flashlight.

"Besides, your nose is half inch away from a really, really gross looking puddle." There it was again, the cold colouring her voice as if all emotions had been frozen in her mouth. "And you´re drooling into it."

Flashlight.

"Your eyes are all purple and swollen, and there´s blood on your neck, and, to be honest, you really need to work on your tan. If I don´t tell Ken, I bet he´d assume you´re dead by looking at those."

Flashlight.

Did his eyes really tear just because they were tearing? He didn´t know anymore. He sniffed.

"But," she said, her voice dropping, "corpses don´t cry, do they?"

Flashlight. Pause. Steps. Her voice suddenly close. "One more."

He didn´t struggle, didn´t try to flee. Where to?

"Just need to show him this," she said with an audible smirk, and he knew what she was aiming at with the camera. This time he couldn´t see the flashlight, it was behind his back.

"Your hands," she told him in a near whisper, bending over his shoulder with one knee on his back, "look a lot like your eyes. Reddish, swollen... And you made a pretty good job at tearing your skin off your right one. If you look closely, you can see it under your left fingernails. Along with a lot of blood. Look a bit like small animals, your hands. Like one killed the other." She paused, but didn´t go away.

"Very poetic, that, don´t you think so too? I wonder what Ken will think when he sees it."

Flashlight. So bright the darkness vanished completely for a split second.

"I think this one´s the best," she told him contentedly and ruffled his hair. "So, Dave--did that hurt?"

He sniffed and nodded.

"Good." Giving his head a parting pat, she stood up and left without turning again.

****

There was a spider sitting in the corner of the squad room. A small, thin one with long, crooked legs.

Starsky would have had a fit.

Squeezing his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger, Hutch sighed and leant back in his chair.

'Where are you?'

But when he opened his eyes again, his partner´s chair was still empty and all there was spread on both their desks, where useless files, folders, notes, A.J. Locklyn´s profile.

Haphazardly picking up one sheet of paper, he sighed, muttering to himself, "There has to be SOMETHING in here."

But if there was, he couldn´t see it. He´d organized the files hours ago, when the sun had just been setting outside, but now, after having been picked up, looked at, laid away again, they were as disorganized as before, merely a heap of useless paper.

He´d started going through everything that´d been Locklyn´s idea. Calling exotic pet shops. And what had he found out? Yes, a black-haired, drop-dead gorgeous lady had turned into one old, babbling shop owner´s best customer a few weeks ago. She´d told him she knew everything about the dangers of Theridiidae bites, that she needed the insects for experiments--and on top of all, she´d flashed her FBI-badge.

Listening to that, Hutch had closed his eyes in frustration. 'You didn´t even TRY to be ever discreet, did you, A.J.? But who´d assume a PROFILER to be the killer she´s LOOKING for?! Well, not me. And not Starsky, for that matter.'

The next thing was checking the owner of the cellar Randy Thackery had died in, a man named Sam Meedrah. And where had Hutch found him? On the 'PDBN' (Probably Dead By Now) list of the missing report department. No one had seen Meedrah for weeks, and, though no investigating officer would clearly admit it, Hutch could assume they hadn´t been searching very thoroughly, anyway since the guy had been a reported rapist in two cases and had been released from jail shortly before vanishing.

'Watch out, turkeys. After the legal punishment, there comes the Locklyn Hell. Better chose twenty to life than ever come out again...'

Blinking as if too clear his gaze as he was staring at a paper of notes Starsky had made, listing the crime scenes and the bodies found there, Hutch suddenly frowned. "Weitzman," he muttered to himself, tracing the name on the paper with his finger, crossing over to Thackery´s, "in Thackery´s cellar. Thackery in..."

As Meedrah´s name wasn´t on it, he trailed off, his finger on the white space. "In Meedrah´s cellar. Meedrah?"

The ringing of his phone broke through his thoughts. Swallowing, his heart rate speeding up instantly, he stared at the phone for a moment, then picked up hastily, suddenly afraid it would stop.

"Yes?"

"I left something for you."

"A.J! L-listen, don´t hang up again. We-"

"It´s in your apartment," she interrupted him. "I wanted it to be in Dave´s, because it would´ve been SO much more stylish in there, but..." A sigh. "You HAD to have his place under observation, had you? As if he´d show up there ever again," she added sadly, verbally shaking her head at his naivity.

"A.J., please--"

"Oh, gotta run. He´s screaming again. You know how he is. I´ll call you later at your place to hear if you liked my gift. Have fun."

"A.J--"

But she´d hung up.

He didn´t miss a second on his way outside to his car.

****

Dave was dreaming. She could see his features twitch, and his head moved slightly as he obviously tried to get escape from something he was seeing behind closed lids.

Probably spiders, she figured and smiled, but it didn´t reach her eyes. Actually, she thought, it felt more like a grimace, anyway. She was standing in a dead man´s cellar, watching a dying one. How unreal was that?

How horribly real?

Dave coughed in his sleep, but didn´t wake up. He´d been awake almost all day, at least every time she´d checked on him, so he was probably too beat to be kept conscious even by the pain that was, without a doubt, tormenting him. Even in sleep, his eyes were tearing against his will, letting it appear as if he was crying in his slumber, like a little boy caught in the grip of a terrifying nightmare.

How true that was.

A.J. closed her eyes, feeling herself draw in a deep breath. But above that noise, she heard him whimper in his sleep, heard low groans, testament of a pain strong enough to break through unconsciousness.

Pain she´d brought. Memories flashed through her mind like pictures from a movie. David Starsky, goofily greeting her in Captain Dobey´s office. Screaming in telltale panic at his partner´s silly spider-on-shoulder-trick. His nose almost touching hers, her lips on his...

Funny, she´d never talked to the other ones once she had them in the cellars. She hadn´t even watched them getting bitten. She´d returned every now and then to take pictures, always knowing why she was doing it. She hadn´t taken them to look at them, she´d taken them for the crime scene arrangement. Those other men, they had deserved what´d they´d gotten, and she hadn´t tormented THEM.

And here he lay, the most child-like, gentle guy she´d met in a long time, and she took every opportunity to make him suffer even worse. And, honest to herself, she liked it. She liked doing it, she liked the feeling of power taking pictures of his broken body had sent washing through her.

In that very moment, she had liked watching him start to cry.

And, God, she´d loved arranging the pics in Kenneth Hutchinson´s apartment, knowing full well what it´d to him to see them.

She hadn´t enjoyed the other killings, she truly hadn´t. They had been right. They had been deserved. They had been what she´d felt her duty to do.

But this... But Dave Starsky... But Ken Hutchinson... But this...

This she LIKED. This she savored.

This--was sick.

Her strength suddenly leaving her, she slid down the door she leant against, until she sat huddled on the floor, hiding her face behind her hands. 'What is happening to me? What is going in?!'

"...utch?"

The faint, pleading whisper reached her ears--and she froze in her thoughts. Froze to listen. To enjoy.

"Hel-help? Hutch?"

Slowly, her fingers slid down her face, so she could watch again. 'What am I doing here?'

But the answer slipped through her mind´s grasp unnoticed.

****

Hutch sat on the floor in his apartment, leaning against the closed door, his forehead resting on his drawn up knees--and cried.

In front of him, neatly organized in a row, so close he´d almost stepped on them, when he´d rushed inside, lay a handfull of pictures, all showing his partner. Some from the distance, one extreme close-up of distorted, swollen, ashen features and one showing nothing but hands. Cramped bloody fingers, torn off skin sticking to nails.

And those useless, bleeding hands had been cuffed behind his back, making it impossible for him to really curl up against pain written all over his face.

But what had sent Hutch over the edge completely, what had sent him stumbling back against the door, sliding down on it, hiding his face, squeezing his eyes shut against moisture he couldn´t keep back, were the tears he could see rolling down Starsky´s face.

He knew your eyes would start tearing after a Theridiidae bite, but yet... It looked so real. It looked so much like despair being the reason. And Starsky must have known what was going on, what Locklyn would do with the pictures.

' "Now I´ve to punish him. Well, if I find anything that´ll make a difference, anyway, considering the pain he´s already in."'

She´d found something.

"Buddy, I´m sorry," Hutch mumbled to himself, swallowing back more tears, exhaustedly rubbing over his wet features. "I´m so sorry."

He knew he needed to look at the pictures again. He needed to check them for signs, for anything that might tell him where they´d been taken, but oh God, how he wished he didn´t have to. The urge to just grab and tear them was hard to defeat, though his tiring fast from his violent breakdown was helping a lot...

The phone rang. Once. Twice.

"You fucking bitch!"

"Aw, Ken," Locklyn´s drawled voice replied on the other end of the line, "honey, are you crying?"

"You´re gonna pay for this, you hear me?! You´re gonna pay, and I´ll be right there to watch!"

"Somehow I doubt this," she said sweetly and paused briefly, listening to him sniff a couple of times. "My Dad died from a Theridiidae bite too, you know? Oh, sure you know. You had me checked out."

"Don´t you think the 'too' in that is a bit premature?" he spat back, fury high-pitching his voice. "It´s barely been 24 hours. He´s not dead yet. And he won´t die if I find you in time. Which I will. You can bet on that."

A startled pause followed, then a clearly amused chuckle. "Wow, this really gets to you, doesn´t it? And I thought I saw you at your most agitated, when you started stammering insults."

"You have no idea," he replied quietly.

"Uhm, yeah, right," she said absently. "Listen, Ken, I have to hang up now, in case you have this traced, so... Anything quick you might want to say, before I go tell your partner you said hi?"

"You touch him one more time, I´ll--"

"I don´t need to touch him, dummy," she laughed and hang up.

This time, he couldn´t restrain himself; the phone went flying, crashing against the door, falling down on the photo-covered floor in pieces.

Standing there, panting, Hutch stared, desperately trying to calm his racing thoughts. "Calm down," he ordered himself. "Caaalm down NOW!" Walking in a swift, narrow circle, he rubbed his face fiercely and came to a halt in front of the pictures that for him lay upside down now.

"It´s there," he said out loud. "It´s there somewhere." Frowning in thoughts, he reached down and picked on up. One of the distance ones. "Where are you?" Hutch whispered, forcing himself to look closer. "Where are you, Starsk? Tell me."

But the picture remained silent. Only walls, colorless, dark walls. His hand-cuffed partner in a corner.

"Where..." Hutch whispered, letting the word trail off as a sudden thought hit him. The picture fell out of his grasp, his gaze wandering up to look into nothingness filled with the memory of a sheet of paper. "Weitzman in Thackery´s cellar, Thackery in Meedrah´s cellar. Meedrah..." He shook his head, frowned. "Too long. Meedrah was too long ago. Weitzman... Weitzman was the last," he stated to himself in a shaky breath. "Weitzman was the last!" His gaze dropped to the pictures again. "Gotcha!"

****

Dawn was sending pink rays through the fading light blue of the night, when Hutch turned around the corner he´d parked his battered car behind and approached Judge Weitzman´s forlorn house. Stripes of yellow duct tape surrounded most of the large estate, yet the police cars had long ago vanished, crime scene investigation was already finished.

'The forlorn old house of a lost soul... How very poetic, A.J.'

The front window curtains were half closed to let the morning light in, but he wouldn´t have been able to see through his own reflection on the glass if not stepping too close. So he ducked, when he hurried past under them, gun already drawn, cop-modus kicking in instinctively, like always. The moment you´d draw your gun, your inner switch would turn.

At least something to rely on, something to cling to, when you were about to face your best friend´s tormentor.

Hand on the doorknob, he drew in the deepest of breaths, braced himself and gently opened the door, that didn´t disappoint him and was indeed unlocked.

Swiftly, he rushed inside, always near the wall, gaze darting about, but catching nothing. Leaving the door slightly ajar, he crossed the hall and hesitated in front of the closed door that he assumed would lead downstairs to the cellar. His hand reached out as if by its own will, hovering above the doorknob, but after a split second, he closed it to a fist, turning.

On the other side of the wall, another couple of doors were closed. Gun raised for action, he tried the first one, carefully pushing it open like he had the front door.

"Finally. The hero has arrived."

It was a kitchen, large, brightly lit by the morning sun shining directly through large, curtain-less windows. Seemingly endless green fields stretched out behind them, soft hills fading in morning fog in the far distance.

A.J. Locklyn sat on the kitchen table, her legs crossed under her on the chair, her hair open, dark smudges under her eyes that gave testament of a sleepless night. She wore no shoes and had opened the first two buttons of her shirt, the sleeves shoved up her arms.

In front of her, on the table, lay the book she´d been reading, only a few pages away from the ending.

Holding her steadily at gun-point, Hutch briefly allowed himself to glance down and read the title. 'The magic of power. A study of pathological sadism. By Dr. Trevor J. Locklyn.'

Following his gaze, Locklyn smiled. "As you can see I used the time to catch up on my reading." Sadness crossing her features, she closed the book, letting her fingertips brush over the author´s name. "Funny, isn´t it? I could never understand what could possibly draw him to such an... easy topic."

Hutch swallowed dryly, tightening his grip on his weapon as he felt hot fury starting to get the better of him. "Hands on your back. Now."

A bitter snort escaped her and she obeyed, drawing her arms back around the chair´s backrest. "What a cliché, isn´t it, Ken? The shrink, who herself goes nuts? What a great opponent for our tall blond all-American hero."

He´d cuffed her hands by now and at that grabbed her shoulders roughly as he turned around the chair to glare at her. "That´s no excuse for anything, A.J! You KNEW!"

She blinked back at him, unimpressed. "You really think that, don´t you?"

Jaws clenching, he let go off her and turned for the door again.

"Ken, wait, I..." Biting her lip, she trailed off.

Yet he stopped, glanced back over his shoulder.

"I..." Nervousness edged over her features, back and forth, leaving ugly strains of anxiety. "Can I... Can I come with you?"

He stared back, feeling all color drain from his face

"Down?" she added agitatedly, bending a bit forward against the cuffs holding her in place. "Into the cellar? Can I?" A desperate pause, then, in a voice he himself knew all too well, in the voice of a lost, broken person begging for the evil that had turned into a life-line, "Please?"

Tearing his gaze away from her like someone would force himself to not stare at a horrible car accident, he wordlessly left the room.

"Ken! Wait! Just one more time! I just wanna see him one more time! Just once!"

Ignoring her pleas, he rushed back into the hall and nearly stumbled, when he found a phone on a wall there. It was actually still woking, and he quickly called first an ambulance and then for back-up, before turning to all but sprint down the stairs into the cellar.

"Starsky!"

He didn´t need to run far, the door to the very first of quite a few doors downstairs was ajar, and, coming to a sudden halt, he could see his partner´s form lying in one corner, like on the pictures.

"Oh my God! Starsk!"

Skittering to his knees next to the broken form, he reached out, but stopped himself, not wanting to startle his friend, who seemed unconscious.

"St-Starsk? Starsk, it´s me. It´s Hutch. You awake? Starsky?"

Ever so slightly, Starsky stirred, his forehead scratching over the floor, when he moved his head, a mumble sending yet another slender trail of yellowish salvia down his chin.

It was enough of a life sign for Hutch, though. "Starsk. Wake up, buddy, it´s me." Former nearly paralyzed hands became suddenly busy as Hutch carefully gathered his friend´s upper body up to gently drag him away from the half-dried mess in front of his face and to be able to examine him more closely in the light a lone bulb sent circle-shaped to the floor.

His stomach revolting against the soft, yet startling treatment, Starsky coughed to fight rising nausea, his head supportlessly lolling back against Hutch´s shoulder.

"Easy," Hutch soothed, adjusting his friend´s position one more time, so that his friend could lay down again in his grasp, his head resting on Hutch´s knee. "Easy, buddy. It´s okay. It´s over. I´m right here now. I´m here, I´m gonna stay right here with you. It´s okay now."

"Hutch?" a faint whisper reached his ears, and he felt damp curls brush against his knee as Starsky lifted his head a bit, but had to weakly let it fall back instantly.

"Yeah, babe," he assured, stroking soft fingers through his partner´s hair. "Yeah `sme. You´re okay now." Rolling his partner ever so carefully forward, he bent over to look on the cuffed wrists and was about to reach out for them, when Starsky whimpered softly and moved, wanting to roll back.

"Easy, buddy. Hold it. I´m just gonna--"

"Hutch," the tiny voice that cut him off was so filled with fear that he instinctively turned his friend´s face so that Starsky would at least have been able to look at him if he, well, had been able to.

"Shhh, I´m right here."

"C-can you..." Starsky started, coughed, but forced himself to speak on weakly, "can you...make it light? Don´t...wanna die in the dark. Please?"

It took Hutch a second to swallow back grabbing ice cold panic, and, unaware of his unconscious cruelty, the terrified man in his arms went on, "`F-fraid of the...of the dark, Hutch. Don´t wanna d--"

"Starsk," Hutch interrupted him softly, but fiercely, holding his friend´s face as if wanting him to look at him, "you´re not gonna die. Help will be here in a second. You´re NOT gonna die."

Starsky frowned weakly. "But...`sdar--"

"It´ll be light again soon, buddy," Hutch hurried to soothe, brushing soft cool fingers over over-heated, swollen eyelids. "I promise. Your eyes are swollen, but that´ll go away along with everything else. It won´t be dark forever."

"P-promise?" Starsky asked, obviously too stunned by that new information that he didn´t even struggle against being rolled forward again, so that Hutch could take the cuffs off of him.

"Promise. Have I ever lied to y--"

"Wait, no," a weak protest cut the blond off once more. "What´re you..." The rest of the question faded into a violent flinch and a long, low moan.

Frantic at the pain he saw displayed on his partner´s face, Hutch helped him draw his now free arms in front of him again, so that he could finally curl up against the tormenting cramps in his guts. Weak fingers reached into the air, searching something, and Hutch grabbed back, holding the clammy, bleeding flesh gently.

"Hutch?" Starsky gasped faintly through a wave of pain.

"Yeah, I´m here," Hutch assured, softly brushing his thumb over the hands he was holding. "I´m right here." 'What the hell is taking that God damned ambulance so long?!'

"P-promise you won´t let me sc-scratch?"

Puzzled, Hutch stopped in his stoking rhythm on the swollen hands. "What?"

"Scratched...hurts."

Realization hitting him with full force, Hutch felt his eyes widen in dismay as he let go off one twitching hand and softly touched blood covered red marks on Starsky´s neck. "Aw, Starsk... Oh God. Did you cuff yourself?"

Too busy wincing at another wave of pain, Starsky settled for a mute, tiny nod, then tried to answer through a whimper. "Itches."

"Okay," Hutch soothed, taking the hand again. "`Sokay, buddy. I won´t let you scratch. I´ll just stay here and hold your hands so you won´t scratch."

"Hm," Starsky made gratefully and curled up even more in his partner´s hold, swallowing back bile with telltale pain.

In the far distance, sirens could be heard. 'Finally!'

"Buddy, if you need to throw up, it´s okay. Don´t fight against it if it hurts."

Starsky coughed, swallowed once more and gave a somewhat gargling sound, like a laugh. "`Ey... puked on her shoes."

Relieved as the sirens audibly came closer, Hutch joined in the soft laughing. "Bet she loved that."

"Yeah..." Starsky whispered tiredly, his hands twitching against his will in the blond´s. "Yeah... Hutch?"

"Right here, babe," Hutch whispered back, tightening his hold a bit. "I´m here."

The sirens stopped.

"Th-there´s... spi-spider... on my hand. Thi-think it´s moving. Is it moving?"

Gaze snapping back at his friend from where he´d been staring at the open door as if willing the paramedics to finally show up, Hutch soothed, "There´s no spider on you, Starsk. They´re gone."

"B-but...feel it," Starsky whispered in clear rising panic. "It´s there, Hutch... C-can you... take it off me? Please?"

Upstairs, the door was thrown fully open.

"We´ll wash your hands later, buddy, okay? Then you won´t feel it anymore."

"Paramedics!" someone upstairs yelled. "We had a call!"

Unhearing, Starsky continued to mutter in fear as he now suddenly struggled to drag his hands out of Hutch´s soft, but firm hold. "Bu´s...on me."

"There´s no spider on you," Hutch quickly assured, before lifting his head to call out for the paramedics. "Down here!"

"Hutch?" Starsky´s voice faded. "C-can´t see..."

"Buddy, it´s okay. Help is coming. You will see again. I promised, didn´t I?"

Steps hurried down the stairs.

"Sp-spider..." Starsky breathed, twitching in fear.

Hutch was desperate. He´d let go off Starsky´s hands and was softly stroking his hair, trying to soothe him. "There´re no spiders, Starsky. They´re dead."

"In...`m head..."

Two young men burst into the room, trained gazes taking in the situation. "What happened?"

"He was bitten by Black Widow Spiders. At least two times," Hutch answered, instantly making room for the two men, who started rolling his confused, struggling partner on his back.

"No..."

"It´s okay, Starsk, I´m right here. I´m here," Hutch assured him, stroking his forehead. "We´re all here to help you."

"Get them...off me..."

The paramedics exchanged a quick glance. "Not good. Has he been coherent at all since you got here?"

"Yes," Hutch answered, feeling cold sweat trickle down his spine. "Yes, he was a minute ago. Why, wh-what´s going on? What... Shhh," he quickly turned to soothe his by now unintelligibly mumbling partner. "I´m right here. I´m here."

"We better hurry," both paramedics decided in unison. "Can you give us a hand here?"

"S-sure," Hutch stammered, absently still stroking through Starsky´s hair. "Whatever you say. Just...save him. Please. Don´t let him die. I promised him."

****

The sun was setting outside, golden and purple mixed over cotton white clouds hanging in darkening blue.

Weary hands wiped over exhausted, drawn features. Eyes slid closed under firm pressure.

Hutch felt the warmth of the last rays of sunshine playing on his face, waving their Goodbyes. God, hadn´t it just dawned? Where had all the time gone?

Stifling a yawn, he suddenly froze and glanced over his shoulder, but the man in the hospital bed was still sound asleep, hadn´t moved at all. Letting go off a short breath he hadn´t known he´d been holding, he turned to look outside the window again, slightly stretching each of his legs that had fallen asleep an eternity ago.

He didn´t know how much time had passed since they´d finally let him into his partner´s room, but ever since then he´d been sitting at Starsky´s bed, either carefully holding the hand that wasn´t covered in bandages or softly brushing damp curls off a slowly cooling forehead.

Later even, they´d affirmed that the patient was going to survive the three Theridiidae bites he´d suffered.

His legs had probably been asleep then already, but he just hadn´t been able to get himself to stand up, move away from Starsky´s side. Not when his friend looked so utterly vulnerable, his eyelids still swollen, tears occasionally still spilling from his eyes, muscles still twitching even in unconsciousness, despite the relaxants he was constantly given along with something else that dripped into his system through an IV tube in his right arm.

Over the passing hours, though, Starsky´s condition as well as appearance had improved enough for Hutch to actually be able to tear his eyes away from his partner to talk to Dobey, who´d dropped by, and tell him what had happened and to accept a few cups of bitter coffee.

It had taken another hour or so, though, until he was ready for standing up and moving away from the bed to the window, where he was now savoring each sparkle of happy relief the golden light awoke inside him.

Starsky was going to live. He was going to live and he´d be okay. Just like Hutch had promised. 'Of course he is,' the blond thought with a small, tired smile. 'I´d never break a promise to him.'

At the exhaustion following the relief on its heels, he briefly closed his eyes, but couldn´t stand the images his mind immediately confronted him with. As if needing to assure himself, he all but whirled around, actually swaying a bit, to look down at his sleeping partner again. A sigh escaped him at the sight. 'You´re okay, buddy. Everything´s gonna be okay.'

Yet he couldn´t help the memories hovering in the dark. '"...can you...make it light? Don´t...wanna die in the dark. Please?"'

Swiftly, he pushed himself away from the window to cross the room and sit down on his chair again, the urge to touch Starsky, to feel that he was alive, that he would be living, too strong to fight. Curling his fingers over his friend´s good hand, he brushed his other thumb down Starsky´s cheek and over his jaw, coming to rest on the edge of a large white bandage that covered the deep, violent scratches and fang marks there.

A different kind of pain settled in light blue eyes. 'How much did that hurt, buddy?'

The fingers holding Starsky´s hand wandered down his hand slightly, softly touching a slender red circle embedded in the skin on his wrist. 'Enough to cuff yourself? Don´t think I coud´ve done that.'

He couldn´t have done lots of things, Hutch figured. Like holding it together, when knowing exactly what was about to happen to you. Like staying sane.

'"Sp-spider... In...`m head..."'

Hearing the words inside his head as clearly as if Starsky actually had spoken them, Hutch once more stroked a soothing hand over his friend´s curly head, whispering under his breath. "Shhh. I´m here, buddy. You´re safe now."

And as if he indeed had been seeking the comforting touch of his partner, Starsky stirred ever so slightly, his head moving a bit, as an unintelligible moan escaped him.

Hopeful, Hutch continued his stroking motion as well as his encouraging whispers. "Starsk? You waking up?"

Another moan answered him, but not a waking up one. Instead it was definitely colored with telltale fear and, to prove the point, followed by a panicked whimper as the confused patient tried to waggle his hand out of Hutch´s grip.

Instantly, Hutch let go. "Easy, Starsky, it´s just me. Just Hutch. You´re in the hospital, remember?"

"... of me," was all he could understand of the breathy, weak reply, but it was enough.

"Starsky, wake up," he said, a bit louder this time and gently shook his by now trembling friend´s shoulder. "You´re having a nightmare. Wake up, pal, `sokay. You´re safe."

Though he turned his face slightly in Hutch´s direction, Starsky didn´t seem to be fully awake yet. Weary fingers still swapped against Hutch´s, trying to push soothing hands away, as he was getting more agitated. "Hmno... no... `utch?"

"It´s okay," Hutch assured one more time. "You´re right here with me, and you´re safe. It´s alright." With that he gave his partner´s shoulder another gentle shake, causing a sudden, loud gasp and cobalt blue eyes to snap open.

Startled, the blond drew his hands away, instantly starting to soothe his panting friend. "Easy, buddy. Easy. `Sjust me, see? It´s okay. Are you okay now?"

Starsky blinked once, twice, eyes so wide it looked they were about to pop out. "M-my eyes opened."

"Yes," Hutch smiled. "They did."

"That," Starsky informed him and blinked once more as his eyes returned to their normal size, "feels nice."

The smile on Hutch´s face softened. "Promised it´d be light again, didn´t I?"

"Yeah," Starsky replied absently, his gaze wandering off as he took in his surroundings with slowly fading wonder.

Concerned, Hutch reached out to gently cup his cheek and turn his face towards him again. "Hey, you alright? Want me to get you something to drink? You´ve been out almost all day."

Still looking as if in trance, Starsky nodded softly and watched Hutch gathering a glass of water from the nightstand. "I-I didn´t die," he whispered, not noticing the flinch that surprised statement sent through his blond friend, who almost dropped the glass. "I thought I´d die."

Swallowing past a large lump in his throat, Hutch fully turned to him again, holding the glass for him to take a few sips. "Here you go." The casual words couldn´t betray the emotions making his voice quiver, and this time his partner noticed, throwing him a look of understanding sympathy.

"That close?" he asked, when Hutch placed the glass away again.

Not looking up, the blond sniffed and nodded. "Close enough."

The weary grasp that squeezed--or better, merely swapped against--his shoulder comfortingly he acknowledged with a grateful smile, that vanished instantly, though, when Starsky winced and flinched, his head lifting out of reflex at the remains of burning toxin sending waves of crushing pain through his middle.

"Starsk, y´kay? Are you in pain? D´you need something for it? Shall I call the nurse?"

"Can...you?" Starsky whispered weakly around a groan, struggling to curl up and give his cramping muscles some relief.

"Sure," Hutch whispered hastily, already pushing the call-button, while also carefully helping his friend to roll onto his side.

Only a few seconds later, a friendly looking, older nurse entered the room, smiling sympathetically at the miserable patient. "David, so good to see you awake finally. I´m Nurse Heather."

Perspiration beginning to form on his forehead, Starsky tried to reply one of his nurses-wise-cracks, but just didn´t manage to utter anything but a high-pitched whimper.

Instantly, Hutch´s hand wandered up into his hair again, soothingly brushing back through damp curls. Shooting Nurse Heather a pleading look, he asked almost fear-fully, "You can give him something against the pain, can you?"

"Sure," she smiled assuringly holding up a syringe for him to see. "Already brought it." Skilled fingers worked on emptying the contents into Starsky´s IV as she continued to explain, "Severe pain is to be expected after Black Widow Spider bites, really. No need to worry, Detective, you´re doing fine. And this should help soon. It might make you a bit sleepy, though."

Looking a bit dazed from either pain or the medication already working its way through his system, Starsky frowned. "Don´t wanna sleep."

Surprised, Nurse Heather glanced at Hutch, who´d arched his brows in dismay at that, but now returned her gaze with yet another silent plea.

"Uhm... If you need anything else, just call," she said, sympathy furrowing her own forehead, and quickly turned to leave the room, sensing the blond´s grateful look following her until she closed the door.

"Don´t wanna sleep," Starsky stated again, even weaker, and clumsily tried to reach up and squeeze his IV tube to block the pain-medication´s way into his body.

Hutch didn´t needed much strength to unclench his friend´s fingers and gently place his hand back down. "You need that, buddy," he told him. "And you need to sleep. You´re exhausted."

Starsky yawned and shook his head at the same time, then blinked drowsily up at his partner. "Can I get another drink?"

"Sure," Hutch replied with a smile and once more helped his friend to a few more larger gulps of water this time.

"Thanks," Starsky muttered and let his head be carefully lowered back onto the pillow by Hutch, unconsciously moving it a bit against the blond´s hand that stayed resting against it assuringly. "I think I swallowed one," he said after a pause and grimaced.

Hutch smiled in sympathy, brushing his thumb around the small band aid that covered the gash on Starsky´s temple. "I doubt that."

"No really, I think I swallowed one."

"Starsk, you´d be dead now if you´d swallowed a Black Widow Spider."

"But I know I felt it in my mouth," Starsky insisted and frowned, remembering. "Spat it out, I think. Urgh." Again, he grimaced and swallowed hard.

Staring at him in dismay, Hutch whispered a very soft, "Yuck."

"Double-yuck," Starsky nodded.

A short silence followed.

"I´m sorry about the pictures, Hutch," Starsky´s quiet, sad voice finally broke through it, sending his friend´s blond head snapping up in appalled surprise.

"Hey, you´ve got nothing to be sorry for, buddy. It wasn´t your fault."

Starsky snorted weakly, stifling another yawn. The medication was definitely starting to work. "It wasn´t like she had to use much force to make me come with her."

Smiling, Hutch tilted his head to one side slightly. "They never have to, do they?"

Shooting him a grateful, understanding look, Starsky joined in in soft laughter, but stopped at another thought. "What´s gonna happen to her, you think?"

His eyes clouding, Hutch replied, "She´s sick."

"Think they´ll help her?"

After a pause, the blond shook his head. "I don´t think anyone can."

In the silence that followed, Starsky watched his partner with his lids quickly getting too heavy to lift after each blinking, and in his foggy mind the worried surprise at his partner´s sad, serious look faded into greyish nothingness, as slumber claimed him. "Hutch?" he breathed in slight fear, his brows rising instead of his lids.

"Right here," Hutch´s voice came to him assuringly, and in the far distance, he felt a soothing touch on his face. "Go to sleep. I´m right here."

"Don´t...wanna...slee..." Starsky didn´t even manage to finish the sentence, his head lolling against Hutch´s hand and deep breaths indicating he´d slipped into a sound slumber.

Softly brushing over the distressed frown on his friend´s forehead with the back of his curled fingers, Hutch whispered, "You just rest, babe. I´ll be right here to wake you when the dreams start."

And, indeed, the furrow underneath his touch smoothed down, the sleeping man´s features relaxed.

Relieved, Hutch watched Starsky´s steady breathing and leant back in his chair with a tired smile. Within seconds, he himself had given in to his own exhaustion, his head falling back against the headrest, one hand remaining lying limply on Starsky´s shoulder.

Night fell, and nothing disturbed either man´s sleep, as it was now protection and comfort that were too close. Too close for dreams.

THE END

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