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Wuemsel's Fanfic Corner

View from the Corner


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Co-written by Jenna. Special thanks to SJ and MandyK for the great beta work!!!

Here they were, and Detective David Starsky...
 
"Hey Hutch, Hutch, look at that! Look at that! I'snt that TOO cool?!" 
 
...was in heaven, whereas his partner...
 
"Starsk... Don't touch that."
 
...definitely was somewhere else...
 
"I always wanted to have something like this! Look, look, you can even control the siren!" 
 
At his friend's excited pronouncement of what he surely was going to do next, Ken Hutchinson sighed deeply, squeezing his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger in his characteristic gesture of utter annoyance. 
 
"PLEASE don't touch the siren, Starsk."
 
But, of course, it was too late.
 
"Wow!" Starsky exclaimed happily, barely managing to carry his voice over the ear-shattering wails of the remote-controlled police car he still sent racing up and down the aisle between the teddies shelf and the cars shelf in "Toys 'n Tiggers", while he was flashing Hutch an ear-to-ear grin. "Loud, huh?!"
 
Confronted with that truth, Hutch nodded, mouthing a mute 'yep'.
 
"Huh?" Starsky asked. "D'you say somethin?"
 
"Nope," Hutch muttered, casting his partner a pleading glance. "Would you please-"
 
"What?" Starsky interrupted him, fumbling with the remote control of the source of annoyance, oblivious to the mass of unnerved glances and frowns he was the target of. Ever aware of the other customers' reaction, Hutch, on the other hand, blushed a deep red. 
 
"Turn the siren off, Starsky."
 
"What?" Starsky repeated, glancing up at Hutch again. "What d'you say?"
 
Suppressing the overwhelming urge to just snatch the remote control from his friend's hands, Hutch raised his voice. "Turn it off!"
 
"Hey, wait, I'm gonna turn the siren off, I don't understand a thing," Starsky shouted.
 
Seemingly shrinking, Hutch hid his face in his hands and nodded.  'Deeeep breaths, Ken. '
 
"Hmmm... Which button....?" Starsky muttered to himself, turning tiny switches without the desired effect.
 
From behind his spreading fingers, Hutch could see people leaving the store.
 
"Not that one? Hm. Oops. I thought it was..." Unaware of the shop owners look to kill that lingered on him, Starsky kept on mumbling and fumbling with the stubborn item. "Maybe this one? Nope. Okay. Let's try thi-"
 
His patience finally coming to a sudden end, Hutch all but tore the remote control out of Starsky's grasp. "Gimme that!" 
 
In a split second, hed found the right switch, and merciful silence filled the store.
 
"I was gonna try that one next," Starsky informed him.
 
Hutch glared, visibly swallowed the comment that was forming on his lips, and placed the remote control up onto the highest spot on the shelf he stood next to.
 
His friend's gaze followed his movement, his shoulders slumping, completing the perfect image of a sulking little kid.
 
With a very paternal parting looking, Hutch turned around, leaving Starsky behind making a "gna, gna, gna"-face to his back. 
 
"Party pooper."
 
"What was that?" Hutch snapped, wheeling around again.
 
"Uh... nothin," Starsky quickly replied in a small voice.
 
"Thought so," Hutch said and once more turned to study the teddies shelf. After the briefest inspection, he picked one and asked, without looking at his partner behind him, How 'bout this one?"
 
When he received no answer, he glanced over his shoulder, catching his partner stretching to his full height, on his toes, in order to reclaim the remote control.
 
"Starsky!"
 
Starsky flinched, came back to his feet and cast his friend an innocent glance. "Huh?"
 
Hutch closed his eyes briefly.  'Ten, nine, eight...'
 
Unaware of his partner's attempts at trying to keep him out of the immediate danger he surely was in, Starsky frowned at the stuffed bear the blond still held. "Urgh. You don't wanna give her THAT one, do you?"
 
'...seven, six, five...'
 
"Honest, Hutch, you can't give a four-year-old a bear that ugly.  It'll scare her to death." Shaking his head, Starsky took the teddy from his partner to put it back into the shelf. "Jeez. I mean, I knew you had no taste in cars, but this..." Once more, he shook his head.
 
'...four, three, two...'
 
"Poor innocent kiddies you're gonna have one day," Starsky muttered, while seemingly haphazardly picking teddies to look at and put back when they didn't pass his own personal 'How fluffy is it when you squeeze it?'-test. He seemed to be pretty trained at that, too, since he was almost through with the first shelf, when Hutch finally reached 'One!' and grabbed the bear he'd chosen before, then turned without a word and headed for the till. 
 
"Hey Hutch?"
 
Ignoring his partner's puzzled call, Hutch paid, took his teddy and left. Outside, he got into the waiting Torino, sat the bear onto the driver's seat and waited, working on his annoyance level.
 
It took Starsky quite a bit to finally follow, but when Hutch saw him leave the store, he closed his eyes as if not wanting to accept the sight of his partner carrying the toy police car with him, whistling happily to himself. 
 
Making a face at the teddy on his seat, Starsky put his new toy in the back, threw the bear after it and climbed onto the driver's seat, flashing his partner a wide grin. "D'you mind go back in and get the remote control? No one can reach it."
 
Surrendering, Hutch sighed and left the car obediently, trying his hardest to ignore the sing-songed "thank you" that followed him. 
 
 **** 
It had been pure coincidence that their first free week in months included Hutch's little nieces fifth birthday, but since it'd been over a year since he'd seen his sister and her family, he was most happy about the fact and had instantly made plans for his visit in Boston.
 
Of course, he'd asked his partner to come along too, pointing out that it actually was about time Starsky met the one Hutchinson whose emotional age and intelligence matched his, but Starsky had already made plans of his own, seeing that his free week was also his favorite stewardess free week. A fact he simply couldnt ignore, as he'd informed Hutch.
 
"So you rather spent your time with a stranger than with me and my family?" Hutch had asked in mock hurt, his lids fluttering to complete the performance.
 
"Depends on the stranger," Starsky had grinned.
 
"Ow. That hurt."
 
"You'll get over it."
 
And so it'd been decided, and they had already been on the way to the airport the first day of their free week, when Starsky had, truly innocently, asked what Hutch was going to give little Chrissy for her birthday.
 
The blond had paled instantly. "Oops."
 
"What d'you mean, 'oops'?"
 
"Oops, I forgot. Do me a favor and pull over at the next toy store you see, will you?"
 
"You forgot?!" Starsky had exclaimed incredulously. "You knew for a week that you'd go there and you forgot the PRESENT?!"
 
Hutch had just rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, yeah... There. Pull over there."
 
"I can't believe you forgot the present!"
 
"Staaarsk, just pull over there, okay? I don't want to miss the plane."
 
Pulling over to the store the blond had pointed at, Starsky had continued to express his opinion on his partner's ignorance. "Forgot the present! Jeez! Some great uncle you are."
 
Rolling his eyes as he'd emerged from the car, Hutch had tried to escape, but of course Dave Starsky wouldn't wait INSIDE a car that was parked in front of a toy store. 
 
"Hell, I even had a present for her, and I don't know her."
 
Coming to a sudden halt at that, Hutch had turned and flashed him a relieved smile. "Oh? You do?"
 
"Oh no! No way, Uncle Ken," Starsky had stated firmly, turning his friend around again to slightly shove him towards the stores entry. "Get your own present!" 
 
Shaking his head, he'd followed, still not over the incident. "Forgot. How can you possibly forget a birthday present?!"
 
Speeding up his steps in a futile attempt to flee, Hutch had rolled his eyes once more. "I'm sorry I'm not your regular materialist who thinks of things first. I'm just looking forward to see my family, I don't think-"
 
"But this part of your family's four years old, Hutch! Four-year-olds don't look forward to uncles, they look forward to presents."
 
"Boy, do I pity your uncles," Hutch had muttered on his way to the teddies shelf.
 
"What?"
 
"Nothing, Starsk. Nothing."
 
And so they sat in the Torino on their way to the airport now, with an ugly large teddy and a remote-controlled police car in the back.
 
"So what did you get her?" Hutch asked from where he'd retrieved the teddy from the backseat to sit it on his lap, as if wanting it to enjoy the view from the front.
 
"Book."
 
Turning the teddy, so that they both were looking at Starsky, Hutch frowned. "Book?"
 
"Book," Starsky nodded.
 
"Book. You do realize Chrissy's four years old, right?"
 
"Yep."
 
"Hm-mm... And what's she supposed to do with a book then?" Hutch asked, turning the teddy to look at it and shook his head at his partner's stupidity. Following his fingers' motions, the teddy did the same.
 
Starsky rolled his eyes. "Have it read to her, brains. Jeez." After a pause, he added, "Thought you'd read it to her."
 
"Oh," Hutch muttered and lifted his brows at the teddy to motion for it that now he understood. "That's nice. Isnt it?"
 
The teddy nodded, and they both looked at Starsky again, who couldn't fight a grin tugging at his lips at the show taking place next to him. 
 
"And which book did you pick?"
 
"Winnie the Pooh," Starsky replied.
 
"Pooh?" Hutch repeated and frowned at the teddy.
 
"Aw, come on!" Starsky exclaimed, sending the blond an irritated glance. "Don't tell me you don't know Pooh Bear!"
 
"`Course I do," Hutch replied as if hurt by the accusation. "I'm just surprised."
 
"Why? D'you think I don't know the classics? I can read too, y'know." 
 
Making a child-like apologetic face, Hutch lifted the teddy's paw to nudge Starsky's cheek with it. "I didn't mean that." 
 
Satisfied at the mockingly annoyed grin he received, he sat the bear back on his lap. "I just thought 'Alice' was your favorite childrens' book."
 
Starsky's brows went up. "Huh? Why'd you think that?"
 
Hutch shrugged. "Dunno. Seemed to fit. Funny people following white rabbits..." 
 
Starsky laughed.
 
"But then," Hutch continued, tilting the teddy's head as if it was thinking too, "coming to think about it, toys coming alive's pretty you too."
 
Glancing down at the teddy in the blond man's hands, Starsky nodded. "Uh huh."
 
Following his gaze, Hutch smiled sheepishly and patted the bear's head. 
 
A brief silence occurred, before Starsky spoke again, a slightly faraway tinge in his voice. "When I was a kid, I imagined my toys would come alive at night."
 
Hutch and the teddy looked at him.
 
"Y'know, while people were asleep."
 
Unseen by his partner, Hutch looked down at the teddy and made a 'he's nuts'-face.
 
Starsky, though, continued, "I thought they'd have parties every night. Or meetings. You know, like they have a government and all and discuss their way of living. Just like the grown-ups on TV did."
 
"You were one weird kid, huh?"
 
Annoyed, Starsky cast him a quick glance. "What, you didn't believe that?"
 
"That my toys had a government?! No."
 
"Come on."
 
"No." Pause. "I thought they made escape-plans."
 
In slow-motion, Starsky looked at him. "What?"
 
"Escape-plans," Hutch repeated, blushing slightly. "I thought they'd come together and think about escaping. Like 'How do we get the doors open?' or so. 'How do we sneak outside without anyone noticing?'"
 
"And you call me weird?!" Starsky laughed. "What d'you do to your toys, anyway, that made you think they'd want to escape?!"
 
A sad look crossed the blond's eyes that he suddenly averted. "Guess I just thought they didn't like the feeling of being caged in," he replied, and though it was barely a whisper that followed, Starsky thought he could make it out to be "either".
 
A wave of sympathy washing through him, Starsky softened his voice as he asked, "And did they make it?"
 
To his surprise, Hutch smiled. "Yup."
 
"Really? How?"
 
Hutch shrugged. "Let them go."
 
"You let them go," Starsky repeated slowly, in a voice that clearly indicated he was starting to think that it might not be a good idea to let his friend go anywhere on his own after all. 
 
"Yep."
 
"And they did... go?" Starsky asked, the question sounding more like a statement, the tone of voice still being the same.
 
"Yeah, well, I had to help them of course," Hutch replied, rolling his eyes like a child explaining the most obvious thing to another stupid adult. 
 
"Of course," Starsky nodded. "Sure. - So what d'you do, leave the window open?"
 
"At first," Hutch admitted. "But my room was on the second floor, so... I guess they were too scared to jump."
 
"I would be too."
 
"Yeah, right," Hutch nodded. "So one day I took most of them with me into the wood next to our house and sat them in a self-made boat on the river."
 
Absolute silence followed, and when Starsky finally spoke again, his voice was flat with disbelief. "You left your toys in the woods?!"
 
"Well, not all of them, of course," Hutch replied, once more actually sounding like a child defending himself. "I mean, my parents might have found out and... Uh..." Obviously catching himself from saying something else, he trailed off, then stated, "Let's say they wouldn't have been too thrilled."
 
Starsky frowned, but remained silent.
 
"I only took a few. My fave ones."
 
"Why?" Starsky asked, puzzled. "Didn't you want to keep your fave ones?"
 
"No," Hutch replied quietly. "The ones I liked most I wanted to free most." 
 
Turning off the engine, since they'd arrived at the airport, Starsky cast his friend an affectionate look, thinking how little the adult Hutch differed from the child Kenny in some ways.
 
"How old were you?" he asked after a moment, when none of them had made a move to leave the car.
 
"Five, I guess. Maybe four."
 
Inwardly shuddering at the nagging question why a five-year-old would possibly think his toys needed to be freed, Starsky looked at the teddy his friend had started to hug to himself during their conversation and gently disentangled it from the blond's grasp to study it closer. 
 
"You know... In the right light, it's not really that ugly."
 
"You think?" Hutch asked with a smile.
 
"Yep," Starsky replied and handed him the toy back, then emerged from the car. After a moment, Hutch followed, bear in arm, and accepted his bag Starsky had retrieved from the trunk.
 
"I put the book in it."
 
"Okay," Hutch nodded.
 
They stood in silence for a few seconds, the blond seemingly lost in thought, while Starsky patiently waited for him to find his way back to the present. 
 
"Wanna put Pooh in it too?" he finally asked with a smile.
 
"Huh?" 
 
"The bear, Hutch."
 
"Oh." Looking at the teddy as if having completely forgotten he was holding it, Hutch blushed and quickly stuffed it into his bag. 
 
"Got everything?" Starsky asked, eerily feeling like a parent sending his son to summer camp.
 
True to his role in that picture, Hutch nodded mutely, then instantly turned into an adult again, when he asked, "What time does Sharon arrive?"
 
Starsky grinned and checked his watch. "Hour."
 
"Want me to call when I'm there and check if things are alright here?"
 
"Noooo," Starsky replied, stretching the word.
 
"Oookay," Hutch said sweetly and turned to head for the entry.
 
Walking next to him, Starsky said, "We might be going to Rocky Beach, anyway. She told me something `bout a place a friend of her owns there, so I guess I won't be home, anyway."
 
"Rocky Beach, huh? What's there?"
 
"Who cares?"
 
Hutch grinned, checked his own watch and jumped. "Shit, I'm gonna be late. Hey, uh, have fun, see you, bye."
 
And off he ran, leaving Starsky behind, only turning at the "Give Karen a kiss from me!" that was called after him.
 
Starsky stood, watching after his friend, and suddenly snapped his fingers as a lovably silly idea hit him.
 
Wheeling around with a wide, anticipating grin, he hurried back to his car. 
 
 **** 
 
The man was beautiful. 
 
Natural grace signed every one of his steps, his moves, like an artists signature. God's signature. The casual stroll that kept his feet seemingly hovering above the ground appeared more like dancing than walking. 
 
With wavy thick brown hair and smooth, slightly longish features of a dark taint, almost olive, he bore a striking resemblance to the teddy bears he kept picking out of the shelf to study them, squeeze them and put them back. 
 
He was smaller than Malcolm, slender, and when he'd greeted him with a polite nod at his entrance, Malcolm had seen his eyes were blue, dark blue. Sparkling. Like cobalt diamonds.
 
Malcolm was sure he'd never seen a blue like that before. Actually it felt as if he'd never seen blue at all before. There hadn't been blue before him. 
 
And happiness. It seemed like there hadn't been happiness before him.  
His softly whistled happy tune put music to shame. There hadn't been music before him.
 
Oh, it tore at Malcolm's heart to know that he had been before him. What bliss it would have been to not have been there before blue and happiness and beauty. What bliss if there hadn't been Malcolm before him.
 
The second Malcolm had seen him, he'd suddenly known it. He'd suddenly known what people had always been talking about. 
 
Beauty. Life. This was beauty. This was life.
 
"Hey."
 
Malcolm jumped. He hadn't seen the man approaching. He'd stared at the man the whole time and he hadn't seen him approaching! Trance. This was trance.
 
"Uh... You work here, don't you?"
 
Malcolm swallowed, but his mouth was dry. Blue seemed to engulfed him, swallow him.
 
"Sir? Hello?"
 
"Y-y-yes. I-I w-work here." 
 
Damn his stutter. But the man smiled. Didn't laugh at him. 
 
So Malcolm smiled too. "C-c-can I h-help y-you?"
 
"Yes. See," the man said, making an embarrassed face, and pointed at the top of the teddies shelf, "I want that one over there. The black one." 
 
Malcolm didnt follow the gesture, but the man didn't see.
 
"But, uh, seems I can't reach it, so..." Trailing off, he shrugged and cast Malcolm a politely pleading look. 
 
Malcolm stared. God, the guy was cute!
 
"Sir?" 
 
A hand waved in front of Malcolm, and he blinked. "Wh-what? I-I-I'm s-sorry... I..."
 
Again, the man smiled. And nice! He was nice too! 
 
"The bear?"
 
"Oh. Oh. Yes. Yes. I-I'll g-g-get it... I'll g-get it..." Malcolm muttered and stumbled over his own feet on the way over to the shelf, inwardly cursing his clumsiness.
 
The man followed behind him, watching when Malcolm retrieved the bear without even having to stretch. 
 
When he handed it over, their hands touched briefly. It felt like a lightening hitting Malcolm, like a flash of electricity leaping over.
 
Touch. This was touch.
 
The man shifted on his feet, awkwardly drawing his hand back. "Uhm... thanks."
 
"Th-that f-for your k-kid?" Malcolm asked, leading them to the till.
 
"No," the man replied. "For a friend."
 
"I-it's r-really c-cute." 
 
"Yep," the man replied uneasily and produced his wallet to pay.
 
"Y-y-your f-friend l-likes t-teddies?" Malcolm asked with what he hoped looked like an interested grin.
 
"Oh yes. He builds boats for them and sends them sailing down rivers."
 
Malcolm laughed and accepted the money. "Th-that's f-funny. Y-y-you w-want a bag f-for it?"
 
"No, 'sokay, I'll let him sit on the passenger seat, thanks." With a parting smile, the man took the bear again and turned to leave.
 
"Uhm... h-hey..." Malcolm rushed to call after him, and the man turned, brows lifted.
 
"Hm?"
 
"Wh-wh-what's y-your n-name?"
 
"What?"
 
"Y-your n-n-name," Malcolm said and stepped around the counter. "I-I'm M-M-Mal-Malcolm."
 
"Ahm... hi Malcolm," the man smiled nervously. "Nice name. But, uhm... I really gotta go now. Was nice talking to you. And, uh, thanks," he added, lifting the bear. 
 
"H-hey, n-n-n-no pr-problem," Malcolm waved.
 
"Yeah." Pause. "`Kay." Pause. "Gotta go." And with that, the man quickly turned for the door.
 
Malcolm watched, unbearable sadness grabbing his heart like a claw. There hadn't been happiness before. Would there be happiness after? Could you live without blue, when you'd seen blue? 
 
Would he be able to live without beauty, when he knew all the time that beauty was there? Somewhere far from him?
 
The answer came as fast as the decision. 
 
Only after the simple attack was over so quickly, Malcolm realized he hadn't even checked if the shop had been empty except for them. 
 
Wow, lucky he. If that wasn't a sign, what was? 
 
 **** 
 
The first thing Starsky became aware of with increasing speed was that his head hurt. And that something was tickling his nose. Something soft and fluffy--and tickling!
 
He sneezed loudly and groaned. 
 
'Gawd, shouldn't do that. Damn that hurt!'
 
So his head hurt, sneezing hurt and he couldnt move his hands up front to wipe his nose.
 
'Okay. Calm. Stay calm. There's an explanation for that.'
 
And of course there was. A simple one too. His hands were tied behind his back, and tight. Tight enough, anyway, to have lost almost all feeling in them already. 
 
Another thing he suddenly noticed was that he couldn't open his eyes. His lids wouldn't move.
 
'Calm, Dave. Stay calm. Stay ca... Oh hell, what am I doing here?! What the fuck's going on?!'
 
No answer came, but as he became more alert, he found out more and more about his situation. He was lying on his side on hard ground, and he could feel a cool breeze tugging at his shirt and hair. A window was open above his head, he could hear distant street noises. 
 
What time was it?
 
How long had he been out?
 
What had happened?
 
He coughed slightly at the dryness in his throat and felt the fluffiness that had tickled him to sneezing get in his mouth when he opened it. He coughed some more.
 
Steps. Suddenly he could hear steps. Near him. Someone walking by, something briefly touching his cheek, something hard. A foot?
 
"S-s-sorry."
 
A voice. Familiar. 
 
A presence near him, in front of him, and then the noise of the window being closed. 
 
The breeze was gone. He shivered.
 
"J-j-just th-thought y-you'd w-want some a-air." The voice again, above him and suddenly near. A hand on his head.
 
He flinched.
 
"Y-y-you w-were out quite l-long. Sc-scared me a b-bit."
 
'Scared YOU?!' he wanted to snap, but realized he had only thought it and had groaned instead of spoken. 
 
Since the hand still rested on his hair, he waggled his head  to get away from it, but even that slight movement sent waves of stabbing pain through his skull, so he settled for enduring the lingering touch for the moment. 
 
'Why can't I see?' he wondered, and when there was an answer knew this time he had spoken out loud. Funny, his mind didn't seem to know what he wanted to think and what to say.
 
"Oh, s-s-sorry," the voice replied, and the hand moved to fumble with a cloth he only now noticed to be covering his eyes.
 
Suddenly, light hit his eyes, and even through closed lids it fell like a mass of tiny arrows directly into the center of pain in his head. He moaned once more.
 
"Th-thought y-you w-wouldn't w-want to w-wake up in the l-l-l-light," the voice explained gently, the hand making a reappearance. "Wh-what with y-your h-head pro-probably h-hurtin."
 
"Thanks so much," he muttered and once more felt fluffiness enter his mouth. Blinking his eyes open a crack, he now saw he lay with his face half-buried in something black and soft and fluffy... A teddy bear?
 
'Hutch's bear.'
 
"Oh." The voice, forming itself into a blurry face in front of his aching eyes, reached out and dragged the teddy away from his face, sitting it up so that it seemingly looked down on him. "Th-thought y-y-you'd w-want it." 
 
The blurry features cleared a bit, revealing a youngish face, nervous eyes. 
 
Starsky just stared, trying hard to recall whatever incidents had brought him there. Hed stopped at this toy store on his way back home from the airport, he remembered that. And hed bought that black fluffy bear for Hutch and then--nothing.
 
No, not nothing. Blackness. He remembered turning to leave after the weird employee had--the way hed seen it--pretty clumsily tried to hit on him, but he hadn't completed his escape, had he?
 
"I-i-is th-that y-your f-friend? H-Hutch?" 
 
His gaze snapping up at the man who now sat in front of him with his legs crossed, hands resting in his lap, looking down at him with honest interest reflected in his eyes, Starsky frowned, then understood. Obviously his thoughts had once more found their way into audible life without him noticing.
 
"Th-the o-one y-you b-b-bought the t-teddy for, I m-mean," his captor explained.
 
Again, Starsky just stared, blankly. Who the hell was this guy?! 
 
"Who are you?" Finally, he managed to ask something he'd actually wanted to ask.
 
The man smiled friendly, a bit like he was forgiving Starsky for a mistake. "M-M-Malcolm. T-told you. R-remember?"
 
"Malcolm," Starsky repeated, sending his memory working. "You work in that... toy store. Right?"
 
"Yes," Malcolm grinned, most happy Starsky obviously recalled him.
 
"Okay," Starsky said quietly and paused, but only briefly, feeling his panic triggering his temper. "Care to tell me what's going on? Where are we?"
 
"H-home."
 
"Really?" Starsky asked sarcastically, glancing around, though it was pretty difficult a task to take in his surroundings from his angle. What he could see, though, looked like a rather small, blank apartment. Furniture was very rare, the walls were plain white. No pictures anywhere. He could see a door at a far wall, probably leading into another room.
 
"Doesn't look like home," he stated, glancing back at Malcolm, whose smile faded a bit at that. "What're we doing here?"
 
The grin popped up again. "I-I l-live here. D-d'you l-like it?"
 
Forcing himself to stay calm, Starsky replied, "Sure. It's very nice."
 
Malcolm didn't even listen. He looked like a child about to reveal a big secret, his eyes sparkling with excitement, and, almost cutting off Starsky's answer, he blurted out, "I-I-I l-like you."
 
Starsky looked up at him silently, honest fear starting to gnaw at his stomach.
 
At the lack of response, Malcolm furrowed his brows in a different kind of fear. "D-d-don't y-you l-l-like m-me?"
 
"Uhm..." Starsky muttered and swallowed dryly.
 
'This is one great mess you got yourself into. Hutch's probably at the other end of the country by now, Sharon's having a fit because you didn't show, and no one is going to miss you for another six days.'
 
"I-I-I'm sorry I h-had to hit you, b-but... I..." Malcolm stammered nervously, clearly agitated at Starsky's reluctance to affirm his hopes. "B-but I-I d-didn't kn-know i-i-if you'd c-come w-with m-"
 
"You could have," Starsky interrupted him, trying very hard to keep his voice calm, "asked me instead of kidnap me."
 
Malcolm bit his lip.
 
"That's a crime, Malcolm, and you know that, don't you? It's a very bad thing to kidnap someone."
 
"I'm n-not bad!" Malcolm exclaimed loudly, suddenly angry. "D-don't s-say that!"
 
Starsky flinched, startled; the whole impact of his predicament hitting him at the sight of the sudden change in the man's composure. Obviously, Malcolm was extremely unstable emotionally. And he still was much larger than Starsky, who hurried to apologize, hoping his voice didn't shake too bad.
 
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Malcolm. I didn't mean that."
 
"I-I'm not b-bad!"
 
"I know. I know. You're not. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."
 
'Good boy, Dave. Humor the crazy guy and maybe he won't ravish and slaughter you. Not in the next ten minutes at least...'
 
"Malcolm... uhm..." he tried after a moment, when Malcolm still sat looking at the ground, sulking. "It's a bit uncomfortable down here. Couldn't you-?"
 
"D-Dad used t-to say I-I'm bad," Malcolm interrupted him, not having listened. "B-but I'm n-not."
 
"No, you're not, Malcolm. You're a good boy," Starsky assured him. 
 
"I-I am," Malcolm nodded, sniffed and looked at his captive again with big, sad eyes that seemed to brighten, though, at the mere sight of the detective. "I-I r-really l-like you."
 
Starsky couldn't help feeling a wave of sympathy breaking through the fear clawing at him. The words were said in such innocence, such honest affection, they just had to touch you. Wasn't it just heartbreaking that a thing so natural as attraction, as a teenage-like crush on someone could be turned into fatal danger by insanity? If Malcolm had been a sane, normal person, he would have been disappointed at a simple 'no, thanks, but sorry no' that would have met his hitting on Starsky, but since he was not sane, he couldn't feel normally, he couldn't see the difference between love and a momentary attraction. 
 
Furthermore, he was bound to--and had already--hurt the person he thought he loved. It was a sad thing, indeed.
 
Nevertheless, having to admit that, at the moment, he cared about his well-being even more than about Malcolm's life-long mental handicap, Starsky tried hard to figure out what to do next. Could you argue with an insane person? If that person liked you?  
 
"I-I th-think y-you're b-beautiful," Malcolm added, his smile widening, when Starsky still hadn't responded.
 
That, though, the detective just couldn't let go by. "Oh! Ahm... why, thank you, that's so flattering, but, see, Malcolm, I'm not... like you." 
 
Malcolm frowned, not understanding.
 
"Gay," Starsky explained in a soft voice, trying to sound like he would in a normal 'I don't want to hurt your feelings, but...'-conversation. "I'm not gay. Im sorry."
 
To his startled surprise, Malcolm all but exploded, his eyes nearly popping out of his head in shock, as if Starsky had just said the bad, bad word you weren't allowed to even think. "I-I'm n-n-not th-that! I-it's b-bad t-t-to b-be th-that! I-I'm not th-that!"
 
Fear starting to choke him, Starsky stared up at him, desperately flattening himself against the wall he lay next to in a futile attempt to escape the crazed mans wrath. "Okay!" he called out, having to gather up all his courage to raise his voice above his captor's. " Okay! That's good. So we're both not... that!" 
 
At Malcolm's panted silence, he grinned nervously. "I mean, sure, if it's bad, you wouldn't wanna be it, right? So we're both good."
 
But Malcolm had just stopped to listen, it seemed. Or maybe he'd forgotten the assuring words the second he'd heard them. As he was unsuccessfully trying to struggle against his captor's strong hands that lifted him with striking ease to prop him up against the wall in a sitting position, it dawned on Starsky just how unstable Malcolm was. Obviously, he couldn't get over a wrong word quickly, and he could lose his temper in a speed that made Starsky's own patience span look long.
 
"Wh-why'd y-you s-say th-that?!" Malcolm demanded, shaking the tied up man violently. "I-I'm not th-that!!!"
 
"I say lots of things I don't mean," Starsky tried helplessly, giving a nervous laugh to underline the funny character of this habit, though it came out more like a groan, since the rough treatment didn't exactly improve his headache.
 
Malcolm didn't catch the humor, but at least he released Starsky from his grasp, sitting back again. "Y-y-you sh-shouldn't d-d-do th-that," he chided. "I-it's n-n-not n-nice."
 
"I'll try to remember," Starsky promised, resting his head back against the wall for a moment to get his bearings. When he looked at Malcolm again, he was met by the same happy smile that had vanished too suddenly at his mistake.
 
Silence followed, stretching itself, until Starsky couldn't bear it any longer. Getting roughed up surely was better than being stared at like he was the Blue Mauritius! 
 
Besides, maybe there was a way of arguing with a madman after all. "I don't think you really like me."
 
Malcolm frowned in clear agitation. "Y-yes, I d-do! Wh-why d-you say th-that?!"
 
"If you like me, you'd let me go," Starsky replied. 
 
"B-but I-I w-want you n-near m-me."
 
"But if you'd really like me, you'd think about what I want."
 
Malcolm swallowed, moisture glimmering in his bright, wide eyes. "Y-you d-don't w-w-want t-t be w-with m-me?"
 
Starsky pressed his lips together briefly as if thinking about that, then shook his head no. "Not when you keep me trussed up like this. And you hurt me before. You don't hurt people you like."
 
"B-but I-I-I d-do l-like you!" Malcolm exclaimed, to Starsky's scared realization, in anger, not in disappointment. "I-I w-want t-to k-k-keep y-you."
 
It was so obvious and so unbelievably frightening insanity that met him with that statement that sounded so much like coming from a kid asking if he could keep a stray dog, that Starsky just couldn't help losing it a bit himself, since he, too, was starting to feel himself falling over the edge. Pushed by fear. 
 
"You can't keep me, you nutcase! You can't keep people!"
 
Malcolm stared at him blankly, about to reply something, but Starsky wasn't going to be stopped.
 
"I'm a cop, Malcolm. Okay? D'you know what this means? It's not clever to kidnap a cop, and you sure as hell won't keep me, d'you understand?!" Suddenly realizing what he'd done, he quickly added, "But I can help you. If you let me go now, we'll both go to see a-"
 
"I-I'm n-not n-nuts!" Malcolm cut him off sharply, sending Starsky flinching back against the wall. Yet, no more furious statements followed, and so, thinking he was heading in the right direction, Starsky carefully answered.
 
"Okay, you're not. You're confused. That's alright. We'll go and find someone who'll help you. I know you didn't mean to hurt me, I understand. If you like people, you do craz... things you don't mean. That's normal."
 
Malcolm frowned at him, thinking.
 
Feeling close to a breakthrough, Starsky continued to ramble, not wanting to let his captor slip into blind wrath again. "It's confusing to like people, I know. But you can't just grab them and keep them. It's against the law. And," he added with a smile like an adult teaching a child, "it's stupid too. I mean, why would that person like you th-"
 
Malcolm jumped to his feet, sending Starsky to flinch back violently, startled. Glancing up, he found the large man enraged to the point of his face having reddened.
 
"Uh, Mal-"
 
A swift kick to his head shut him up, and when his vision cleared, he found himself lying on the ground again, his face once more resting on the teddy. Blood trickled down the side of his face, and when his head had been hurting before, now it was one constant explosion.
 
"Malcolm..." he moaned pleadingly, completely taken by surprise at what he'd done to tick his captor off like that.
 
He was going to get his answer.
 
"I'm n-not stupid!" Malcolm yelled and, with as much ease as before, picked the detective up to hurl him against another wall, shouting once more over a startled yelp.
 
"I'm n-not st-stupid!" 
 
'Oh shit! Oh shit!'  Frantically trying to move, which was near impossible with his hands and ankles tied, Starsky shook his head to clear it, only to find that was the one thing he shouldn't do. Over his own agonized groan, he heard Malcolm repeat his enraged mantra,  as he was crossing the room, once more lifting the weakly struggling detective into the air.
 
"M-Malcolm, please... I didn't m-" Starsky tried to break through to the man, but the strained whisper didn't even seem to reach Malcolm's ears.  
"I'm n-n stupid! Y-you're just m-mean! You're n-not ni-nice!" And again, he threw the smaller man, this time sending him crashing into a nearby chair.
 
Starsky lay where he'd landed, unmoving. Blood poured out of a long gash on his temple, and he was pretty sure he'd cracked a rib or two. 
 
By now he would have told Malcolm anything to stop him, including that he'd learned the important lesson about the absence of any stupidity in the large mans personality, but Malcolm wasn't going to be stopped so fast.
 
"I'm n-not stu-stupid!" he exclaimed and crouched down next to the fallen detective, grabbing the back of his shirt to half lift him off the floor. 
 
Starsky gave a startled whimper, flinching away from the rough touch, but couldn't escape the hands that shook him violently, then dropped him carelessly. 
 
"I t-thhink," he heard Malcolm's voice above him, "y-you n-need to b-be t-taught a l-l-lesson."
 
If he hadn't been so busy catching his breath, Starsky would have laughed at that. The way it was, though, he just squeezed his eyes shut, bracing himself for the beating to continue. But it didn't. Instead, he was picked up. This time, though, not to be thrown, but to be dragged out of the room. 
 
Fighting against his own relief at not being kicked again, he ordered himself to at least try to struggle against being carried around, since he couldn't really expect to be brought somewhere to be left alone there, could he?
 
And how right he was.
 
Frantically glancing around to see where they were going, he felt his heart miss a beat, when they entered and stopped in the bathroom. 
 
"No! Let me down!" he managed to yell and even got a fairly strong kick in, when Malcolm sat him down in the shower. The bulky man wasn't going to be bothered by that, though. He simply ignored it, backhanded his still struggling victim to quiet him, and let him lay curled up on his side, while turning for the tap.
 
"Th-this'll t-teach you t-to st-stay cool," he said firmly and turned the water on.
 
Starsky couldn't help gasping when ice cold water rained down on him, the long drops hard like a trails of stone.
 
"M-my f-father u-used to s-say that, wh-when I was b-being t-taught a lesson," Malcolm informed Starsky and stepped away from the shower to lean against the sink and watch.
 
Starsky coughed, swallowing and spitting out water, the cold momentarily taking his breath away. After a few futile attempts, he finally managed to half crawl out of the shower again, but only to be roughly kicked back under the water.
 
"I-I'll s-say wh-when its o-over," Malcolm told him sternly.
 
By now shivering violently, Starsky then tried the other way and huddled against the far wall, trying to avoid being the water's direct target.
 
"Uh uh!" Malcolm chided almost friendly. "M-move b-back in."
 
"F-f-f-fuck y-y-you," Starsky stammered, shaking so hard his teeth clattered, and didn't move an inch.
 
Malcolm sighed. "H-have i-it y-your w-way then."
 
He was only halfway at the shower again, when Starsky quickly let go off the wall to curl up under the water again, throwing Malcolm a hateful look.
 
"G-good boy," Malcolm nodded and stepped back again. 
 
Moments passed by, the water had long ago stopped taking red with it when it poured off the shivering form in the shower. And Starsky had lost all feeling in most parts of his anatomy--except for those that hurt.
 
"M-M-M-Malc-colm... h-how m-m-much l-l-long-longer?" he finally asked in a pleading, pathetic voice, hating his own weakness, but unable to help it. He definitely needed out.
 
"U-until y-you a-apologize," Malcolm told him.
 
"Wh-what?! Wh-wh-why d-d-d-didn't y-y-ya say so, d-d-damnnit!"
 
"I-is th-that th-the best y've t-to o-offer?" Malcolm grinned self-contentedly, obviously enjoying being on the punishing end for a change. 
"Sc-screw you!" Starsky spat, then, after a second, added, "S-s-s-sorry."
 
"What w-was that?" Malcolm sing-songed.
 
"I-I-I s-said I'm s-s-sorry!"
 
"N-not very c-convinc-cing," Malcolm said.
 
"Y-y-you w-w-want a wr-written ap-p-pology or wh-what?! L-lemme ou-outta h-here!" A shivering pause. "P-p-p-p-please!"
 
"B-begging w-won't h-help you."
 
Despite himself, Starsky gave a frustrated whimper. He really, really, really needed out now. He was freezing cold, and his muscles ached from cramping up at the constant pressure of the water. Not to mention hed swallowed enough to feel sick, anyway.
 
"L-lemme out, M-Malcolm. P-please."
 
At the high-pitched, stammered plea, Malcolms expression changed suddenly. And completely. Starsky couldn't really see, since he couldn't look up due to the water raining into his eyes, but he strangely felt the change too. Something had happened. Something had snapped inside Malcolm.
 
He was too cramped up to even flinch, when Malcolm approached him to turn off the water.
 
Sighing shakily with relief, Starsky allowed himself to loosen his curled up position and whispered a quivery "th-thanks."
 
Malcolm didn't reply, but left the room, closing the door behind him.
 
Following the leaving with fear-filled eyes, Starsky sniffed loudly and shifted to lean against the shower wall.
 
Moments passed. Malcolm didn't return.
 
"M-Malcolm?" Starsky finally tried tentatively, then louder, when he received no answer. "M-Malcolm!"
 
Nothing happened. He couldn't even hear him in the other room. The shivering subsided after a while, but now the feeling returned to his tied hands and muscles, and he groaned in pain. "Malcolm? You gonna c-come back?"
 
Nothing.
 
"Malcolm! I'm f-freezing here!"
 
But Malcolm didn't come back.  'Great. What did I do now? Why me?! Attracting lunatics is Hutch's part, not mine. What am I gonna do, damn it?!'
 
An especially violent shiver sent his drawn up knees hitting his already bleeding nose. "Ow!"
 
'Well... freeze to death, it seems. `Triffic. Just `triffic!'
 
"Malcolm!!!"
 
 
**** 
 
Malcolm could hear him call for him.  So now he wanted him back.  'He should have thought so before.  Shouldn't have been mean to me . Now's too late.' 
 
He sniffed angrily against tears threatening to fall. 'I didn't want to hurt him. He made me. His fault. Yes, was his fault.'
 
Turning on his bed, he curled up in a fetal position, covering his ears with his hands to block out the calls from the bathroom. 'Just wanted to keep him. Never meant to hurt him. Why did he have to be mean? Why does everybody always have to be mean?! I told him I liked him, but he just had to go on and be mean.'
 
"Malcolm!!!"
 
He curled up more, reached out blindly, dragged the blanket over his head. Didnt want to hear. Didnt want to think. Sleep. That was what he should do, just sleep. The feeling would go away if he slept. It would be okay if he could just sleep and forget.
 
He hadn't meant to hurt him. He liked him. He'd just wanted to keep him.
 
He still liked him.
 
He still couldn't stop thinking about beauty and blue. He was still beauty, his new... friend? Was he his friend?
 
No, friends weren't mean like that.
 
"Malcolm, please!!!"
 
Friends didn't say you were stupid.
 
He sniffed, tears rolling down his cheeks. So mean. He'd been so mean! 
And still... Beauty was still there. He still felt his heart warm with the thoughts of beauty, of his own new... teddy. His own new... thing. 
 
"Mal --*cough*-- Malcolm!"
 
Yes, he still wanted to keep him. He wanted to keep what made him happy. 
 
"Maaaaaalcolm!!! I'm freezing! I'm sorry I said youre stupid! You're not, honest! Please let me out here, please! *cough, cough*"
 
If only he wouldn't be mean again and make him feel so bad. Malcolm didn't want to feel bad. He didn't want to feel guilty. Didn't want to hurt beauty. He'd been so cute, he was so cute, Malcolm didn't want to hurt him, didn't want to listen to yelps or moans.
 
Coughs from the bathroom.
 
He didn't want to listen to anything. Look, he wanted to look. Watch, he wanted to watch. He wanted to feel like he'd felt in the store again. He wanted to keep that warm, happy feeling of looking at him.  That he wanted. Keep him. He wanted to keep him.
 
"Malcolm, damn it! I said I'm sorry! Let me the hell outta here now!!!"
 
With sudden, sharp movements, Malcolm was out of bed and crossed the bedroom.
 
"Mal--" 
 
The yell instantly broke off, when Malcolm threw open the door, staring down at the huddled, shivering form in the shower. 
 
"Hey. Thought you'd never come back."
 
Malcolm didn't answer, just walked over to him, picked him up like a child and carried him back into the living-room.
 
Scared, Starsky struggled. "You know, I can walk. Let me d... Ow!" he exclaimed, annoyed, when he was unceremoniously dropped in a corner in the living room. 
 
Malcolm sat down in front of him, and he quickly shrank back, pressing his back into the corner in telltale fear, biting his lip to keep himself from uttering any noise that could tick off the man again.
 
But Malcolm only watched him calmly, and so Starsky opened his mouth to ask a question, but only to have it firmly covered by a large hand. 
 
"D-don't t-talk," Malcolm ordered. "I-I d-d-don't w-want to l-listen t-to you. D-d'y-you un-underst-stand th-that?"
 
Swallowing dryly, Starsky nodded.
 
"G-good," Malcolm nodded and stood up to retrieve a blanket from the bedroom that he roughly wrapped around Starsky's shaking shoulders. 
 
His hands lingered on dripping wet curls far longer than Starsky liked, but the detective forced himself to stay quiet and don't move.
 
"B-Buddy," Malcolm said after a long time of simply watching the battered, pale, wet face. "I-I'm g-gonna c-call you B-Buddy."
 
Starsky definitely didn't like the sound of that. It sounded like a child naming a new... possession. 
 
But he'd learned his lesson for today. 'Just humor crazy Malcolm, Dave. If he wants you to be Buddy, be it. Maybe you'll live through this after all.'
 
"G-good n-night, B-Buddy," Malcolm finally said with the sweetest of smiles, one last time stroking through the damp mop of curls, then stood and turned to head back to bed. "S-sweet d-dreams."
 
And with that, he left him alone in the cold dark.
 
Sweet wasnt the right word to describe Starsky's dreams that night. 
 
 **** 
 
Buddy was a slow learner. 
 
First of all he hadn't understood that Malcolm had meant that he was never to talk again. 
 
He did learn that--but slowly. By the end of the first two days of their relationship, Starsky knew to fear the shower.
 
And he absolutely feared Malcolm.
 
Malcolm, who was happy. Malcolm, who, for the first time in his life, spent his working days looking forward to returning home. To see Buddy. To sit on the ground Indian Style, enjoying his daily milk-shake and watching his Buddy. His cute, silent, living teddy bear.
 
And just like you'd do with a teddy bear, he told him everything. With increasing enthusiasm. Finally, there was something to talk to. Something to love, to care about.  
 
Beauty and happiness had finally, finally entered his life, and he wasn't about to ever miss that again.
 
Malcolm was in heaven.
 
And Starsky was in hell. 
 
His days were divided in two phases: with Malcolm and without him. With Malcolm meant being watched, stared at, touched, punished sometimes, absolutely driven crazy with everything that crossed the mans mind. He heard it all. Within two days he knew Malcolm better than himself, within four days he knew the very bottom of Malcolm's soul, had learned everything about Malcolm's everyday life, his work in the toy store, his fears, his dreams, his youth, his childhood.
 
His happiness over finally having found something like his 'Buddy', who he would never ever give away again. 
 
Without Malcolm meant sitting in his corner in the dark, cold apartment and clinging, with all his might, to memories of his old life.
 
He'd learned pretty fast that he absolutely needed to do that in order to stay sane. In order to keep the overwhelming, crushing fear at bay. It wasnt that he was afraid of the punishment, he wasn't really afraid of the cold pain of the shower, not of kicks or punches. 
 
What he was afraid of was that one day, at some point, he would turn into Buddy. Would cease to be David Starsky, a human being, someone with a life, a person, a cop, a friend--and would inwardly start to be what he was forced to be physically. 
 
What he was afraid of was not dying any longer. It was living. Forever like that.
 
At first he'd tried to understand. He'd tried to see things from Malcolm's point of view. The man was lonely, disturbed. Scared himself. Scared of being alone. He'd never been allowed to live like he should have, hadn't even been allowed to accept himself, his own sexuality for example, his own personality. "Stupid" they'd called him. "Crazy". Had sent him to "places" as he called them. "Places", where they'd "hurt" him.
 
He was a human being too, a person with needs. A person with emotions. A person no one had ever had the right to "hurt" just because he'd craved for love and company and happiness. 
 
You just had to understand that Malcolm was insane. Disturbed. Not to be held responsible for his actions. Innocent.
 
Yet, after a while, Starsky came to the conclusion that he really didn't want to understand. He didn't even want to try anymore. He wanted out. He wanted to get as far away from Malcolm as possible and never see him again. 
 
He didn't hate him, but he feared him. More than he'd ever feared someone or something before. He feared the role he involuntarily had been given in Malcolm's life. He feared the soft, gentle, loving touches, feared the tenderness more than punishments, feared a hand stroking through his hair more than a foot kicking him. 
 
It wasn't that Malcolm ever gave into his pretty obvious--and terrifying--desire for his captive, but he made a habit out of absently caressing his Buddy when talking to him, much like you would stroke a pet or like children do with their stuffed friends. 
 
Being, that was what life had turned into for Starsky. Being, plain existing. Despair.
 
But still, even after days stretching themselves into eternity, he did not end it. He could have, he knew that. He could have just by telling Malcolm he was stupid. He wasn't gagged, he just wasn't allowed to speak. If he did, he was first chided and after more attempts punished. He could have easily enraged the man enough to kill him.
 
He'd thought about that. It would have worked.
 
And it was true, that Starsky seriously doubted ever living a different life again, ever returning. 
 
Ever seeing Hutch again.
 
Hutch.
 
That was a thought to cling to when he could huddle in the very being of his soul, untouched, unbothered, undisturbed. Hutch was who he thought of in the times without Malcolm. 
 
He'd been gone for so long now, hadn't he? Time had lost its meaning. At first he'd tried to keep track of days, but then--what was the point of that? There was no more time for him, anyway. His time had ended.
 
He would cling to his memories of Hutch, memories of his soft, comforting voice, but he always knew that it was futile. Hutch would not come. Along with David Starsky, the human being, Hutch would also vanish some day.
 
So why didn't he chose death over existing?
 
He'd asked himself that many times, and he wanted to believe it was hope, but deep down inside his soul he just knew that it would just be unforgivable to force Malcolm into murder. To burden Malcolm with that sort of guilt. 
 
He knew Malcolm. He knew him inside out. He was his living diary. He couldnt even bear the thought of what it would do to Malcolm to be responsible for losing his Buddy. The only thing in the world that had ever mattered to him.
 
David Starsky, the human being, simply couldn't be that cruel. 
 
 **** 
 
Tiredly climbing up the steps to Venice Place, Hutch had to admit he was a bit disappointed that Starsky hadn't shown up to pick him up at the airport. He'd thought they could have a few beers somewhere, sort of finish their short vacation time the right way.
 
But when his partner also failed to answer his phone too, Hutch decided--with a slightly jealous grin--that Starsky was probably still busy enjoying the very last hours of freedom up in Rocky Beach.
 
And, after all, Hutch had met Sharon once. He knew she was a good reason.
 
So he settled for an early night, exhausted anyway after days of reading Pooh's adventures to his little niece over and over and over again, and fell asleep before his head even hit the pillow.
 
When the next morning didnt see Starsky picking him up for work too, though, amusement was quickly changing into angered grumbling. 
 
And still his partner's phone remained unanswered.
 
"God, buddy, it's been a week! How much time can a guy possibly need?!" he mumbled sarcastically to himself, deciding to drop by at Starsky's place just in case his partner was too worn out to wake up in time (or after twenty rings) and took his own car.
 
But, no, Starsky wasn't home.
 
By now definitely annoyed, Hutch used his friend's phone and called Sharon, pressing his luck that maybe the lovebirds had at least returned to town.
 
"Hey Sharon, `sme, Hutch. Can you please tell my partner that real life starts again today?"
 
"What're you talking about?" an annoyed, sleepy voice asked at the other line.
 
"Starsky. He's still with you, isn't he?"
 
"Huh?"
 
Hutch rolled his eyes. "Starsky. Remember? Funny guy who got on your nerves with a wailing remote-controlled car for a week?"
 
"Oh," Sharon answered in a definitely pissed off tone. "You mean the funny guy who stood me up last Monday? The funny guy who promised me a great vacation and then never showed up or even called?  That funny guy?!"
 
Hutch frowned. "What?"
 
"Hutch, listen, I've to fly to New York in about four hours, so if you see your unfaithful crap of a partner, tell him he can scratch my number out of his book, okay?"
 
"Wait-"
 
"Bye." And with that she hung up.
 
"Sharon, wai... Shit." With his hand lingering on the receiver for a moment, Hutch remained where he was, confused. 
 
Starsky hadn't met with Sharon? Then where the hell was he? And the Torino too, for that matter?
 
Picking up the phone again, Hutch called the precinct. Maybe something had come up, while he'd been in Boston. Starsky being Starsky, he'd never have called Hutch to bring him back for a case he could handle by himself. No matter how much more work that would have meant for him, hed never have shortened his partner's vacation if it wasnt an emergency.
 
But he wasn't at the precinct, either. Hadn't been there at all since he'd left with Hutch that last Monday.
 
"No, Cap'n, I've no idea where he could be," Hutch told Dobey after listening to his superior's barked question why the hell they couldn't be on time once during their career and after a whole free week too! "But his car's gone."
 
"Well, then he obviously drove somewhere, don't you think, Detective?" 
'Jeez, having a bad day, are we?'  "Yeah, that's what I figured too."
 
He could actually hear Dobey roll his eyes. "I'm so glad we agree on that."
 
'Really bad day.'  "Yeah, but it's strange. Why would he skip his date and go somewhere without telling anyone? That doesn't make any sense. I really think-"
 
"Hutchinson, I'm having a really bad day, I don't have time for this right now! Just do me a favor and get your a... get over here so that at least one of you actually gets some work done. I'm sure there's a perfectly Starsky-like explanation for this, and we're bound to endure listening to it, when your partner shows up here. And then he will be bound to hear what I personally think of punctuality. A lecture show you might also be interested in if you don't get to work on the double." At that point he had to pause to draw in breath. "Are there any questions concerning any of this, Detective?"
 
"No," Hutch hurried to reply flatly. "All clear. I'll be right in."
 
Before Dobey could say anything else, he all but smashed the receiver down, staring at the phone in startled amazement. "Jeez. Good to see you again too."
 
Then, after a last slow stroll through the empty rooms, he reluctantly left his friend's place and got back into his car, where he called in for duty.
 
Starting the engine and driving off, he wondered where Starsky would have possibly gone without even leaving a note and rolled his eyes at the thought.
 
'Leaving a note... What're you, his wife? He's an adult, he can vanish from the face of earth if he wants to. He doesn't have to keep you updated about his whereabouts all the time.'
 
He stopped at a red light and sighed deeply, running a hand over his features.
 
'Screw that, course he has too! He's my partner, I should fucking know where he is! At all times! What a welcoming gesture is that, vanishing?! It's plain not like hi-'
 
"All units, all units. There's a 187 in 27 Harrison Street. Anonymous caller information. I repeat, there is a 187 in-"
 
Since he'd just entered Harrison Street, Hutch instantly replied, as if out of reflex. "This is zebra three, we... uh, I am responding." 
 
"Roger, zebra three."
 
"Yeah, uh, and tell the unis the brown LTD that's pushing speed limits there is me, okay? It's kinda hard to put the siren on while driving." 
 
 **** 
 
Malcolm was devastated. Watching the houses and trees pass by through the window, he sniffed, wiped his eyes, turned his head more. He didn't want the other passengers in the bus to see him cry. Didn't want them to see his shame. 
 
But it was hard. His eyes stung with unshed moisture, his throat felt tight, choking. 
 
What had he done?
 
Once more, he sniffed, huddling into his seat as the bus carried him further away from his former home, further away from his old life hed had to leave behind. Away from Buddy, whom he had killed.
 
He hadn't meant to, of course he hadn't. He had just been so... angry. So angry. And, after all, it had been Buddy's fault, anyway. He'd known he wasn't allowed to make a mess. How often had Malcolm told him that he didn't like messes? And on the carpet. You never got vomit out of the carpet. And you had to keep the carpet clean. He had told Buddy that so often! But had he listened? No!
 
That had always been the problem with Buddy, anyway. He had never listened! No matter how often you'd tell him to not make noises, to not scream, to not be sick on the God damn carpet, he'd still do it! No matter how often you explained to him that it was necessary to clean him up, that he mustn't struggle or resist, he'd still do it! 
 
And now he had just carried it too far. If he had wanted to make Malcolm angry, he'd definitely reached his goal. Malcolm had told him so often that if he didn't eat what he was given, Malcolm would make him. He had known that. 
 
And though he had to admit that Buddy's behavior had gradually improved, eating what was put in front of him remained the one thing he had always fail to do. And it wasn't that Malcolm hadn't done anything in his might to convince him of eating. He'd been understanding and caring and had coaxed and sweet-talked, but nooo, Buddy always had had to have it his way. Always. Every day the same old story. 
 
Even now, even when fighting against tears, Malcolm had to shake his head at Buddy's stubbornness. What was so difficult about eating, damn it?! 
 
He'd settled for force-feeding Buddy then, every day, and after the first weak struggles, Buddy had always submitted at last. So Malcolm had calmed himself with the conviction that his stubborn teddy would one day cease to do that and start eating normally.
 
Anyway, that day hadn't come. Instead, Buddy had really put on a fight this time and so, not knowing what else to do, Malcolm had hit him. Hard. 
 
And Buddy had been sick On. The. Carpet!
 
Who could really fail to understand that Malcolm had just lost it then? After all, being sick all over the carpet was about the grossest thing you could possibly do, and Buddy hadn't even tried to stop it, when he'd been ordered. 
 
Absolutely enraged, even more than he'd been the day he'd found Buddy, Malcolm had lifted Buddy, had shaken him, yelled at him and thrown him against a wall. Like he had before. He'd done that before. 
 
And nothing had ever happened. He couldn't understand why it had then. 
 
Okay, so maybe he had used a tad more force than before. Maybe he'd thrown him at an odd angle, so that his head had connected with the wall instead of his back, but hed never thought about killing Buddy. He'd meant to hurt him, of course, he'd been angry, for crying out loud! But he'd never ever thought about killing Buddy.
 
He hadn't meant it. He loved his Buddy, why would he want to kill him?!
 
Yet--he had. He'd tried to wake him, but he wouldn't open his eyes, not even when Malcolm had slightly slapped his face. And there had been blood.
 
Blood always was a bad sign, Malcolm knew that much.
 
So there'd been blood on Buddy's head--much, too--and he hadn't opened his eyes. 
 
The only conclusion that left for Malcolm was that Buddy was dead. At first he'd been too shocked to even move. He'd just sat on the ground, next to the crumbled, bleeding form, and had stared at the spreading pool of blood, the slender trails trickling down the wall. 
 
At the memory, he shuddered. Jeez, and he'd thought vomit on the carpet was gross...
 
Then, after what to him felt like an eternity, realization had crept forward in his mind. He'd killed Buddy. 
 
What should he do? He'd never killed anything before. But he knew you could get locked away for that. People would come and take him away. Like they had before. They'd bring him back to the place his parents had brought him too, a long time ago. The place where they tied you to the bed. Where they forced you to sleep and dream. Where they hurt you.
 
He wouldn't go back there. He couldn't.
 
Panic spreading, he'd stuffed clothes into a bag, tripping over his own feet as hed raced through the rooms. 
 
He would not go back there. No way. Uh uh.
 
He'd apologized to Buddy, had covered the lifeless form with a blanket and had left. Simple. The trick was not to start thinking, before you were gone. 
 
He'd cry later.
 
The call, he had made from the bus station. Buddy shouldn't waste away, unnoticed, in Malcolm's apartment. He didn't deserve that.
 
Didn't deserve that... His Buddy didn't deserve to waste away. He hadn't deserved to die in the first place! He'd been so cute and beautiful and he'd been the only thing Malcolm had ever really owned, the only thing he'd ever loved and cared about.
 
And now he was gone! Beauty was gone! Blue was gone!
 
The tears fell in earnest now, and though Malcolm stifled his choking sobs the best he could, people still turned to look at him.
 
At the next stop, he changed busses. 
 
 **** 
 
The door to the tiny house, 27 Harrison Street, was ajar. 
 
Trained instinct taking over, Hutch positioned himself in one of the safe spots next to it, knocking loudly, before exclaiming, "Police!"
 
When no answer came, he carefully pushed the door open further and entered, gun in hand, routine reflexes leading his actions. Scan the room, watch out for corners and doors, move swiftly. 
 
He saw the covered form the instant he entered the living room, but went to check the other rooms first. A small place. Kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, living room.
 
All empty. The place was deserted. Yet there were clear evidences of someone having lived there not so long ago. There were dishes in the sink, empty milk bottles on the breakfast counter. 
 
The smell in the living room drew his attention towards a half dried puddle of vomit on the colorless carpet in one of the corners. Wrinkling his nose, he turned away to finally check the corpse, already going through a list of possible explanations. Husband beating his wife or, in that area, junkie flipping out. Your everyday crime of the day, probably. 
If the blood on the wall was any indication, there'd been a fight. Could be a gunshot wound. Or just a violent disagreement turning into a fatal accident. 
 
It wasn't much blood, but it was high enough to assume that whoever lay under that blanket had crashed into the wall and fallen down. 
 
Thinking that the accident-theory probably covered it, Hutch finally crouched down next to the still form and lifted the blanket.
 
The split second the action took exploded like dynamite in his hands. As if the sight itself that lay under the cover was like a fatal, mind-numbing, blinding weapon; a laser, that hit him. A lightening bolt. Pressing the air out of his lungs like a kick to his stomach.
 
He actually gasped so loud it hurt his ears. 
 
Black nothingness had kicked out the light the instant Hutch had performed the super-natural action. And super-natural it was. Like snapping your fingers and whatever youd just thought of would appear in front of you by pure magic.
 
And here he was, having done nothing but grabbing a blanket, drawing it back to discover--a nightmare.
 
He was sitting in darkness with a spotlight on the horror in front of him. His own ragged panting was the only sound he heard. There seemed to be no ground underneath him, no walls around him.
 
Nothing but him and sheer terror. As if he'd just, by that very second, been kicked into a different dimension, as if he'd popped out of existence to end up in hell.
 
As if he'd died in that second. Could be, couldn't it? Stroke.  ZOOP --end of time.
 
But the pain in his chest, where is heart hammered like it tried to inwardly grab him and hold him back from falling, told him he wasn't dead.  He wasn't. 
 
The thought seemed to have fallen from its creation place in his mind and landed all over his brain, like an octopus, sticking to every one of his synopses.
 
Starsky. That was Starsky in front of him. And he was dead. Starsky was dead. 
 
A violent cough grabbed his chest--he'd forgotten to breathe.
 
'So this is what happens when you find your partner's body.'
 
Another cough, followed by another one, and he felt bile coming up too. Suppressing a cramped wretch, he swallowed it back down.
 
'My partner's body. This is Starsky's body. I just discovered Starsk's body. What now? What... What d'you do when this happens? Isn't there a rule what you've to do when this happens? Isn't there a rule what you've to feel? Never thought about that. I always thought it'd be diff-'
 
An ear-shattering noise echoed through the halls of hell, and he jumped so bad he landed on his behind, seeing then his gun had slipped his fingers. He didn't move to retrieve it. Didn't move at all except for suddenly rapid blinking.
 
'This isn't how its supposed to be. I-I mean, not that it's supposed to be different... It's not supposed to be at all! Oh, what am I thinking? What am I doing here? This isn't really happening, is it? Dreaming, must be dreaming. But... I don't feel like I'm dreaming. How am I feeling?! '
 
And though his thoughts jumbled about, unbound, unfocused, shock having a securing grip on him to keep him from shattering into pieces right there, right then; when his mind would hit the stone wall of truth, he was right to feel a sensation of deja vu. It was one of his few recurring nightmares, stumbling over his friend's body in a forlorn, strange, empty place. It had always been his nightmare to all of a sudden lose Starsky and not know why.
 
It had always been his nightmare to find out Starsky had suffered pain, without him, Hutch, being there to comfort him, being there at all.
 
To find out that Starsky had died. Alone. 
 
Hutch had dreamed that so many times. He'd dreamed he'd find a crumbled, bruised, battered form, a face covered in blood, closed eyes that wouldnt open at his pleas.  He'd dreamed he wouldn't know how he'd gotten there, what had happened. He'd just enter a dream, like a room, and find exactly this sight. Like an unsuspecting visitor entering the horror chamber at 'Madame Tussauds'.
 
Another noise tore him out of his thoughts, and it'd come from him. A low sob, the need for air having met silent crying that turned into more tiny, but audible gasps. Finally he felt the tears on his cheeks too.
 
His body had understood before his mind. Typical. With them, it'd always been more feeling than understanding.
 
But now that his physical reaction had triggered the psychological acknowledgement, he was drawn into action, into actually seeing and taking in, into finding words for it. 
 
'Dead. Stars... He's dead,' he thought, but at the same time came to his knees again and reached out to feel for a pulse, pure instinct guiding his hand. When you found a body at a crime scene, you felt for a pulse. One of things you did, when entering a crime scene first: feel the victim's pulse. Rule number something. 
 
Rules were good. Rules kept you occupied.
 
So he reached out with a hand shaking so bad he frowned at it in surprise, as if it belonged to someone else, and froze with his fingers hovering over a pale neck, where trails of blood had dried.
 
What if his nightmares had come true? What if he laid his fingers onto Starsky's neck and would find nothing? What if this would all come true? It would come true, when he stuck to the rule and felt for the victims pulse and there would be nothing. Wouldn't it? There would be no waking up then.
 
What if his even thinking about the possibility would make it all true? What if feeling for a pulse would leave it fading?
 
'Secure the crime scene, check for evidences, check the victim's pulse...'
 
He drew in a deep breath, held it and placed his fingers on his partner's neck with so featherly light a touch he could barely feel warm skin against his own.
 
But it was warm, and he was just about to let his mind figure out what that could mean, when Starsky moaned ever so lowly and opened his eyes with a flutter, then closed them again.
 
The breath Hutch had held came out in a startled cough, and he jerked his hand away, only to instantly put it back to the back of Starsky's neck, as if his touch surely had been the reason for the other man's response.
 
And indeed, Starsky moved again, only an inch, away from the trembling flesh against his own, and he re-opened his eyes, this time clearly looking at Hutch's face hovering over him.
 
The dreams images creeping back into their places, like they would when he'd woken up, Hutch looked down into unfocused blue eyes filled with confusion and fear and pain--and the room suddenly was a room again, there and then, as the day was a day again, and he knew hed entered a crime scene, and his partner had been the victim of a crime. 
 
This could be real. Starsky was alive.
 
"Starsk." The sound of his own voice, so faint and hoarse, sounded strange to Hutch, and he cleared his throat, then tried again. "Starsky. It's me, it's Hutch."
 
Starsky blinked slowly, his vision clearing in watchable speed. A little cough made him wince, and, unnoticed by Hutch, he once more shrank back, when the blond touched his head softly.
 
"I'm right here," Hutch assured him, as if that statement, their old line, wiped away the rest of his doubts, he was finally kicked into action, shrugged out of his jacket to use it as a makeshift pillow. When he became aware of the fear in his silent friends expression, after having carefully lowered Starsky's head onto it, he bent in closer, laying a gentle hand against his friend's cheek. 
 
"It's alright," he soothed. "It's me. No need to be afraid. I got you."
 
Starsky just stared back in fright. He didn't even open his mouth to reply something. 
 
Hutch drew his hand back, not wanting to distress the confused man further, who obviously didn't recognize him. "Starsky. It's Hutch, buddy. D'you know who I am?"
 
Starsky didn't answer and he didn't take his eyes off the blond detective, either.
 
"Okay," Hutch said calmly, holding up his hands to show he didn't mean any harm. "I'm going to untie you now. I won't hurt you."
 
Yet the moment he'd quickly stepped over his partner's form to untie his hands behind his back, Starsky flinched so violently it caused an agonized moan.
 
"Shhh," Hutch soothed, working fiercely at the blood matted ropes that secured Starsky's wrists, "don't be afraid, `s just me. I won't hurt you, I'm here to help. God," he added in a pained whisper, when the knots finally loosened and he saw the deep, raw marks on Starsky's wrists. His partner's hands barely moved at all, when he carefully lowered them, and they were of the most unhealthy looking grayish color he'd ever seen on a living person. 
 
"God, Starsk, how long've you been tied up like that?"
 
No answer reached his ears, but he heard a stifled whimper, when he softly touched the bloody circles. 
 
"Sorry. Sorry. We'll have those looked at later," he muttered to himself and quickly turned to Starsky's ankles, where he found marks matching those on the wrists. He also noticed Starsky didn't wear shoes, but only socks that seemed too large for him.
 
Racing through the hallways of his memory, while he scrambled back front to carefully move Starsky on his back, with his head on one side, so he could take a look at the injury there, Hutch thought he recalled the rest of his friend's ragged clothes to be the ones hed worn the last time Hutch had seen him, at the airport.
 
But then, he couldnt be sure, and he couldn't stop to think what that meant right now, either. He was needed otherwise. He'd think later.
 
'Later.'
 
Starsky's fear-filled stare as well as his complete lack of response, other than an occasional flinch or wince, started to increasingly unnerve Hutch, and while he gently probed around the gash on the curly head, he talked non-stop, trying to get an answer from his friend, every now and then stopping to look at him with a searching gaze, waiting for the breakthrough. But Starsky's expression never changed into recognition, and he never whispered the usual, relieved "Hutch?" the blond yearned for.
 
Instead, he just continued to follow Hutch's moves, shrinking back at every touch, and it dawned on Hutch that, if his friend hadn't been considerably weak and if he had been able to even lift his arms, he would have struggled against the careful examination.
 
"Can you tell me what happened, buddy? Hm? Starsk? How did you get here? Who did this?" Hutch kept on asking, while he probed for broken bones, fortunately finding only cracked ribs and a few bruises, some of which having already faded to mere shadows of greenish blue.
 
Hutch swallowed dryly as he studied days old testaments of suffering. His voice nearly broke, when he stopped his litany and asked, "How long's this been going on?"
 
When he once more didn't receive an answer, he turned to look into Starsky's eyes again and cupped his propped up cheek once more. "Starsk? How long have you been here?"
 
He could feel his friend starting to tremble under his touch.
 
"Buddy, it's me. It's Hutch. Come on, snap out of it. I'm here now, I'm here. D'you hear me?"
 
But it was futile, Starsky would only return his dismayed gaze then nervously avert his own, and look back instantly as if he was afraid of what Hutch might do when he wasn't looking. Not that hed been in any shape to prevent anyone from doing anything. All he could do was lay where he was, shaking and scared and confused.
 
Running a hand through his hair in frustration, Hutch glanced over his shoulder at the kitchen, then looked back at his disturbed friend. 
 
"I'm going to call an ambulance, buddy, okay? I'll be right back. Right back," he repeated, already getting to his feet and hurried over to the phone he'd seen in the bedroom to make the call.
 
When he returned with a woolen blanket hed yanked off the bed, he almost dropped it at the sight of Starsky having lying face down a few inches away from where hed left him. He'd obviously dragged himself to his hands and knees to cross the room in a crawl, but his weak limbs hadn't carried him very far.
 
"Starsk," Hutch whispered in appall and hurried to kneel down beside him. "What... ?" 
 
As he retrieved his jacket where Starsky had left it and gently rolled his partner to his side, he couldn't help his cop part from wondering why Starsky would crawl back into the room, towards the far corner and not towards the door to escape.
 
'Later. Later.'
 
Carefully, he covered Starsky with the blanket and reclaimed his place next to him, soothingly stroking the uninjured side of his head, while he willed the ambulance to hurry. All the time, he could feel Starsky's gaze fixed on him, colored by clear fright, and the realization that his partner still had not recognized him nor spoken to him nagged at his heart. Ugly words kept creeping through cracks in the fragile wall around his anti-panic-center: concussion, amnesia, brain damage.
 
"Help will be here soon, buddy," he said reassuringly, eerily afraid of the silence that threatened to swallow the scenery, when he stopped talking. "We'll get you to a hospital, and everything's gonna turn out okay, you'll see. Everything's going to be okay. Are you in much pain? Head hurtin' bad?"
 
He hadn't expected an answer and was about to return to his soothing rambling, when suddenly Starsky's voice, hoarse from disuse and strained from audible pain, reached his ears. 
 
"Where's... Malcolm?"
 
Hutch was so startled, he almost missed the content, but after the leap his heart had taken, the noises were formed into the message they carried in his mind, and he frowned. "Who?"
 
Starsky only looked up at him, as if surprised, then scanned the room, before looking back. He didn't answer.
 
"Starsk," Hutch said excitedly, aware of sirens he could hear in the distance, "d'you recognize me? D'you know who I am now?"
 
Frowning in deep thought, Starsky opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again, fear flickering through his eyes.
 
Hutch smiled to encourage him. "You know who I am, don't you, babe? C'mon, say my name. You know it, don't you?"
 
And suddenly, only for a second, Starsky's eyes showed honest, fearless puzzlement. "Hutch," he said incredulously. 
 
"Yes," Hutch quickly affirmed, nodding eagerly. "Yeah, `sme, buddy. I'm right here. You with me now?"
 
But apparently, Starsky wasn't. At one word in the blond's response, he flinched away again, physically as well as inwardly, and wasn't going to be coaxed into speaking again, until two paramedics entered the apartment.
 
"Okay," one of them, a man in his forties, started, taking in the scenery, "what do we have? What's his name?"
 
"David," Hutch answered, while changing his position as to make room for the paramedics, but still be able to keep a hand resting on Starsky's shoulder. "I think he, uh, hit his head. He seems to have crashed into the wall over there."
 
The younger medic, who was kneeling down to unpack his first aid kit, followed the blond's gaze and gave an impressed whistle. "Don't say."
 
Too close to panic to really pay attention to the man's lack of sensitivity, Hutch continued, "And it looks like he's been beaten some time ago, but I don't know when."
 
Before he could add some more, the older paramedic carefully turned Starsky's head that had followed Hutchs movement, to shine a small light into the patient's eyes. Immediately, Starsky flinched, hard, but didn't utter a sound. Just stared in terror.
 
"Hey, hey," the paramedic soothed with an assuring smile. "It's okay. We're here to help you, David. No one's going to hurt you. D'you understand? Can you understand me?"
 
When he received no answer, he glanced up at Hutch. "Was he this disoriented all the time since you came here?"
 
"Uhm... Yes. H-he said my name a minute ago, but then he just... withdrew again. I don't know wha-"
 
A sudden jerk under his fingers cut him off, and the younger paramedic exclaimed a startled, "Whoa, easy there, pal, I just want to take your pulse."
 
But Starsky wasn't going to be calmed down. Eyes wide with fear, he stared from the young man to Hutch and back, awkwardly holding the arm the medic had claimed to his chest as if it was something alive and helpless he felt obliged to protect. He'd come to a sitting position in a terrified jump. It didn't take him long to suffer the aftereffects of that unwise move.
 
"Hey, hey, hey," the older paramedic called out, when he saw Starsky's eyes roll back with suspicious speed, but Hutch had already reached out to catch his falling friend.
 
"Shhh, `sokay, babe," he muttered, cradling the weak man who sagged bonelessly against his chest. "I'm right here. No one wants to hurt you. They just have to-"
 
At a tiny whisper, he hushed himself, though, and bent down to catch a pleading, "Hutch..."
 
"Yeah," he whispered back, fully forgetting about the two medics, who waited patiently at their sides, sensing the patient's distress. "I'm right here."
 
"D-don't..." Starsky mumbled, hiding so much in the fabric of Hutch's shirt, the blond drew him in even more by pure reflex, "don't let him tie me up again. Please."
 
'Aw God!'  Hutch thought and looked up at the instrument the medic had used to take Starsky's pulse. He closed his eyes. "No, don't worry," he answered softly into his friend's ear, "I won't allow it. I'll protect you."
 
"I-I know I'm not t-to..." Starsky whimpered, but bit his lip and fell silent again. Hutch could feel him start to tremble against himself.
 
"Shhh," he soothed, not sure what to make out of the terrified beginning. "It's okay, `sokay." As he continued, he glanced up at the waiting paramedics with a pleading expression, "We'll take you to a hospital now, and I promise you no one will tie you up again. No one will do anything you don't want."
 
Exchanging a glance, the men sighed, the situation clearly affecting them too, and after a moments thought, the older one asked in a gentle voice, "D'you think you could somehow get your friend outside and into the ambulance? So that we don't need a... gurney?"
 
Nodding, Hutch cast the man a grateful look and turned back to Starsky, while the medics gathered their stuff together to clear the path to the car outside.
 
"Hey, buddy, think you can wa-" Hutch started, but was violently cut off, when Starsky flinched and all but pushed away from his partner, so that he landed on his side on the ground again, squeezing his eyes shut against the pain that exploded behind his eyes.
 
Shaking his own head in startled surprise, Hutch needed a second to regain his wits. When he looked up again, though, he found this last jolt had efficiently drawn all energy from his injured friend and he'd passed out again. 
 
His heart still hammering in his chest from the fierce escape, Hutch looked down at the unconscious form, helpless dread tightening his throat. 
 
At the sounds of steps at the door, he briefly lifted his head to see the older paramedic expectantly glancing into the room, and sadly shook his head. "I think we'll need a gurney, after all."
 
The man nodded mutely and rushed outside again, while Hutch once more carefully cradled his partner, working desperately at keeping the fear that threatened to overwhelm him at bay.  
 
"I'm right here," he whispered to no one, deep down clinging to the hope Starsky might hear him. "I'm right here, buddy." 
 
 **** 
 
Starsky hadn't regained consciousness when Hutch left the examination room they'd brought him to in the ER of "Memorial."  He called Dobey to declare 27 Harrison Street a crime scene.  
 
"And, Cap'n, could you have someone drive my car over to Venice Place, please? I left it to ride in the... ambulance."
 
At the detective's fading voice, Dobey barked an assuring, "Sure, Hutch, don't worry. I'll take care of everything."
 
"Thanks," Hutch replied and smiled faintly, though Dobey couldn't see it through the phone. "And, uh, Starsky's car has to be somewhere too. We should have it reported stolen, so they'd look for it."
 
"Yeah, okay."
 
"Yeah," Hutch sighed absently. "He'd be devastated, if we didn't find it." 
"I know," Dobey said, sympathy coloring the words. A short pause followed, before the Captain carefully asked, "And you really have no idea what might have happened?"
 
"No," Hutch replied sadly, as if it was all his fault. "I'd have never found him if it hadn't been for the call." He paused and snorted a bitter laugh. "Isn't that ironical? Of all units out there..." He trailed off.
 
"You said they have him examined now?" Dobey asked, more to get the conversation into another direction than out of the need for an answer, since he'd been told so twice already by his detective, anyway.
 
"Uh huh," Hutch muttered. "They think he's concussed. And..." Once more, he broke off.
 
"And what?" Dobey asked.
 
The blond sighed deeply. "I don't know for sure, Capn, but I think he was there the whole six days we had off. His arms... I think he was tied up all the time," he continued after a brief pause to get his bearings.
 
"God," Dobey breathed on the other end.
 
"And whoever... beat him up," Hutch said, hesitated, then stated, "I don't think it was supposed to end like this. I-I mean, I don't think whoever did this wanted to kill him. He... they... whoever probably just got scared, when he... I don't know, when he didn't move anymore. And so they ran and called the cops." Another pause, the pain-filled thoughts almost audible themselves. "If they hadn't knocked him out a-and... and ran, we wouldn't even... We wouldn't know-"
 
"Hutchinson," Dobey cut him off gruffly. "Don't."
 
"But-"
 
"I'm going to drive there now and kick the labs into action, and I want you to go back to your partner and..." Now it was his turn to trail off, but not for long. "Just go back and be there for him."
 
"Yeah," Hutch muttered. "Sure."
 
"`Kay. And keep me posted."
 
"Sure, Cap'n."
 
After he'd hung up, Hutch remained where he stood for a moment, unmoving, then drew in a breath, as if needing oxygen and not energy, and turned to head back to the examination room. 
 
He felt like he was walking on dark clouds that threw out lightning bolts under his feet, sending shudders through everything that was on them. Unreal, the whole world had suddenly turned unreal. 
 
Had Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh really just yesterday saved Piglet from the great flood, while Little Chrissy had squealed in delight at her uncle's best deep (a bit Dobey-like) Pooh-growl? It seemed like an eternity ago, like some long faded picture out of his memory. 
 
On the other hand, as strange as it was, he felt as if it had only been a day since he had last seen Starsky, at the airport. As if he hadn't been gone at all, actually. As if he'd just woken up and something had happened over night. It didn't feel like six days, not at all. It didn't feel like that much could have happened in so short a time spam.
 
And maybe... Maybe he was right. Maybe it hadn't been that long after all. Maybe Starsky had crossed ways with the wrong guys and... Well, shit happened, didn't it? Especially to cops. Maybe all the confusion had just been the result of a severe concussion. Maybe...
 
'Who am I trying to kid?! I saw the rope marks. And Sharon, he hadn't even called her. And... all those fears... the way he clung to me... "Don't let him tie me up again." That's not a 24-hour-thing. You don't react like this after 24 hours. Especially not him. Starsk wouldn't even react like this after six days of being held and beaten. He'd be shaken up, and he'd cling, but he'd pretend to be okay, because that's how he is. And he sure as hell wouldn't be afraid of me! God!'  He stopped on his way down the hallway to exhaustedly wipe a hand over his features.  'What can anyone possibly do to him to leave him afraid of ME?!' 
 
"Detective?" a friendly old voice next to him startled him enough to jump slightly, and a moment later he found himself to be the target of an apologetic look of Dr. Heller, Starsky's doctor. 
 
"I'm sorry," they said in unison and both smiled politely.
 
Heller was the first to speak, as he asked, "Did you manage to make your phone call?"
 
"Yes," Hutch replied, almost waving the question off impatiently, "yeah, sure, sure. How is he? You're done, right?"
 
"Easy, Detective," Heller said in a calming voice, an air-pushing gesture matching it. "I'll tell you everything you want to know. But I think I need to have a look at you first, that's why I came for you. So if you'd please follow m-"
 
"I don't understand," Hutch cut him off. "There's nothing wrong with me, I just want to kn-"
 
"I'll explain your partner's condition, while we sit down in this room here," Heller gently interrupted him, opening a nearby door that led to a small examination room, "where I can check you out just briefly, okay? You're obviously still suffering from the aftereffects of a severe shock. I wanted to have you checked out, when you came in, but I thought you'd need to see for yourself were doing everything to help David first."
 
Hutch opened his mouth to shoot back a reply, but when he lifted his warning finger, his gaze fell onto his hand, which was shaking badly. Looking up again, he found himself looking at his own reflection in a small mirror that was attached to a door of a closet Heller had opened (just so Hutch would see himself, the detective assumed). He had to admit, the blond man he stared at looked terrible. He was deathly pale and his breathing was way too fast, a fact he hadn't even felt up until now that he saw it.
 
Averting his eyes as if ashamed, he obediently sat down on the examination table, shoulders slumped. "The call I answered said there was a body in the house," he explained without looking at Heller, who rolled one of his sleeves up to take his pulse. 
 
"A-and... it was... it was him," Hutch added a bit high-pitched, then sighed. "I guess I thought..." He trailed off. "Well, I was wrong. Whoever called was wrong."
 
Working with routine moves, Heller answered, "No need to be ashamed, Detective. You experienced a very disturbing situation, it's only natural that your body reacts this way. Its just nothing you can simply leave untreated. Shock can be very dangerous when you ignore it. And we don't want you to collapse with a house full of doctors around, do we?" he joked friendly.
 
Hutch didn't find the energy to find the humor. "Doctor, how is he?"
 
Heller sighed, freed Hutch's arm and sat down on a stool across the blond. Briefly lifting his glasses with his index finger, he wiped his eyes with his thumb and middle finger, before looking directly back at the anxious detective.
 
"First of all, his physical condition is nowhere near life threatening," he said, careful as if not to raise Hutch's hopes too high.
 
As a result, the younger man frowned. "But?"
 
"He suffered a concussion I wouldn't classify as slight anymore, though he didn't seem to have been sick or extremely dizzy."
 
"No," Hutch nodded in affirmation. "Just very weak."
 
"Yes, that would probably be the result from his being restrained for a fairly long time span. When exactly have you seen him last, you said?"
 
"About six days ago," Hutch answered, a hint of guilt in the words. "I was visiting family, and he... Today's more like seven, really. I thought he was with a girl, I didn't think he'd..." At the doctors sympathetic look, he trailed off and smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry."
 
"It's okay," Heller waved the apology off, flashing the younger man an assuring smile, before he changed into business-tone again. "From what it looks like, it's most likely he was restrained the full six or seven days. His wrists and ankles have been considerably damaged, and his weakness is a clear sign of muscle reduction. Actually, Detective Hutchinson," he said with a sigh, "David should be glad he was in pretty good shape going into this, otherwise, the damage would have been given much more cause for concern. The way it is, though, there should be no problem for him to regain his strength and moving abilities."
 
Hutch stared. "A-are you saying he was never untied? For the whole six days?"
 
"No," Heller replied, "he probably was. Not long, but... Anyhow, the marks give reason to assume that. We found remains of different kinds of fabric in his wounds. We've given him antibiotics for possible infection."
 
Hutch cringed at that, but Heller didn't seem to notice and continued, "However, though he was probably allowed to move his hands in order to use the bathroom--that's my theory--he definitely didn't walk there. I'm sorry to tell you this," he said sadly, "but your partner was probably allowed the very minimum of movement. Most of the time he was restrained." 
 
He paused shortly and averted his eyes. "I have to admit I've never seen such a... display of inhumanity before."
 
Hutch looked down, closed his eyes.  ' "Don't let him tie me up again. Please." '
 
The uncomfortable silence was quickly broken by Heller clearing his voice.  "His other injuries, and that's finally good news, are minor compared to... Well, they are.  He's bruised and battered, but we found no broken bones and the rape examination was negati-
 
"The WHAT?!" Hutch burst out, his head snapping up so fast he nearly lost his balance.
 
Startled, Heller repeated, "Rape examination." Studying the appalled blond, he then pressed his lips together, realizing something had just slipped his tongue the other one hadn't been prepared to hear, and started, very carefully, to explain. "I'm sorry. I thought it was understood. See, Detective, your partner... David shows, psychologically, classic symptoms of post-rape shock. Actually, we were surpri..." At the expression on Hutch's face, he hushed himself and instead said firmly, "It was negative. He wasn't sexually molested. Not at all. Well, at least not from a medical point of v-"
 
"Wh-what are 'classic symptoms'?" Hutch asked in dismay. "I-I didn't think... I mean, he was scared and... I knew something must have happened to him, b-but-"
 
"Calm down, Detective," Heller said. "It did not happen. You can be sure of that."
 
"But you thought it did!" Hutch exclaimed.
 
"Yes, but just because I logically assumed rape due to David's behavior when he woke up."
 
"He woke up? You didn't tell me he woke up," Hutch said accusingly.
 
Heller sighed patiently and ignored the outburst. "You asked what symptoms I meant, and I want to answer you. First of all there is considerable fear of physical contact. Though we tried to calm him, he was not going to be convinced to be co-operative. Then-"
 
"Why didn't you call me?" Hutch once more asked, anger quickly rising, and he jumped from the table to head for the door. "I want to see him."
 
"I really think," Hellers voice held him back, "you should hear me out first."
 
"But-"
 
"Your partner has lived through a terrible ordeal, Detective Hutchinson," Heller cut him off sternly. "And pushing everybody else aside won't help him. If you want to help him, you need to understand what happened to him. And his injuries, of a physical nature as well as psychological, are the only indications we have right now, since he's obviously not able to verbalize matters. So if you would please sit down again and let me finish here?"
 
Hutch hesitated.
 
"I don't doubt he would have calmed down if you had been there," Heller added, more gently. "But mental health is not about trusting just one person. It is about not being afraid, when there is nothing to fear."
 
Resigning, Hutch sat down on the table again. A few uncomfortable moments passed.
 
"What did you mean about Starsky not being able to verbalize matters?" Hutch finally asked, forcing his voice to be calm, though he definitely didn't like the sound of that, either.
 
"He doesn't talk," Heller answered flatly and before Hutch could interject, added, "He chooses to express his... feelings in different ways." 
 
Hutch wasn't sure, but he thought he'd seen a swift smirk cross the doctors face. Somehow, he didn't know why, but somehow he was pretty sure he didn't like the man. "He spoke to me."
 
Heller blinked. "Is that so?"
 
"Yes. He recognized me, he said my name, and he... Well, he said a few things more."
 
"That's remarkable," Heller said. "I thought he had chosen to withdraw. That's another classic symptom of-"
 
"I thought," Hutch interrupted him, "you said he wasn't..." He couldn't even say it.
 
"Right," Heller said after it had become clear the detective wouldn't go on. "But that leads us to another question, and I'm afraid you won't like the answer much better."
 
"What happened to him that has him reacting that way?" Hutch muttered to himself.
 
"Exactly," Heller nodded.
 
Again, it was silent.
 
After a moment, Hutch looked up, directly into the doctor's eyes, not wanting to trust the man, but feeling so helpless it was evident in his voice. "What do you think?"
 
Heller thought about that and tilted his head to one side. "If we look at the little we know after this first, physical, examination, I'd say it's obvious, David was... humiliated in some way. He is withdrawn, which leads to the assumption that he's probably ashamed, that he feels guilty. If you want my opinion, he should be treated like a rape-victim, even though the... uhm, even though the act didn't take place."
 
Hutch shuddered at the heartless description, but didn't say anything.
 
"I have a friend at the "Hope" in San Francisco," Heller said, producing a small block and a pen from his pocket to scribble down a number. "Dr. Martinez. He's specialized in cases like this. Maybe you want to consider taking your partner there."
 
Again, Hutch didn't like the choice of words.  'Like I own him or something.'
 
Yet he muttered a fairly believable "thanks" and stashed the number into his shirt pocket, before sliding from the table again. "Can I see him now?" he asked overly politely and left the room without waiting for the reply.
 
Starsky's room wasn't far away, and when Hutch, Heller on his heels, entered--he froze.
 
The young nurse who sat at a small desk against a wall, writing down what an equally young doctor dictated, turned to look at the blond detective, blushed with guilt and looked away again.
 
The doctor, though, smiled. "Hi, I'm Dr. Brackon."
 
"Wh-what is this?" Hutch asked, his voice barely above a whisper as he remained in the door, staring.
 
Startled by their sudden halt, Heller stepped around the tall detective to step next to Starsky.
 
Starsky, who lay on his side on an examination bed with railings on both sides. He'd curled up so much his knees touched his nose, and had buried his head in his arms that where slightly stretched in front of him, as both his hands were secured to the tables railing, somehow crossed, so that the soft material of the restraints could cover as much of his widely bandaged wrists as possible. 
 
The gash on his head was covered by a bandage and his hurt ribs were taped, but Hutch didn't see all that. He only saw restraints on his partner's injured wrists. He thought he saw Starsky crack his eyes open to glance through his crossed arms at his entering partner, but he wasn't sure. 
 
Ignoring the question he probably hadn't even heard, Heller stepped away from the bed to look over the nurses shoulder and nodded. "Results?"
 
"Nothing," Brackon answered, turning from where he'd cast Hutch a frown at the man's rudeness of not returning the friendly greeting. "Pure as snow."
 
"You'll be glad to hear, Detective," Heller said without looking at Hutch, "that the drug screening was negative too. Your partner was not forcefully drugged in the last three days."
 
Hutch stared at the little group in disbelief, fury speeding up to overwhelm him. For the moment, though, he couldn't manage more than an unsteady question. "Why is he restrained?!"
 
Brackon glanced at him from where he'd been studying another test result and answered, "We wanted to sedate him, but we thought we'd get a shrink to look at him, so..." He shrugged. "Unfortunately they're all busy." Grinning, he rolled his eyes as if wanting to imply Hutch probably knew how it was.
 
But Hutch didn't. And he surely didn't want to know. What he wanted to do, he suddenly noticed, was to grab the arrogant young man and wipe the smug expression off the boyish face with everything the room had to offer.
 
"Are you nuts?!" he exclaimed loud enough to have the two doctors look at him again. The nurse was studying the floor, ashamed.
 
"Detect-"
 
"What're you, a sadist?!" Hutch cut Heller off rudely, meaning Brackon. With two steps, he was next to the bed and fiercely worked on freeing Starsky's hands. Again. 
 
His partner flinched under his grasp, but had nowhere to go. A tiny whimper only reached Hutch's and the nurses ears. "Shhh," Hutch soothed. "It's okay, Starsk. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." As he looked up from his task, all gentleness instantly drained from his voice that turned into stone as he glared at Brackon once more.
 
"Who the hell gave you this job?! How can a doctor be so God damned cruel? This man is a victim of torture, for crying out loud! Didn't you LOOK at his wrists when you bandaged them?! How could you possibly tie him down?!"
 
He'd finally managed to get the twisted leather and stuffed insides off of his friend's wrists, and immediately, Starsky jerked away from him, drawing his arms as close to his body as possible, his face hid in his hands. He didn't utter a sound, but he was visibly shaking.
 
"God," Hutch breathed, his heart breaking at the sight, and lowered the railing to sit down next to the curled up form to softly touch Starsky's hair. "Oh God, I'm so sorry, Starsk."
 
Behind the bed, unseen by him, Brackon and Heller had exchanged a helpless glance, and Heller started to chide the interfering detective, but didn't get very far.
 
"And you!" Hutch cut him off with so much hate in his voice the doctor involuntarily stumbled backwards. "Did you know about this?"
 
"He ordered it," the nurse muttered. She was still looking at the floor and only ever so briefly glanced up at Hutch.
 
Too dismayed to even honor her obvious distress at her superiors lack of caring, Hutch glared at Heller. All the time, his hand remained on Starsky's head or shoulder protectively. "How can you cry me a river about the inhumanity Starsky had to suffer and then fucking TIE HIM DOWN?!" he asked in a suppressed yell, not wanting to frighten his friend more.
 
"This is a totally different situa-" Heller started, but was interrupted him again.
 
"Is this a classic treatment for humiliated patients?!" Hutch hissed.
 
Frustrated, Heller briefly closed his eyes, then said very patiently, "I told you he was un-co-operative."
 
"Yeah," Brackon nodded and took a short step forward to the bed. "We had a bit of a fight, huh, pal?" He reached to pat Starsky's back, but found his wrist caught in a vice grip. Dragging him an inch closer, just for emphasis, Hutch looked up directly into startled eyes. 
 
"You touch him one more time, I swear I'll kill you. Got that?"
 
Brackon swallowed dryly and nodded. "Y-yeah. Sure, man. Sure."
 
"Good," Hutch said and released his hand. Rubbing it, Brackon quickly stepped back. "And now out. I want you out of here right now, and then I'll get my partner out of here."
 
"That'd be against my advise, Detective," Heller said.
 
Hutch shot him a despising look. "I give a rat's ass about your advice, doctor. I don't intend to restrain him and further torment him, either, which probably will be against your advice too."
 
Heller sighed. "I really think you're over-reacting."
 
"And I really think you're going to get the book thrown at you for misuse of power," Hutch countered and glanced at Brackon. "Be so glad you didn't sedate him, kid."
 
After a split second, Brackon turned and left the room.
 
Hutch didn't even look, all his attention was focused on his partner again who still lay huddled unmoving under his touch, except for his constant shivering, as if he was trying with all his might to simply vanish.
 
"You too," Hutch said, when he noticed Heller was still there.
 
The old doctor gave a frustrated noise, like a small snort and moved to the door, but hesitated, once more turning to the blond. "Your friend needs treatment, Detective Hutchinson."
 
Hutch didn't look at him. "I've seen the kind of treatment you provide, Dr. Heller. Thank you, but no thank you."
 
Resigned, Heller left the room.
 
"Starsky," Hutch instantly turned to encourage his terrified friend to move. Leaning in closer, he gently tried to lift the curly head, but he would have had to use too much force for his liking, so he settled for resting his hand on Starsky's temple. 
 
"Come on, look at me, hm? It's Hutch, babe, it's okay now. I'm back. I'm so sorry this happened. I didn't know they'd... I'm sorry. I won't leave again, I promise. I'll get you out of here right now, just look at me, please." 
 
A faint noise, someone clearing his throat, made him look up again to find the young nurse standing in the open door. At the shared heartache written all over her face, he softened his expression and arched his brows questioningly.
 
"I'll see if I find some clean scrubs for him, so that you can leave," she said softly, avoiding direct eye contact. "We had to send his own clothes to your lab for... evidence."
 
Hutch smiled gratefully. "Thank you. That'd be nice."
 
She nodded. "Wait here." She had already turned, when the blond's voice held her back, though. "Could you call a cab for us too, please?"
 
"Yeah, sure."
 
"Thanks."
 
The door was softly drawn closed, and they were alone. 
 
"Starsky, there's no one left but us. It's okay. Please look at me. Please," Hutch pleaded and nudged his friend's hands he hid his face in, but only to earn a frightened flinch.
 
Instantly, he slid away on the bed, until he was sitting on the very edge of it. "Okay, okay, I won't touch you. I won't do anything you don't want. But please look at me." He paused, waited and after a moment's thought stood up to stand next to the bed.
 
"See? I'm nowhere near you." He lifted his hands in a calming gesture, desperately willing the other man to react. "Just look up and you'll see I'm no threat to you. I'll stay here all day if necessary."
 
Nothing.
 
Hutch suppressed a sigh, not wanting to sound as impatient as he was, since he really wanted them out of the place as soon as possible. He didn't quite manage to even out the quivery hint of helplessness in his voice, though, when he asked, "You can hear me, can't you?"
 
Maybe it was because it had sounded so much like typical Hutch sarcasm (which it had not been) and maybe it was just time, but Starsky indeed looked. And not only that, he sat up too, with legs hanging over the edge of the bed and his hands resting in his lap. 
 
As if he'd never done anything else. As if he'd never hid. The ultimate normal, behaving patient.
 
Hutch stared, shook his head slightly and smiled nervously. "Hi there."
 
Starsky tilted his head to one side, but didn't answer.
 
Not sure what to do, Hutch let a few moments pass, before he asked, "Do you know where you are?"
 
Starsky nodded mutely.
 
"And you recognize me?"
 
Another nod.
 
Again, Hutch waited, but it was obvious his partner didn't intend to say anything. "I'm sorry about what happened," Hutch finally said with honest regret. "I didn't know they were going to do that to you. I called Dobey, I didn't know youd woken up."
 
Starsky looked at him and suddenly smiled ever so slightly.
 
Relief mixed with discomfort on Hutch's face. He knew, felt that his partner forgave him, that it was an 'it's okay, don't worry'-smile, but it was just so unnerving to see Starsky absolutely quiet, he couldn't really feel consoled.  So he returned the smile, but briefly, and asked, "Did they hurt you?"
 
Starsky averted his eyes, the corners of his mouth twitching as if he wanted to say something. He bit his lip.
 
Hutch let out a frustrated breath and pinched his nose.  "Bastards," he muttered. "I should have punched them when I had the chance."
 
He jumped a bit, when the door opened again and turned to see their helpful nurse enter with a pair of shiny white scrubs and some old looking sneaker that once had been white, in her hands. She didn't fully enter, trying very politely to ignore Starsky's frightened jerk. 
 
"These should fit," she said softly, handing Hutch the clothes, avoiding looking into his eyes. "There's a cab waiting for you outside."
 
"Thank you," Hutch replied, adding, "Cleo," when he'd read her name tag. "You've been a great help."
 
At that, she looked up, genuine guilt evident in her gaze. "I'm sorry about what happened."
 
Before Hutch could say anything, she quickly rushed outside again, dragging the door shut behind her.
 
With a sad sigh, Hutch turned to Starsky, lifting the scrubs slightly. "C'mon, buddy, we're going home. Need help getting dressed?"
 
To his appall, an expression of terror crossed Starsky's face, and he tensed up to the point of trembling again.
 
"I'll just..." Hutch said and had to stop to clear his throat at the choking sensation. "I'll just wait outside then." Careful to not startle his friend, he put the scrubs down on the far end of the bed, waited, and when there was no reaction, opened the door. "Starsky."
 
Starsky looked up, still clearly afraid, but also clearly working on calming down.
 
"Put those on," Hutch ordered gently, "and come outside, okay? Can you do that? Can you manage to walk outside so we can go home?"
 
Starsky nodded.
 
"Truth," Hutch said, and, this time looking a bit more like his old Starsky, the smaller man gave an affirming nod.
 
"Okay," Hutch smiled and left.
 
It seemed to take an eternity, and when he finally opened the door just a tiny crack as if actually just wanting to take a quick peek outside, Starsky looked so worn out as if he'd just run a marathon, but he did manage it. 
 
"Easy," Hutch muttered and took over the rest of the door-opening to gently get a hold of his staggering friend. "Easy, let me help."
 
Starsky flinched, but endured the touch and let himself be supported all the way down the hallway and into the cab.
 
Hutch forced himself to interpret that as a good sign. 
 
 **** 
 
Some recurring incidents in Hutch's and Starsky's life were absolute routine. Not everday routine, but they had a structure the two detectives just never changed. And whenever such an incident happened, they could both switch to auto pilot.
 
To those events you could count: the few really, really, really good days Dobey had in a year, when they instantly slipped into roles that had long ago been fixed to sweet-talk their unusually cheerful superior into a weekend off; when they needed to talk themselves out of paying their bill at Huggy's; when they put on an act for one of your bigger kingpins; when one of them was sick or hurt -- the other one would know by instinct what to do to give comfort and support; and finally, when one of them was released from the hospital after sickness or an injury.
 
Home, bed, pain medication, food if possible, ordered rest--and all of that covered with a heavy layer of fussing. That was the out-of-the-hospital-routine, and no matter how much it varied (could be the couch too, if your partner decided to be very stubborn), it was a routine. As much for the fusser as for patient.  
 
When Hutch led Starsky into Venice Place that early afternoon after having paid the cab driver, he would have given all his beloved plants gladly for just one thing that felt familiar about their homecoming. 
 
Starsky had been silent throughout the whole drive, hadn't whined, hadn't pretended to be okay, hadn't uttered one single noise. He had sat huddled in the very corner of the backseat, staring down at his hands in his lap, trying desperately to keep his fear of the cab driver at bay.
 
Yet Hutch had, of course, sensed it and had inwardly kicked himself for not having asked Dobey to have someone drive his car to the hospital instead of his place, where it indeed awaited him neatly parked in front of the building. 
 
He'd chosen Venice Place over Starsky's apartment by experience. Since he still had no idea what had actually happened to his partner, he couldn't be sure where the actual crime of kidnapping had taken place. It could be Starsky's own place was a crime scene too, and he would be damned if he dragged his badly shaken up partner back to wherever whatever had happened. Besides, knowing Dobey as well as he did, he assumed the Captain had also thought of that possibility and had the lab guys sweep Starsky's place also.
 
And the last thing Starsky seemed to need was a bunch of people around. So Venice Place it was, and inside, the routine continued to crumble to ashes.
 
The ugly words 'amnesia' and 'brain damage' had long ago been replaced by 'rape examination', 'humiliation' and 'classic symptoms' and all of a sudden Hutch couldn't even set eyes onto the bedroom without shuddering. 
 
Guiding his friend over to the couch, Hutch subconsciously looked for help in the other aspects of 'home at last'. "How d'you feel? Did they at least give you something against the pain?"
 
Sitting down quickly, before Hutch could gently push him down, Starsky nodded and sank back into the cushion, his desire to be free of physical contact obvious.
 
Like he had in the hospital, Hutch stepped back, until the sofa table was between them. Funny, though.  Now, in his own home, the action, meant to be calming, hurt him. He wasn't used to being met by fear when Starsky was concerned. He wasn't used to fuss from the distance, neither. Actually he had never had to deal with a sick Starsky who would not seek physical contact for comfort.
 
Starsky just was like that. He was the one person Hutch knew, who actually felt better after a hug. Who actually needed to have someone squeeze his shoulder. To whom nothing would be just a gesture, but the very gesture he needed in that very moment. He was the one person Hutch knew,  who would actually cling. People didn't cling and drew their comfort from that, but Starsky, he would. To Starsky, the one thing that made him feel better when he was in pain, was to hang onto someones arm and stay there.
 
Hutch had always figured it had something to do with him having missed that sort of contact after he'd been sent away from home as a kid. It was pretty much a little kids way of dealing with pain, after all. 
 
And now it was gone. So how the hell did he deal with the pain--and not just the physical one--now?  Hutch wondered with an inner shudder.
 
Studying his friend from the unusual distance, noticing with a painful stab that there, in safeness, Starsky was able to directly look at him again, Hutch couldn't help thinking how awfully lost he actually was there. He didn't have a clue what to do next.
 
"What do you want me to do?" he asked after a moment, deciding that, since they both seemed pretty lost, the best thing was to get through it together, like always. "What can I do to help you?"
 
Starsky just gazed back at him from where he sat slumped and unusually small on the couch, looking for all the world as if he just couldn't understand the question or didnt care or didnt want to answer it, but Hutch knew him. He knew the look in the dark blues. 
 
"You're still scared," he said softly, a bit resignedly. "Aren't you, buddy?"
 
On cue--literally--Starsky flinched and dragged up his legs to hug his knees to himself. 
 
"But why?" Hutch asked and crouched down so that they were almost on the same eye level now, with the table between them like a separating wall. "You know I won't hurt you. Why cant you-"
 
An especially loud growling cut him off, not because of its volume, but because it actually came as a relief, a life sign of the lost routine.
 
Starsky glanced down at his demanding stomach as if surprised, then back at Hutch with what looked like a wry smile that had, by accident, turned into a grimace.
 
"Well," Hutch said in a lighter tone, instantly clinging to the safe comfort of rules and routine again, "that answers my next question."
 
Starsky smiled, this time even recognizably, and Hutch returned it.
 
"Okay, tell you what," the blond said, pushing himself up to his feet again, "I'll go see what I have you can eat with a concussion, and you stay here and get some rest. Deal?"
 
Starsky nodded.
 
"Good." And, feeling a sting of guilt as if he was running from facing what needed to be faced, Hutch headed for the kitchen.
 
Twenty minutes later, he put a steaming bowl of soup down onto the sofa table and could just stop himself from pushing a spoon into Starsky's left hand. Instead, he thoughtfully put it down next to the bowl and sat back in the wooden chair next to the couch.
 
He only noticed the look of absolute horror on Starsky's face, when he was already sitting and looked up to watch over his partner's meal. He hadn't seen it getting there, having been too busy saving the situation after his almost-mistake with the spoon.
 
"Starsk? What is it?"
 
He wasn't going to get an answer. Starsky stared at him, then at the bowl on the table.
 
"What?" Hutch asked anxiously. "What's wrong?"
 
It was a strange thing, like a time travel caught in a human expression. Like a flashback taking place in Starsky's mind, for the outer world to witness in his eyes. As if, if Hutch just leaned in real close, he would be able see the whole memory grabbing his partner in a huge claw, like a movie on a screen.
 
"What'd I do? What's wrong, buddy?!"
 
And that was it. Once more perfectly on cue, Starsky paled, swallowed hard and bolted from the couch towards the bathroom. He didn't make it there, though, even two fast steps too much of a run for his worn out body. So as he had in Malcolms apartment, on his way into his corner, he crashed down to his knees and hands. The jolt sent a wave of pain through his skull, and before he realized what he was doing, he'd wretched out a pitiful amount of bile onto the floor where he sat.
 
He hadn't heard Hutch's dismayed calls after him, but now he felt the other ones presence near him, a hand lightly rubbing his back as he sat with his head hanging, swallowing against more bile rising.
 
"Easy," Hutch soothed, "easy, it's okay, try to calm down. Easy."
 
Starsky was terrified. Hutch could sense that. He was terrified, but just so absolutely spent, probably dizzy, nauseaus, weak, he couldn't even express it. He just knelt where he was fighting against everything his body wanted him to do and inwardly curled up to endure whatever would happen to him next.
 
It didn't take a brilliant detective, though, to figure out that being sick on the floor had probably been something Starsky's captor or captors had not been too thrilled at. Recalling the evidence of a probably familiar situation in the crime scene apartment, Hutch hastened to assure his friend over and over again that it was okay, that nothing would happen to him, that it was nothing, really. He talked so fast the words seemed to stumble over each other.
 
It helped some, Starsky didn't flinch at the continuing soft rubbing at his back, and he didn't flee and huddle, either, but then, Hutch figured, he was probably just still too nauseous for action, anyway.
 
"C'mon, buddy," Hutch said at one point, gently placing Starsky's arm around his neck to practically carry him the last few steps into the bathroom. "Okay, everything's okay. We'll stay here for a bit, just in case, and if you think you're through, you, uh... Well, we'll get you into bed..." He froze in mid-word as if another part of him had cut him off sharply, but pushed away the ugly words and finished, "...into bed then, I'd say. Wasn't such a good idea after all, eating, huh? Sorry." With a sheepish smile, he leant back against the sink where he stood hovering over Starsky who knelt with slumped shoulders on the floor, much like he had before.
 
"Feeling any better yet?"
 
Starsky didn't react. He didn't vomit again, either. Instead, he did something that left Hutch frowning in confused dread. He hurried, like a kid scrambling from one place to another in a crouched down position, into the shower, sat down in the middle, hugged his knees to his chest and buried his face in them.
 
Moments passed, and Hutch watched from where he stood, strangely fascinated, expectant at what would happen next. Like a scientist studying an unknown species.
 
Only after he'd overcome his own surprised shock, he asked tentatively, "Uhm... Starsk? What... what're you doing?"
 
The phone rang. 
 
Hutch glanced over his shoulder, then back. "Ahm... uh... Get out of there, okay? Starsk?"
 
Carefully, Starsky peeked up at him, surprised. 
 
Making a mental note about that, Hutch ran a nervous hand through his hair and headed back into the living room. "Don't move if you feel sick again, but get out of the shower. Please," he added after a moment and picked up the phone.
 
"Yeah, what?!"
 
"Hutchinson, Dobey here."
 
"Yeah, Cap'n," Hutch replied absently, bending back a bit to get a look into the bathroom, but didn't quite manage. "What's up?"
 
"I hear you took your partner home against doctor's advise?"
 
"News travels fast, huh?" Hutch shot back bitterly. "Who'd you talk to? Brackon or Heller?"
 
"Heller," Dobey answered. "He said he informed you about Starsky's condition and that you acted absolutely irresponsible when you signed him out."
 
"I didn't sign him out, he signed himself out," Hutch replied angrily. "He's an adult, he can make decisions for himself! And-"
 
"Hutch-"
 
"And," Hutch cut him off fiercely, "he definitely made the right decision leaving that fu... leaving. Did they tell you what happened?"
 
"Yes, but it didn't sound very credible."
 
"Whatever they said I did, it's true," Hutch replied grimly. "And I'm not sorry! They tied him down! They got a traumatized patient with rope marks all over his wrists, and they tied him down!" He could feel the anger boiling again at the mere memory. 
 
"Hutch," Dobey said calmly, "I know how you feel, I hate to think of Starsky getting hurt, too, but you can't threaten the head doctor of the ER of the biggest hospital in town."
 
"I didn't threaten him," Hutch defended himself. "I said I would throw the book at him for misuse of power, and I fully intend to do that. When things have quiet a bi..." he added absently, turning when he heard movement behind him in the bathroom. He couldn't see inside, though, due to the phone wire. 
 
"Wait a sec, Cap'n," he muttered, not even having listened to his superior's reply, and once more stepped to the very end of the wire, trying to look into the other room. "Starsk?"
 
Over the silence answering him, Dobey's voice was clearly audible, and Hutch quickly held the receiver against his ear again. "Sorry."
 
"Is he alright?" Dobey asked, softening his voice.
 
"I don't know," Hutch replied sadly and decided to end the conversation soon so he could look after Starsky. "We just had a minor crisis actually. Uhm-"
 
"I have the results of the check-up on Malcolm Watters here," Dobey interrupted him without even noticing. 
 
Hutch's head snapped up. "Malcolm?"
 
"The owner of the apartment," Dobey explained. "Watters. Do you know him?"
 
"No," Hutch said after a moment's thought. "Starsky said the name when I found him. But I'm pretty sure I've never heard it before. Not anyone we bust, as far as I can tell."
 
"No, you're right," Dobey said. "He's never been arrested."
 
"Okay, tell me what you got then."
 
"Age 24, moved here from Seattle three months ago. Before that, he lived with his father in Arkansas. Was in and out of mental institutions pretty much all his life until he turned 20. He didn't get into trouble ever since."
 
"Until now," Hutch said gravely. "Anything else?"
 
"We know where he works," Dobey answered. "A toy store near Lloyd Road. I sent someone there to talk to the owner."
 
"A toy store?" Hutch repeated in disbelief. 
 
"Yes," Dobey affirmed. "I guess that answers where Starsky met him."
 
Hutch smirked in grim humor.
 
"Anyway, the apartment itself didnt tell much," the Captain continued. "We found Starsky's shoes, jacket, ID and gun and holster in a bag next to the trash, it's all in the lab now. Along with the rest of Watters belongings. But there's not much to find there, I'm afraid. Everything the man owned fit into one box."
 
With his free hand, Hutch tiredly rubbed his eyes. "Your regular white sheet of a lunatic, huh?"
 
Dobey ignored the comment. "I'm going to have someone call the institutions Watters was in."
 
"Okay."
 
"And I'll keep you updated on the lab results."
 
"Yeah. Thanks. Has anyone found the Torino yet?"
 
"No," Dobey answered. "They're still looking."
 
"Okay."
 
A brief, uncomfortable silence passed, both men aware of the question that needed to be discussed, but that one hated to ask and the other hated to answer.
 
Finally, Dobey sighed, which was like a prelude, then asked, in a tone that made it clear he knew the answer, anyway, "Has he told you what happened yet?"
 
"No, he hasn't been exactly... talkative," Hutch replied dryly.
 
"Hm."
 
"And I know," Hutch hastened to continue, "what you're going to say now, but there was no way we could have waited for a psychiatrist in that place."
 
Another sigh on Dobey's side of the connection.
 
"Cap'n, please, just give me a bit more time. Just until everything has been run. A day or so. He will talk to me, he just needs some time."
 
Dobey clearly hesitated, before he gently asked, "Are you sure you can handle this? I saw the apartment, and I read the examination results... Hutch, you know we have a trained staff here to-"
 
"Oh please!" Hutch cut him off sarcastically. "I know our trained staff', Cap'n. Theyre doing a great job, really, but you know as well as I do that they're not Starsky-trained."
 
Dobey snorted, but didn't counter.
 
"If he won't talk to me, he won't talk to some over-worked shrink, either," Hutch continued. "And you know that." His voice darkening with anger, he added, "He talked to me, when I found him. It's all Heller's fault, and Brackon's. If they would have listened instead of trying their best to imitate Malcolm Watters, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now."
 
"You can't prove that," Dobey said softly, if sympathetically.
 
"You weren't there!" Hutch shot back. "They did a fucking rape examination on him, while he was tied to the bed, Goddamn it!"
 
The dismayed pause on the other end told him hed finally driven his point home. After a moment, Dobey cleared his throat slightly and said, "You should better go back check on your partner."
 
"Okay," Hutch replied, knowing that the Captain wouldn't mention the matter anymore, but if he would decide to really press charges, Dobey would be there right at his side. It was an unspoken agreement. 
 
"I'll keep you updated."
 
"Thanks," Hutch nodded.
 
"You too, you hear?" Dobey added quickly. "I don't have to remind you that Starsky is probably our only witness in this case. To make it a charge well need his statement."
 
"First of all," Hutch said, not unfriendly, knowing Dobey was just expressing concern his own way, "he's the victim."
 
"He's also a witness."
 
"I'll call you," Hutch promised and hang up. 
 
He didn't miss a second to turn and rush back into the bathroom, anxious at what he might find. The fury the conversation had renewed was quickly swallowed by concern as his memory decided to play a re-run of the incident before the call over and over again inside his head.
 
"Starsky?" 
 
Not wanting to burst in, Hutch stopped himself at the door and carefully pushed it fully open. What he saw made him wince in heartache.
 
His partner sat pressed into the corner under the sink, knees drawn up to his nose, hugging his legs to his chest. At the opening of the door, his head snapped up and he shot Hutch a scared glance. 
 
Bracing himself with a deep breath, Hutch stepped in and crouched down in front of him. "Feeling any better now?" he asked with a gentle smile.
 
Starsky's gaze dropped, Hutch could see him squeeze his eyes shut at the prospect of being touched, when he reached out. Instantly, the blond caught himself and withdrew the offered hand.
 
"That was Dobey," he explained. "He asked about you."
 
Starsky looked up.
 
"They're working on finding whos responsible for... this," he finished lamely.
 
He paused, but got no comment on that. He glanced over his shoulder at the shower, aware of his partner's fear-filled gaze following his.
 
When he turned back again, Starsky shrank back, ducked his head.
 
"Shhh," Hutch soothed, "easy. It's just me, Starsk. Just Hutch. Want me to help you up so we can get you to bed?"
 
He didn't even notice he'd said it. Thank God for routine.
 
"It's not good for you sitting in the cold floor, babe. C'mon."
 
And to his surprise, this time Starsky neglected to flinch. Instead, he silently accepted the outstretched hand and allowed it to be helped to his feet and guided into the bedroom, where Hutch disposed the old white sneakers and covered his friend's curled up form with the blankets.
 
"Just sleep," he ordered softly, suppressing the urge to give the curly hair a parting, playful ruffle, trying his best to keep touching to a minimum. "I'll be right outside. You can call me if you need me."
 
It sounded more like informing Starsky about this availability of his than an offered comfort, and Hutch felt a stab of guilt at his blackmailing, but--truth--he was a desperate man.
 
Starsky didn't answer, but obediently closed his eyes.
 
After a moment, Hutch left.
 
He was in the kitchen, busy making coffee, when all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, a memory hit him hard enough to draw a shocked gasp from his lips.
 
Starsky, dead, in a strange room. Left behind like an old, broken toy, disposed, just covered with a blanket.
 
His fingers clawed into the breakfast counter, Hutch bowed his head, squeezing his eyes shut as if in pain. He could almost feel shock easing up on him like a tight net hed been wrapped in before, loosening. 
 
He had to sit down, and when he sank into a kitchen chair, he couldn't stop sinking even more, until his head rested on folded arms on the table, and he cried.  
 
 **** 
 
Three hours later, Hutch drained his last cup of coffee, put it back onto the sofa table and leaned back against the couch's headrest heavily. He was exhausted. After his quiet breakdown in the kitchen, he'd occupied himself with quickly cleaning his floor and endless moments of just staring into nothingness, pictures he so wished would vanish displaying themselves over and over again before his inner eye. 
 
With all the healthy sarcasm he could muster, he wondered if he would ever be able to sleep again...
 
He'd talked to Dobey again too, hearing that the Torino had indeed been found near the toy store Malcolm Watters worked at. It had been driven to the police lab for evidence too, though Dobey and Hutch doubted there would be anything found in there. 
 
"Except for an ugly large toy car," Hutch had pointed out bitterly. "Don't have them add that to evidence, Cap'n, okay? That's Starskys."
 
The store owner had apparently been surprised to hear what the police accused his employee of. According to him, Malcolm had always been the sweetest, modest, politest, most hard-working kid hed ever seen. He admitted that he didn't have a clue about what Malcolm did after work, since the young man was rather withdrawn and quiet, but they never had had any troubles. He was shocked to hear Malcolm had been treated for mental disorders in his youth, he simply couldn't imagine that. 
 
"A walking time bomb," Dobey had said sadly. "The same old story you hear every day. No one could have seen that coming probably."
 
"Someone should have," Hutch had replied. 
 
Dobey had let that go by without a comment, hearing the strained tone in the younger man's voice. "So..." he'd started instead, audibly unsure about his following question.
 
But Hutch had known anyway. "No, he has not told me about it yet. He's sleeping."
 
"Hutch, we need his statement. The sooner the better," Dobey urged, not unfriendly, but impatient.
 
"Most of all we need him to be okay," Hutch shot back, irritated. "And right now he's not. I know that if he still was in hospital, there'd be unis hovering over him all the time, probably forcing a statement out of him, but as long as he's here, with me, I won't push him into talking when he's obviously not in the condition to do it!"
 
Silence on the other end of the line.
 
Hutch sighed. "Ah, sorry, Cap'n. That wasn't called for."
 
"It's okay," Dobey said gently. 
 
"I know you just want to make sure well get this freak. Hell, me too, but... It's tough, okay? You didn't see him. He's... It's tough."
 
Now, about an hour later, as he sank into his sofa and closed his eyes, Hutch once more felt the truth of that statement. The sun hung low in the sky outside, bathing the living room into yellowish, warm light, but despite the warmth the light brought with it, Hutch shivered lightly. His body was still reacting, he figured and smirked wearily. 
 
The sudden feeling of another presence in the room tore him out of his half dozing. He opened his eyes, but didn't see anyone. Only when he bent his head back to glance over the headrest could he make out Starsky standing there, looking at him nervously.
 
"Hey," Hutch greeted softly, but received no answer. "Why are you up? Need anything?"
 
Starsky remained silent. He looked confused, an expression that matched his disheveled appearance, and a thought along with the painful sympathy it brought crept into Hutch's mind.
 
Slowly, he stood up and turned to face Starsky, but didn't approach him yet. "You're home, Starsk. D'you remember that?"
 
Starsky frowned, scanned the room.
 
"Yes," Hutch nodded and took the first tentative step forward. "That's right. We're home. I'm right here. Everything's okay now. You remember now, don't you?" He paused, then added, "I found you."
 
The frown only deepened as Starsky studied Hutch's face closely, obviously not believing his senses. 
 
"It's me, buddy," Hutch said quietly, wanting to assure his friend. The result, though, wasn't quite as he had expected. 
 
Starsky flinched violently, shrank back and sank down to the floor quickly, as if he'd just been ordered to do that. Before Hutch had even over come his surprise, his friend had found the corner next to the bathroom door and the wardrobe to huddle into, and there he sat, knees drawn up, eyes focused on the floor, shaking with fear.
 
Hutch stared down, wanting to say something, but managed only unintelligible stammers. After a split second, he was on his knees next to Starsky, desperate to find out what had frightened his partner to this amount. 
 
"Starsky. Starsk. Buddy, what's wrong? What did I say?"
 
But all recognition had apparently passed. Starsky wouldn't even look up at him, and when Hutch reached out to carefully lift his head, he jerked back, curling up even more.
 
A few more moments Hutch just spent with helpless, desperate and overall futile begging. But his friend couldn't be moved nor coaxed to answer any of his questions.
 
At last, Hutch tried to crouch down a few steps away from him, but that didn't change matters. In fact, not even when he finally stood up and went into the kitchen did Starsky seem to lose any of his tensed fear. When Hutch returned with a glass of water for him, he hadn't moved an inch.
 
He coaxed a bit more, but all he achieved was to only increase the expression of fear in Starsky's eyes, so he finally decided to just place the glass in front of his friend and back away again. 
 
"It's okay," Hutch told him helplessly from where he stood, hating it to look down at his partner. "You can drink it, it's just water. Just thought you might be thirsty. It's okay, buddy."
 
Starsky didn't move.
 
"Okay, okay, tell you what. I'm, uh... I'm gonna stay right here and, uh... Well, I won't come near you, and you'll see that I'm not a threat to you, okay? Starsk? Okay? You can sit there all you want, and I'll just be here in the... uh... green house. Yep, in the green house. When you... need me, I'll be right there. Deal?"
 
He didn't expect an answer and so just turned to head out of Starsky's sight. "Don't let the fact that you scare me to death influence you in any way," he mumbled into his hands as he wiped them over his strained features. 
 
Minutes passed and nothing happened. Absently brushing dust off his plants leaves, Hutch strained to make out sounds coming from his friend, but it was absolute silence that hung in the air like fog.
 
A few times he sneaked up to the door to get a glimpse at his partner, who hadn't moved. 
 
'God, what the hell are you doing here?!' he chided himself, wiping his face as if trying to hide. 
 
The answer came as a furious inner ranting.  'I've no idea, okay?! I don't know what I'm doing, I don't know what's happening, I don't know what's right, I'm just the guy hiding in the green house!' 
 
He sighed deeply.
 
'You need to be Starsky-trained to do this, huh? Well, I'm so grateful I am...'
 
Another sigh, another chiding growl in his head.  'God, you're pathetic! What did you tell Dobey earlier? You know Starsk, d'you really think playing it by his rules is gonna help anything?'
 
That brought a sudden furrow to his forehead. He was right. Humoring his scared friend might not be the answer at all. What Starsky needed wasn't being treated like he was still with Malcolm Watters, where he probably had been taught that new habit of huddling in corners.  No, what he needed was something that would show him he was back home. Something clear, something not necessarily gentle. 
 
'And it's not me,' Hutch thought, absently walking back into his living room, where his friend had not moved a bit. Stopping, Hutch studied him for a moment.  'It's nothing he knows. It's not home itself. But maybe...'
 
Decision made, he grabbed his jacket and turned to Starsky, who followed his actions fearfully. 
 
"I gotta go for a minute, Starsk, okay? I've to... pick something up at the precinct. Will you be okay here for a moment? It won't take long, I promise."
 
Starsky didn't answer. The glass of water still sat in front of him untouched.
 
Hutch sighed and opened the door. "Be back in a sec."
 
****
 
Hutch didn't even stop to talk to Dobey, but sneaked in the squad room, grabbed the files that lay waiting for him on his desk, told a nearby colleague to let Dobey know he'd been there but in a hurry, and rushed away to the lab, not wanting to leave Starsky alone at home longer than necessary.
 
The few folders that contained Malcolm Edward Watters' medical history he stashed into his jacket and gently knocked at the door downstairs in the building, where he knew Timothy Graham had his office. He was about the only lab guy Starsky and Hutch knew who seemed actually able to talk--and even friendly--and so they never even tried to see anyone else from downstairs about anything.
 
"Hey Tim," Hutch greeted softly from the half open door, peeking through it like a child about to sneak into a forbidden area.
 
As always, Timothy Graham jumped. You could say 'hello' straight to the mans face--he'd still jump. 
 
So, as always, Graham wheeled around with a startled yelp and glared at the blond detective, who already arched his brows apologetically.
 
"Man! Give a guy a heart attack!"
 
"I'm sorry," Hutch offered in pure routine, and instantly the incident was forgotten. 
 
Graham was alright, mind you, but he still was a lab guy. He couldn't help having the same case of "Job-caused weirdness", as Starsky called the CSI's most striking characteristic, as all his other colleagues.
 
"Hey, man, I'm sorry `bout Starsky," Graham said in genuine sympathy. "Is he okay?"
 
Hutch hesitated, then smiled slightly. "He will be. Listen, Tim, I need something out of Watters' apartment. Is there anything you guys are done with?"
 
Graham frowned. "Depends. What d'you need? We're not done with Starsky's stuff yet. And were still on the, uh, mess we scraped off the carpet. Actually, that's what I've just spent an increasingly entertaining hour staring at-"
 
"We all appreciate your effort," Hutch cut him off with a disgusted face. "But I don't need Starsky's stuff. It has to be something that was at the place before. I don't know what yet." He thought for a moment, then asked, "Is there anything striking you have here? Something someone who was there will recognize instantly?"
 
Rising his brows questioningly, Graham tilted his head slightly. "Do I want to know what you're up to, Detective?"
 
"No."
 
"Okay. Well, we have..." he started, grabbing a half printed sheet of paper from the side of his desk and studied it. "Not much. Furniture-"
 
"I'd appreciate it if its something I can actually take with me, you know," Hutch interjected dryly.
 
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, patience, dude, patience. Let's see... furniture, furniture, bed, wardrobe, chair..."
 
Unseen, Hutch rolled his eyes.
 
"Teddy bear, glasses, cups-"
 
"What was that?" 
 
Puzzled, Graham looked up. "What?"
 
"D'you say teddy bear?"
 
"Uhm..." Graham muttered, not having listened to himself and glanced back at the paper. "Yup."
 
"That could work," Hutch muttered to himself, then asked, "Where was it?"
 
Once more, Graham checked the list. "Living room. D'you want to see it?"
 
"Hm-mm."
 
"`Kay wait here a sec," Graham said and stood to stroll out of the room through a second door that, as Hutch knew, led into the 'Done'-chamber for evidence. "Don't touch anything," Graham called back without looking.
 
Again, Hutch rolled his eyes. "Don't worry."
 
True to his word, he didn't move an inch, but remained, arms crossed in front of his chest, near the door where he'd entered.
 
He didn't have to wait long, before Graham returned, carrying a big teddy bear with him. It was very fluffy, black and looked new. "Cute," he said with a grin, waving with one paw at Hutch. "Isn't it?"
 
"Very," Hutch replied dryly and took the bear out of Graham's hands to look at it. "And that sat in the living room? I don't think I saw it when I first checked."
 
Graham shrugged. "Maybe it had fallen under a table or something. We only write down the rooms, not the exact places."
 
Studying the bear, Hutch nodded mutely.
 
After a brief pause, Graham leant against his desk, arching his brows a bit shyly. "Hey, are you gonna need it for long?"
 
"Huh?" Hutch asked, torn out of his thoughts and looked at the other man. "What?"
 
"Well, I thought," Graham started, shaking his head slightly as if embarrassed, "it'd be a nice gift for my kid, y'know. I mean, when the case is closed."
 
"Oh. Yeah, sure," Hutch assured, "I'll bring it back. I just need for... uh... now. You're done with it, right? I can take it with me now?"
 
"Sure. That's it?"
 
"Hm-mm," Hutch nodded, turning the teddy in his arms so that it looked over his folded arms. "Thanks. See you, Tim."
 
And with that, he turned, but was held back by Graham calling after him. "Hey Hutch?"
 
"Yeah?"
 
"When it really was in the living room, Starsky's going to recognize it right away, you're aware of that, aren't you?"
 
"Absolutely," Hutch replied. "That's the plan."
 
And before Graham could ask any further, he left and closed the door behind himself. 
 
 **** 
 
The plan was to show Starsky the difference between Malcolm Watters' apartment and home by mixing the two. It was kind of very deep thinking, Hutch admitted to himself, but he'd long ago reached the point where he'd try anything to achieve a breakthrough at last.
 
Even something as violent and rude as this. He knew for sure that seeing the stupid toy would scare his friend witless, since he'd instantly recognize it as something hed seen constantly during his ordeal, but Hutch figured that was a small prize for finally having Starsky realize the truth. That he was home.
 
Yet, of course, the idea of scaring his friend on purpose scared him and so when he'd arrived at Venice Place, he took a moment to remain on the driver's seat, hands on the steering wheel and stared into nothingness, bracing himself.
 
Next to him, on the passenger seat, sat the teddy bear, unaware of its role in the scheme.
 
"You ready?" Hutch finally asked and looked at the bear next to him as if it had answered. "Good," he sighed. "At least one of us is." A bitter smile crossed his lips and he picked the bear up, opening his door. "C'mon, Pooh, showtime."
 
Bear and files in hand, he entered his building, forcing himself to not stop in front of his apartment door again and instead entered.
 
Nothing could have prepared him for what would happen then, anyway. 
When he stepped into the room to be able to see Starsky, who still sat on the ground, in the corner, the water still untouched, he suddenly found himself to be the target of an unbelieving gaze. 
 
"Hutch."
 
The absolutely surprised whisper made Hutch almost jump. Before he'd even stammered out a reply, Starsky was off the ground like a shot, having to catch himself at the wall, but obviously not caring about that at all. He was too busy staring at the blond as if he hadn't seen him in ages. 
"Oh my God. Hutch!" This time, it wasn't a whisper anymore, but a clear, if shaky, and utterly relieved statement.
 
"Starsk..." Hutch started and put his burden down on the sofa, unsure what to make of the situation. "What-"
 
He didn't get to finish his sentence as he was suddenly wrapped in a tight hug by his partner, before he'd even fully turned back to him again.  
Totally taken by surprise, he froze for a split second, before returning the embrace, frowning when he noticed Starsky was shaking against him like a leaf.
 
"Starsky, what's going on?" he asked fearfully, but wasn't even heard.
 
"I-I thought I'd never see you again," Starsky whispered, still clinging to his friend as if he was his life-line. "I kept thinking `bout you, I didn't want to forget you, but I never thought you'd come. I can't believe you really came."
 
And suddenly, Hutch understood. He had stepped right into a flashback. 
 
"But I did," he answered softly and started rubbing his friend's back lightly. Starsky didn't let go one bit as if he wanted to hide forever in Hutch's arms. Actually, in that very moment, Hutch wouldn't have minded, anyway. The only thing he cared about was to not let his re-found friend slip back into the past. He would have to make him understand now that he had the chance.
 
"I came and I found you and you're home now, Starsk. You're home. D'you hear me?"
 
Starsky sniffed and gave a tiny nod. Hutch could feel his grip loosening as his still weak arms protested against the effort, but it was obvious that Starsky was not ready yet to let go. 
 
"Don't just nod, buddy, yeah?" Hutch asked with a sort of tired humor as he changed his grip on Starsky to lead them both around and onto the couch. "Talk to me."
 
"I'm sorry," Starsky muttered, confusion coloring his words. He didn't even seem to notice Hutch gently settling him on the couch. Only when the blond sat down beside him, he instantly leaned his head against Hutch's shoulder to snuggle up on him as if he was afraid his partner would leave him again. 
 
"I'm just..." he continued in a stammer and looked around a bit, before settling eyes on Hutch's worried face. "I-I think... I think I'm remembering."
 
Taking a hand that wearily flapped against his knees in a nervous attempt at grabbing his, in his own, Hutch softly asked, "Remembering what? That I found you?"
 
Swallowing hard, Starsky nodded, then, at the look crossing Hutch's face, said, "Yes. That and... and the hospital. And earlier today. I-It's all coming back now." His voice had taken on a slightly high-pitched tone, as he continued to look around as if hed just waken up from a nightmare. In fact, that was quite the case, Hutch figured and placed a gentle hand against Starsky's cheek to stop his nervous glances.
 
"It's okay," he said and drew his hand away again, when he saw that his friend was still trembling violently. "It's okay, Starsk. Calm down."
 
But Starsky couldn't. Wide-eyed, he stared at his friend. "God, Hutch, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I just... I sorta knew it was y-you, b-but at the same time I didn't and... I-I-"
 
"Shhh," Hutch soothed and gently rubbed Starsky's arm with his free hand as if to warm him. "Calm down, babe, it's alright. You've got nothing to be sorry for. But you need to calm down, before you go into shock or something, okay?" 
 
He smiled encouragingly and waited a second or two for Starsky to take in a couple of deep breaths.
 
"Everything's okay, I'm right here."
 
"Yes," Starsky said to Hutch's surprise and nodded eagerly, before he bowed his head to rest it against Hutch's shoulder. "Yes, you're here. You're here," he repeated in a mumbled whisper. A shuddering breath escaped him and Hutch thought he heard him stifle a tiny sob.
 
Concerned, he bent a bit to try and look at Starsky's face, but his friend wouldn't move. His eyes were tightly closed and the hand Hutch held squeezed with new-found strength. 
 
Another muffled sob reached the blond's ears. "Starsky?"
 
"I can't believe you really found me," Starsky mumbled, his voice strained as he fought against tears and shock slowly leaving him. "I can't believe you're really here."
 
Dismayed, Hutch hugged him closer, once more reassuringly rubbing his back, his hair. "But I am, buddy. I'm right here, and I won't go again, I promise. You're safe now."
 
Starsky didn't seem to hear. The distress in his voice increasing, he continued, "I thought I'd never see you again. I thought I'd die and you... you'd never know what happened or where I am."
 
"But you didn't die," Hutch soothed. "I found you and I brought you home."
 
More shuddering breaths revealed his partner's tears finally falling. "I-I thought..." he started in a strained whimper, but couldn't finish as a sob broke him off.
 
"Shhh, shhh, buddy, please, calm down," Hutch pleaded. "It's okay, everything's okay. You're out of there, you're home, with me, and I won't let anything happen to you."
 
Starsky sniffed, but really tried his best to regain control. Yet he couldn't help his body reacting to the sudden freedom of his mind, and despite his efforts, he was soon crying softly, but helplessly.
 
His heart breaking for his friend, Hutch turned sideways so he could fully hug his friend again. For some time he just held him, sometimes muttered a soothing word or two, but mostly just let Starsky draw all the comfort from the physical contact he needed. And finally Starsky did need it again. Finally, he clung again.
 
Finally, Hutch could do something.
 
After quite some time, Starsky gently pushed away from Hutch, wiping his eyes that he averted, embarrassed. The shivers had subsided, and he was visibly spent, but also visibly over the shock.
 
When he shyly looked up into his friend's concern-filled eyes, he smiled wryly and sniffed as if to underline his following words. "If you ever tell anyone I said that, I'll kill you, but I think I needed that."
 
Hutch laughed softly and used his thumb to playfully wipe away a few remaining tearstains under Starsky's eye. "I'll try to remember that."
 
Starsky sniffed again, then sat back a bit, not too far away, though, and drew in a deep breath. It was obvious that he felt just weird, not quite like himself again, but he was fully alert now.
 
Hutch just looked at him silently, giving him time to regain his composure.
 
"I think you coming in sort of... triggered something," Starsky finally said quietly, without looking at Hutch, who just nodded. "In... back in... uhm..." He couldn't find the right words.
 
"In Malcolm's apartment?" Hutch offered.
 
At the mention of the name, Starsky shuddered. "Yes. There. When... when Mal... when he was gone, I would try to remember my... life, you know. Job and home and you, of course, and... Well, sometimes I imagined what it'd be like if you found me, so... I guess when you really stepped in..." He smiled as if joking.
 
Hutch watched, his brows arched in sympathy. 
 
Starsky shot him a quick glance, then looked down again. "I'm so glad you found me." He slightly shook his head. "You've no idea."
 
"Hey," Hutch said softly at the shudder grabbing his friend's shoulder and reached out to gently squeeze it. Absently, Starsky laid his own hand on top of Hutch's there, kept the contact for a moment and drew away again.
 
"It's okay now, buddy. I'm here."
 
Starsky nodded, sighed and smiled up at Hutch. "Yes."
 
Returning the smile, Hutch waited a second, then carefully asked, "Can you tell me about it?"
 
A look of fear crossed Starsky's features but was quickly replaced by the understanding of a cop. He nodded absently. "Yeah. Uhm..." It took him a few moments to organize his thoughts, it seemed. To shield his emotions from the facts his words carried. 
 
"After the airport, I went to, uh, get you something," he finished and smiled sheepishly.
 
Hutch's brows flew up in surprise. "What?"
 
"Yeah, I bought you a teddy bear," Starsky said, the smile even widening a bit as he recalled his silly idea. "You know, because of what you'd told me. I really don't recall why I thought it'd be a good idea back then." He shrugged. 
 
"Wait a second," Hutch said, before his partner could go on. "Did Malcolm grab you before that?"
 
"No, in the store," Starsky answered. "I stopped at this toy store in-"
 
"Yeah," Hutch nodded, impatient. "We know where Malcolm worked. We talked to the owner." An expression of painful dismay settled on his features. "And you stopped there to buy a teddy for me?!"
 
Starsky nodded. "I thought it was funny back then," he offered lamely. "I think I really thought you'd like i-"
 
"This one?" Hutch interrupted him, producing the bear he'd picked up at the precinct from behind his back where it'd lain forgotten on the couch. 
Surprised, Starsky lifted his brows and reached out to grab the bear as if he needed to study it closer to tell. "Yeah," he finally said and looked at Hutch. "Yeah, that's the one. Where d'you get it?"
 
"Tim Graham," Hutch answered. "When I was away."
 
Starsky frowned. "Why?"
 
"I wanted to show it to you so you'd see you're home, because it would have scared you, and you maybe would have seen that the teddy didn't belong here, since you'd only seen it in Malcolms apartment, and I knew you knew that this isn't Malcolms apartment, even though you thought it wasn't home, either."
 
At the high-speed explanation, Starsky stared at Hutch for a moment, then nodded slowly. "Good thinking."
 
"Thanks," Hutch replied dryly. "I'm glad I didn't have to, though."
 
"Me too," Starsky said and smiled slightly. "I don't think I would have liked it as much."
 
Hutch returned the smile affectionately and once more briefly touched Starsky's shoulder, but turned serious again as his gaze wandered down to the bear in his partner's hands. "And in the store, what happened?"
 
All playfulness vanished from Starsky's face. His gaze dropped. "Malcolm happened."
 
Hutch waited patiently, and after a moment, Starsky continued his story. "I didn't think he was dangerous, Hutch. Maybe I should have," he added with a shrug, "but he really just seemed to be a harmless kid. A bit weird, but..." He trailed of as he remembered something. "He tried to hit on me. In the store. But..." He shook his head sadly. "You don't think people turn into psychos when they're turned down, do you?"
 
A very cold hand crept up Hutch's spine, the words 'rape examination' circling in his head. He swallowed dryly and asked, as quiet as he could muster, "M-Malcolm was attracted to you?"
 
A dark shadow settled on Starsky's face, he didnt look at Hutch. "He kept saying he liked me." He paused, then nodded. "Yes, I guess you could say he was attracted to me. At first."
 
"And later?" Hutch asked dreadfully.
 
It took Starsky some time to answer, but when he did, his voice seemed to lack all emotions. "I think, for him, it was... love," he finished. 

Hutch cringed, unseen.
 
Starsky shrugged, still staring down at the sofa cushion. "Yes, I think the way he saw it, he loved..." Frowning slightly as if he'd just thought of something, he trailed off and, after a moment, said, "It's hard to explain what he felt."
 
Hutch didn't understand the meaning of that, but he hadn't been really listening, anyway. Reaching out to gently lift his partner's face, he swallowed again, before saying very clearly, if shakily, "Starsk, I need to ask you something. And I want you to tell me the truth."
 
"Okay."
 
"Did... did Malcolm... did he do anything? I mean, like..." He trailed off, and tried again. "You know the doctor at the hospital suspected you'd been raped."
 
"I noticed," Starsky replied grimly, but at the expression on his friend's face instantly shook his head and reached out to touch Hutch's shoulder as if wanting to comfort him. "No, Hutch, he didn't rape me. Honest. Nothing of the kind happened."
 
Hutch looked at him closely, not yet convinced. 
 
"That's the truth," Starsky insisted. "Believe me. I'd tell you."
 
"He didn't do anything?"
 
"No."
 
"He didn't touch you?"
 
"No. Uhm... not really," Starsky answered and averted his eyes.
 
Appalled, Hutch grabbed his shoulders. "What does that mean? What exactly did he do?"
 
Starsky didn't answer right away. Hutch could see him clench his jaws.
 
"Starsk?"
 
"It's..." Starsky started, but thought different and slid a bit away so that Hutch had to lower his hands. He drew in a deep breath and said, "It's hard to explain. That is, actually it's simple, but... weird," he smiled bitterly. "It was weird." 
 
After a pause, he looked up at Hutch. "Malcolm didn't like me the way you like another human being, you understand?"
 
Hutch frowned, but listened.
 
"He didn't do anything, he just talked to me and looked at me and, yes, occasionally he touched me, but not..." Again, he broke off. "I don't know how to explain it."
 
Hutch's eyes narrowed as he tried to follow his friend. "Wait a second, wait a second. He looked at you and talk... Like what, he sat down in front of you and just... talked?!"
 
"Yes," Starsky nodded. "Exactly. And he didn't like it when I spoke. He made that very clear," he added gravely.
 
Hutch winced in shared pain. 
 
"There were a few things he didn't like, and as long as I didn't do those, he didn't hurt me. He didn't want to hurt me, I really think so. He just wanted to have something to talk to and to look at."
 
Hutch was so shocked, he didn't register the 'something'. "Oh God," he breathed and couldn't help reaching out to briefly hug his friend again. "God, Starsk, I'm so sorry. That must have been horrible."
 
"It was," Starsky muttered quietly, when Hutch let go again. 
 
"And you couldn't move at all? He just had you sitting somewhere all day long?"
 
"Hm-mm," Starsky nodded. He'd grown increasingly subdued, as if he was inwardly withdrawing from Hutch again.
 
Hutch studied him for a moment as silence settled, then leaned back against the headrest as if drained from hearing the facts. "If I ever get that bastard, I'll-"
 
"You don't have him?" Starsky cut him off. 
 
Hutch hesitated and sighed. "No," he admitted. "We don't even know where he is."
 
"Wha... Bu... But how did you find me then?" Starsky asked, clearly becoming agitated.
 
Softening his voice as he misinterpreted Starsky's reaction, Hutch told him about the call and his theory of Malcolm having believed he'd killed his captive.
 
When he'd ended, he was surprised to see a look of devastation in his friend's blue eyes. "Starsk? What is it?"
 
"Are you sure about that?" Starsky asked, his voice a mere whisper. "That he thought he'd killed me?"
 
"Well, uhm, it's the only logical explanation," Hutch answered and watched his partner for a few moments, before he gently squeezed his shoulder again. "But, hey, buddy, we'll get him. Don't worry. He won't get near you again."
 
Starsky glanced up at him. The ghost of a smile rushed over his features, but was swallowed by the darkness spreading there. 
 
"I promise," Hutch assured, unable to know the true source for the pain he saw reflected in Starsky's eyes. "He won't hurt you again."
 
"Yeah," Starsky muttered tiredly and stood to get his glass of water from the ground. It looked more like he just wanted to get away from Hutch. "Yeah, sure."
 
Hutch watched in confused silence, then asked, "Want me to get you fresh water? This sat there all afternoon."
 
"No," Starsky replied without looking at him and turned for the kitchen. "Let me get it myself."
 
Hutch frowned, but didn't say anything. 
 
As he emptied the glass over the sink, Starsky watched in silence, then put the glass away. 
 
"Didn't you want new water?" Hutch asked, when his friend returned to the couch, where he came to a halt next to it.
 
"No," Starsky said. "I just wanted to do something myself."
 
Hutch was about to say something, but Starsky cut him off. "I'm tired. D'you want me to sleep on the couch?"
 
At the quiet tone, Hutch frowned, but, glad that he had his friend back at all, didn't want to push him. "No, take the bed."
 
"`Kay," Starsky muttered and turned. "Thanks. Night."
 
Hutch stood up. "Hey, buddy?"
 
To his surprise, Starsky flinched, but turned around to face him. "Yeah?"
 
"It's good to have you back," Hutch said and smiled warmly.
 
Starsky opened his mouth, closed it, visibly tried to smile, but stopped when he found he just couldn't. The final answer was so soft it was almost a whisper. 
 
"Thanks for having me."
 
And with that he turned and headed for bed.
 
Somehow, Hutch though as he sat back on the couch, frowning to himself, it had sounded sarcastic, that reply.
 
 *****
 
And the sarcasm stayed.
 
The next day was filled with healing-routine, as Starsky finally stayed in bed, exhausted anyway from his unhealthy behavior beforehand; and Hutch bathed in the comfort he himself took in fussing over his friend. Under his ever hawk-like observation, Starsky took his pain medication, ate what was put in front of him, drank lots of fluids and was all in all the obedient, if grumpy, patient he always was.
 
Well, maybe a bit grumpier than usual, Hutch had to admit, as he returned to the bedroom to check on his resting friend after talking to Dobey on the phone. It was already dark outside; Starsky had slept almost all day, but when Hutch carefully sneaked closer to the bed, he found his partner sitting up in bed, casting him a calm look.
 
"Hey," Hutch smiled warmly. "How're you feeling?"
 
Starsky didn't return the smile. "What did Dobey say?"
 
The smile faded slightly, as Hutch raised his brows questioningly.
 
"About you taking my statement," Starsky explained grimly. "I heard you on the phone. So, what d'he say?"
 
Watching him, trying to figure out where the annoyance he could hear came from, Hutch hesitated, then slowly sat down on the edge of the bed, so that he was on eye level with his friend. "He said it's okay."
 
Starsky nodded mutely and dropped his gaze.
 
"Is it not okay with you?" Hutch asked in honest surprise.
 
Starsky sighed slightly and looked up again. "No, of course it is. I just don't like being treated like I can't make decisions on my own."
 
Dismayed at the accusation, Hutch opened his mouth, but was kept from defending his actions by his friend's continued rambling.
 
"I'm a cop too. I know how important my statement is. I'm the only witness in this case."
 
"I just wanted to make this easier for you," Hutch said apologetically. "I didn't mean to imply you're not capable of deciding on your own." He frowned as he listened to his own words, true hurt creeping into his eyes. "I would never do that."
 
Starsky looked at him, opened his mouth, thought different and averted his eyes.
 
Hutch waited, but when no response came, quietly asked, "D'you want someone else to do this?"
 
"No," Starsky replied in small voice as if ashamed. "Sorry for lashing out at you."
 
The frown on the blond's forehead deepened, but he quickly forced it away, concern nagging at him at his friend's strange change of mood.
 
"Hey no sweat," he said lightly and nudged Starsky's arm.
 
His friend looked up again, presenting him with a shy smile.
 
"So," Hutch said, "you haven't answered my question yet. How're you feeling?"
 
"Better," Starsky nodded.
 
"Hungry?"
 
Starsky widened his smile, but froze, when a thought hit him.
 
Hutch, though, had already started to answer the reply. "Okay, then how about you go grab a shower, if you feel up to it, while I go get you something to ea... Starsk?" Furrowing his forehead at the sudden change in his partner's expression, he bent in closer to lightly touch his shoulder.
 
Starsky flinched.
 
"Hey, easy, buddy. What is it?"
 
Glancing up at Hutch, Starsky visibly worked on regaining control and flashed his friend the ghost of a smile. "Nothing," he winked. "Nothing. Just... could we do this statement thing right now? Please?"
 
Surprised, Hutch frowned. "Are you sure?"
 
"Yes," Starsky nodded eagerly. 
 
Though concerned at the openly pleading look Starsky cast him, Hutch hesitantly agreed with an affirming "hm" and stood to get a tape recorder.
 
When he returned to again sit down on the edge of the bed, tape recorder between them, he gazed at his friend encouragingly. "I'm right here, buddy."
 
Starsky closed his eyes, a gesture eerily looking like a suppressed flinch, and nodded gratefully. He didn't open them again until he was through with the facts.
 
And only facts they were. His quiet, calm tone never changed, as he told Hutch and the recorder how exactly hed met Malcolm, what had happened after hed woken up in Malcolm's apartment and that that had been the last time he'd been allowed to talk at all. He mentioned the force-feeding, his being sick because of that and the punishment he'd received for that.
 
When he used only one sentence to resume Malcolm's talking to him over the whole six days, Hutch interrupted him, though.
 
"Wait," he said softly as if not wanting to startle his friend.
 
Starsky opened his eyes.
 
"D'you remember what exactly he told you?"
 
"No," Starsky replied instantly, knowing full well Hutch would as immediately know he was lying.
 
They exchanged a brief look, and the blond nodded slightly. "Okay."
 
Knowing his friend sensed his gratefulness, Starsky took up his telling again until he finished with the incident on the last day of his captivity that had led to him ending up in a heap on the floor.
 
About being "Buddy" instead of Dave Starsky he had kept his silence. About his motives for staying alive too. To spare Hutch more grief than necessary, he told himself, though, somehow, he knew there was another reason for his not telling. A reason he himself didn't want to think about just now.
 
"You know the rest," was his final sentence, and he looked up at Hutch again, but only for a second. The heartache reflected in his friend's eyes was simply unbearable.
 
Hutch waited a few seconds, visibly having to catch himself, then softly cleared his throat and asked, "You told me he did touch you occasionally. How?"
 
Starsky's gaze dropped instantly. He hadn't said much about the times when Malcolm had not hurt him, anyway.
 
When a long silence had passed, Hutch pushed the stop-button on the recorder, but didn't say anything, just continued waiting in patient silence.
 
After another few seconds, Starsky quietly asked, "D'you know how old grannies tend to... stroke their cats, while they're sitting at the window, gazing outside?"
 
Hutch didn't answer.
 
"That's how he touched me. When he sat with me."
 
Feeling the shock washing through Hutch as if he could hear it, Starsky looked away, not wanting to see the pain he'd just caused his friend. He gave Hutch a moment, then glanced at him again. "And I don't want that to be in the report." He paused, and when Hutch didn't answer fast enough, asked, "Okay, Hutch?"
 
"Yeah," Hutch breathed and again had to clear his throat, as his voice seemed to continue to fail him. "Sure. Sure. We won't record anything you don't... want to."
 
He locked eyes with his friend for a moment, then turned to fumble busily with the recorder to rewind the tape, so that he could delete his question.
 
Starsky could see his hands tremble slightly, but didnt comment on that. All of a sudden, he felt utterly drained. As if he'd just talked all night long. Or like you felt after a huge, loud fight, when you started to regret the things you'd said, but were still too angry for an apology. At the same time, the sight of his friend visibly trying to control his own emotions after hearing the story of insanity Starsky had just provided him with, sent a wave of protectiveness rushing through him.
 
"Hey," he said softly and brushed against Hutch's fingers on the recorder.
 
The blond head all but snapped up. "Yeah?"
 
"We're through here, right?" He didn't wait for an answer. "So what about the dinner you were going to promise me?"
 
Grateful understanding mixing with guilt on his face, Hutch flashed him a smile, then looked back down at the recorder and up again. A moment of silence passed.
 
"I'm so sorry this happened to you," Hutch finally said quietly, his eyes locked with Starsky's. "I'm so incredibly sorry. I wish I had returned earlier. Or started searching, when I found out you weren't home. Or never left in the first place." His gaze sadly dropped again.
 
Starsky watched, instinctively reaching out to offer support, but froze suddenly, not sure what was causing his hesitation. Puzzled, he found his friend's words somehow made him angry. As if Hutch purposely failed to see the true nature of what had happened. As if he purposely failed to acknowledge the real tragedy.
 
He knew that wasn't the case, Hutch couldn't possibly know, but still... It did irritate Starsky, he couldn't help it.
 
So instead of saying what he thought, too, that Hutch didn't have to apologize, that none of the things that had happened were his fault, Starsky simply slid out of bed to slowly walk past his surprised friend to the bathroom. In as toneless a voice as hed used for his statement, he quietly announced, "I'm gonna take a bath" and, without turning around again, closed the bathroom door behind himself.
 
Hutch remained on the edge of the bed, watching after his friend, startled.  'What d'I say?' he wondered, frowning, unnerved at the feeling of guilt spreading inside him, as if he should know what had caused his friend's sudden cold behavior.
 
His gaze falling back down to the recorder, he felt himself wince, as if it was a torturing device he was looking at. 'Well, we're all shaken up, aren't we?'
 
He sighed, briefly rubbed his eyes, pressed the record-button and declared the statement to be over, along with the date and time. He was just done, when the bathroom door opened again and a bare-footed Starsky tapped into the room again, avoiding looking at Hutch, when he asked, "Lend me some clothes?"
 
"Sure," Hutch answered instantly and walked out to his wardrobe.
 
When passing the open bathroom door, he froze in mid-step, as he heard water pouring into the bathtub. Instinctively stepping into the room, he stared at the steaming water slowly filling the tub and briefly closed his eyes.
 
'Can't take a shower, can you, buddy?' he thought sadly and winced, one hand flying up to wipe his eyes, when he recalled the incident the day before.  'He thought I was going to punish him. That's why he crawled into the shower... Aw shit, Starsk.'
 
"Hutch?"
 
Jumping at the sudden voice behind him, Hutch whirled around to meet Starsky's expectant look, before his friend strolled past him to sit down on the edge of the tub, feeling the waters temperature with one hand.
When Hutch didn't make any attempt at leaving the room again, but just remained where he was, frowning at the steam that swirled over the half-filled tub like fog, Starsky shot him an annoyed glance. "Hutch. Clothes?"
 
"Huh?" Hutch muttered, snapping out of his trance-like state and flashed Starsky a faint smile, accompanied by a small "sure". But instead of going to get the promised clothes, he stepped in further, until he stood right next to his friend and again stared at the water than ran onto Starsky's hand.
 
He could actually feel the heat radiating from it. Still frowning, he, too, reached out.
 
"Careful," Starsky said casually, not even looking at him. "It's hot."
 
While he shot him a confused, unnerved look, Hutch's hand reached the water. Instantly, he yelped.
 
"Ow! Damn it!"
 
Glancing up like a bored parent, Starsky shrugged. "Told ya it's hot."
 
Rubbing his hand, Hutch stared at him incredulously, then quickly turned the water off.
 
"Hey!" Starsky exclaimed, irritated and was already reaching out to turn it on again, but only to find his hand caught by Hutch. Really enraged by now, he glared up into the concerned eyes of his friend.
 
"What the hell are you doing?!" Hutch asked, his own voice colored with adrenaline-caused anger. "This is scalding hot!"
 
Unimpressed, Starsky met his gaze. "Let go."
 
Frowning in surprise at that, Hutch loosened his grip on Starsky's hand, but not enough for the other one to draw it back. Instead, it was only turned over, so Hutch could check it for burns.
 
"Jeez, Starsk, what d'you think you are, a lobster?! What were you thinking?"
 
Finally being able to free his hand, Starsky practically jerked it away. "I wanted warm water," he said. "For a change."
 
Even though his friend's voice was ice cold, Hutch felt his heart breaking at the words and had to avert his eyes for a moment, before he turned back and turned the water on again. Cold this time.
 
Starsky followed his action and opened his mouth, but only to be kept by the Hutchinson Warning Finger making an appearance. "It'll be warm enough."
 
When Starsky grimly clenched his jaws, Hutch gave a small sigh and stood to leave the room. "I'll bring you some clo-"
 
"Liar."
 
The muttered word was enough to have Hutch wheel around again, eyes wide. "What was that?"
 
Glaring at him in defiance, Starsky repeated clearly, "Liar. You said you'd never think I'm not able to make my own decisions."
 
Completely taken off guard, Hutch just stared at him. "Wha... bu... Starsk, y-you can't mean... For crying out loud, the water was fucking boiling! D'you want to kill yourself or what?"
 
Starsky didn't answer. He didn't look away, though.
 
And for some reason, ice cold fear crept up Hutch's spine. Lowering his voice, he quietly asked, "What is this about? You're not mad at me for messing up your water, are you?"
 
"I just," Starsky replied after a pause, "don't like to be treated like that."
 
"Like what?!" Hutch exclaimed helplessly. "I'm not aware of me 'treating' you like anything! I just don't want you to hurt yourself."
 
"And if I want to hurt myself?!" Starsky shot back, he suddenly increased his volume enough to send Hutch a step back, involuntarily.
 
There was a rage-filled, very short silence hanging between them like the steam had before. Hutch stared at his friend in confused shock, feeling as if something precious, fragile was slipping out of his grasp.
 
"And do you?" he asked softly and when no immediate answer came, added, "Want to hurt yourself?"
 
Starsky swallowed, appearing, Hutch thought puzzled, somewhat scared. "No," he finally said. "I want you to leave my water alone."
 
Hutch couldn't help but let go off a helpless huff at that. "Starsk, that's-"
 
"And I don't want to discuss this now" Starsky cut him off and stood, all but storming past Hutch to the dresser, where he got himself a sweat-shirt and pants, then returned. He never even looked at Hutch, who stared after him in puzzled appall.
 
"Would you please?" Starsky asked, when he was next to the tub again, turning off the water.
 
"Uhm... I-I..." Hutch stammered, but bit his lip and slowly stepped backwards until he reached the door. "I'll be in the kitchen."
 
"Whatever," Starsky replied, turned, without meeting his friend's eyes, and all but threw the door shut into Hutch's face.
 
The blond stood, his nose almost touching the door, and blinked, feeling as if he'd just woken from a nightmare.
 
'What the hell was that?!'
 
After a few seconds, he lifted his hand to knock, but thought different and turned, slowly making his way to the breakfast counter, where he rested both hands onto it and closed his eyes, taking deep breaths as he tried to calm himself. To get a grip at the knot of thoughts that tumbled like loose stones inside his head. What did he feel? Was he confused? Appalled? Angry? Understanding? All of it?
 
'How the hell dare he say I'm lying to him?! What the hell's going on with him?!'
 
But, though this inner ranting somewhat eased the piled up distress he felt choking him, Hutch couldn't help hearing yet another voice answering. 
 
'What's going on with him? He's just returned from living hell! Great friend you are, yelling at him like that! Not 36 hours ago he was hiding from you in a corner, and here you are, being angry at him?! D'you think that's what he needs right now?'
 
As if for an answer, Hutch shook his head tiredly and, going into routine, started to make coffee.
 
'If he needs to be angry, let him. It'll pass. You don't know what he's been through. You know he didn't tell you everything! Just give him time. If you're going to react like this every time he snaps at you, maybe you should consider leaving dealing with him to some 'trained staff' after all.'
 
The longer it went on, the more he knew he was right. Starsky needed him to be strong, not taken aback at every comment that might slip his tongue. Hell, he'd dealt with his friend in stressful situations before, so why did it feel so different this time?!
 
That answer he knew too, of course, but it wasn't one he was going to acknowledge. Closing his eyes tiredly, he flinched, when the image of a dead Starsky in Malcolm Watters' apartment instantly flashed up like a slide show inside his head. Opening them again, he shook his head as if to clear it, poured himself a cup of coffee and leaned against the breakfast counter, bathroom door in sight.
 
No, he wouldn't go there. He wouldn't go anywhere too far for him to reach out and catch Starsky.

****

When Starsky stepped out of the bathroom in Hutch's clothes that, as always, looked on him as if he was wearing his big brother's ones, Hutch had finished preparing something he hoped Starsky would be able to keep down and was, once more, leaning against the counter, fresh cup of coffee in hands.
 
"Hey."
 
Either not hearing or not caring, Starsky strolled past the kitchen, the sound of naked feet on the ground his only answer.
 
Hutch sighed quietly, but didn't follow him. Instead, he put his coffee cup aside, waited for a few moments, then tried again. "Starsk?"
 
This time, he was rewarded with an answer, followed by physical presence. "Yeah?"
 
"Feeling better?" Hutch asked, trying his best to keep a light tone.
 
"Hm-mm," Starsky muttered unenthusiastically, as he strolled over to his friend, but only to pick up his coffee as if to inspect it.
 
Following the action with his gaze, Hutch asked, "Still hungry?"
 
Starsky didn't answer, seemingly trying to hypnotize the coffee he softly swirled in the cup.
 
"Starsk?" Hutch asked after a moment and gently touched his friend's shoulder, a gesture that only resulted in Starsky backing away and turning to head for the couch, Hutch's coffee coming with him.
 
Unsure what to make of his friend's suddenly subdued behavior, Hutch remained where he was, studying the back of the curly head with a concerned frown. "I made some soup," he finally stated, the trivial information eerily sounding like an important question.
 
Starsky didn't answer. He didn't drink the coffee either, but Hutch could see him slide over into a far corner of the couch, drawing his knees up.
 
"I would've made something else," he continued and pushed himself off the breakfast counter to follow his friend. "But you still have to take meals light."
 
"No, no, `sokay," Starsky replied tiredly, almost sadly. "Soup's fine. Thanks Hutch."
 
Frowning at the tone, Hutch finally crossed the whole distance between them and sat down next to him on the couch, concerned at the sudden change. If his partner had been a snapping pain in the ass before, now he was just one miserable looking heap, huddled into the cushioned corner, holding the coffee cup with both hands to his nose like a kid holding hot comfort chocolate.
 
And though he knew it was probably wrong to go with the patient's mood changes, Hutch just couldn't fight a wave of paternal concern hitting him at the sight. His friend's child-like appearance always did that to him. Reflex.
 
Routine.
 
"Buddy, hey, what is it?" he asked softly and reached out to gently nudge Starsky's shoulder. "You okay?"
 
Starsky didn't look at him, but he didn't flinch, either. "I'm sorry," he muttered and seemed to curl up even more, his face half hidden behind the cup.
 
'Now, that was fast...'  Hutch thought with dry humor, as he once more reached out and softly rubbed Starsky's arm. "Whatever for?"
 
Starsky half shrugged, but stopped himself as if not wanting to shake off Hutch's hand. He shot the blond the briefest of guilty looks and with a deep sigh settled for staring into the cup again. He was so much the perfect picture of a confused, regretful little boy that Hutch found himself fighting the urge to simply wrap him in a protecting hug, to shield him from all the dangerous, confusingly evil world outside.
 
Yet the partner-part of him knew that it was not a hurt kid sitting next to him, but a hurt adult, someone whod been robbed control over his life, who'd been scared to the very core of his self.
 
A hug wouldn't do it, and protection wasn't what Starsky needed right now.
 
"You gonna drink that coffee or inhale it?" he finally asked in a light tone, hoping for a relaxing moment, a smile, something that'd start a conversation about what had brought on Starsky's sudden change of mood.
 
What he got, though, was the coffee back, without a word or a glance, simply an outstretch of Starsky's hand.
 
"Uh... thanks," Hutch muttered disappointedly and for a moment studied the cold brew as if there were any answers to be found in there. At last, he put the cup onto the table and turned to his friend with a concerned frown.
 
"Starsk, what is it?"
 
Having been robbed of his 'comfort cup', Starsky had started to fumble with the sleeves of Hutch's sweater, but at the straight-forward question, he let his hands fall into his lap as if annoyed and turned to look at Hutch. "I had a flashback, `kay? Happy?" he snapped, but instantly averted his eyes, when the blond arched his brows in obvious heartache.
 
"Sorry about the mess in there," Starsky continued, wearily waving at the bathroom door. "Wanted to wipe the water away, but, uhm..." Ashamed, he ducked his head. "My arms sorta still hurt."
 
On cue, Hutch rubbed a gentle hand down Starsky's right arm and sighed. "What d'you do?"
 
Starsky closed his eyes briefly, drawing in a shaky breath, as if he needed to brace himself. When he spoke, though, his voice was filled with bitter sarcasm that sent an ice cold wave down Hutch's spine.
 
"Found me a corner to sit in, what else?" He paused, shrugged and slowly got to his feet, Hutch watching after him in dismay. "I'm tired."
 
"Hey, wait," Hutch held him back, standing up also. At Starsky's questioning look, he seemed to search for words, and finally said more or less helplessly, "We should talk about this."
 
"What's there to talk about?" Starsky replied casually, as if the prospect of the suggested action bored him. "The traumatized victim freaked. Big deal."
 
"Starsk-"
 
"Sorry I flooded your bathroom," Starsky cut him off dryly and turned for the bedroom. "Night, Hutch."
 
"Starsky, wait!" Hutch called after him and started to head after him, but was stopped by his friend wheeling around again angrily.
 
"Let it be, Hutch, will ya?! I don't want to talk to you right now, will you please accept that? I'm not in the mood for your 'it's all gonna be okay, give it time'-kinda crap, so either you leave me the hell alone now, or I'm outta here."
 
Taken off guard by the outburst, Hutch stared at him, but after a split second closed his open mouth, surrendering, and gestured for Starsky to go ahead.
 
With a grim nod, Starsky turned his back on Hutch and walked to the bed.  He crawled in between the covers without looking back, effectively dismissing Hutch.
 
Then silence.
 
Exhausted, Hutch rubbed his face and headed for the bathroom to clean up.

****

There were no apologies the next day. Actually, there wasn't much talking, anyway, from Starsky's side. Most of the time he stayed in bed, curled up on his side, and when Hutch had finally managed to coax him out of there, he made a point out of curling up on the couch instead and only stood up, when Hutch practically begged him to eat something.
 
Each and every sentence he directed at the blond was accompanied with a snapped, bitter comment, until Hutch reduced talking to a minimum also, so that tensed silence hung thickly in the place, making it hard for the blond to even breathe.
 
Two more days passed in the same manner, and Hutch was close to throwing Starsky out at last; but he felt something he couldn't quite point a finger at, that kept him from doing so. Deep down inside he knew the true reason for his almost frantic fear of leaving Starsky, but it was this knowledge that also told him to not acknowledge it. It would do something to him he wouldn't be able to deal with by his own, he knew that. And it didn't look like there was much help to be expected from his friend.
 
When Starsky was lethargic and spent his days lying in grim silence, Hutch was working hard, seemingly busy to learn Malcolm Watters' files by heart. At times it occurred to him that he was reacting like Starsky should have, but then he couldn't help thinking that he had something to take revenge for also. So he continued to make endless rows of phone calls, trying to follow Watters' trail.
 
He spoke to Watters' doctors, and he never failed to keep Dobey updated. Actually it seemed as if, since Starsky was so obviously disinterested in his own case, Hutch had chosen to instead work on it with his Captain, though, of course, it always was one-sided phone calls.
 
But Dobey let his detective ramble on about theories where Malcolm might have gone, sensing that there was something going on at Venice Place that slowly, but steadily took its toll on Hutch. He hadn't ordered the blond to return to work, but had allowed him to stay away as long as Starsky would need to cure his injuries, but when talking to Hutch, he couldn't help thinking that maybe that had been a wrong idea after all.
 
For once, staying with Starsky seemed to be no good for Hutch. Or, in harsher, but truer words, it seemed to destroy him.
 
"Hey, what're you doing?"
 
Surprised at the hearing Starsky's voice, and a question directed at him as that, Hutch's head snapped up. He was sitting at the kitchen table, bowed over some files he compared with what hed written down the day before, cold coffee next to him, and at the sight of Starsky shuffle over to sit down next to him, a shy smile broke free on his lips.
 
"Just g-going through these files again," he answered and quickly stood to pour his friend a cup of coffee too. Placing it in front of Starsky, clearing the table of all the paper in the motion, he sat down again. "Had a nice nap?"
 
Starsky shot him a glance, but didn't answer. Instead, he stared at the files disapprovingly. "Hard to get some shut-eye with all the shoving paper around behind me."
 
"Sorry," Hutch smiled playfully, though Starsky's tone hadn't been light. Picking up his coffee, he leaned back, stretching his aching back a bit. "I could do with a pause, anyway. You hungry?"
 
"No." Starsky shook his head, not looking at Hutch, but frowning at a paper he'd picked up. "You called England?!" he stated in disbelief.
"Isn't that a rather long shot?"
 
Hutch shrugged. "We have a witness who stated he saw Watters at the airport in Seattle. It was worth a try. Gotta follow all the leads, right?"
 
"And?"
 
"Uh, no, he wasn't on that plane," Hutch admitted regretfully.
 
"So you just wasted your time."
 
Frowning, Hutch studied his friend for a moment, before he answered, "I wouldn't put it like that. It was a lead after all."
 
"Right," Starsky nodded sarcastically and dropped the sheet of paper, as if he'd just lost interest in it. "So... where d'you start now?"
 
"I don't have to start," Hutch replied, the tone of the conversation starting to concern him. "We'll just have to follow the other leads we got from Seattle."
 
Starsky made a big show out of nodding in understanding. "I see. And when you get him," he added after a moment, frowning like an over-interested pupil, obviously making fun of Hutch, "what then?"
 
"What kind of a question is that?" Hutch exclaimed.
 
Mockingly surprised at the tone, Starsky shrugged. "Just wondering what you're gonna do, when you finally got your Dr. Kimble. It seems your life doesn't consist of anything else than hunting a sick kid these days."
 
At a loss for words, Hutch stared at him.
 
"I mean," Starsky continued with a cruel smile and picked up his coffee for the first sip, "honest, Hutch, why're you so obsessed with finding Mal? Wanna return me?"
 
Hutch was off his chair like a shot, and for a split second, Starsky had flinched away in real fear of being punched.
 
In the aftermath of the action, though, Starsky settled for expectantly lifting his brows at his friend, who stood, panting from shocked anger, half bent over the table. A moment passed, the fury in Hutch's eyes being replaced with honest, crushing pain at what he saw reflected in Starsky's.
 
"H-how..." he stammered finally and sank back into his chair, as if all energy had been pressed out of him like air. Broken. He hushed himself to draw in a shaky breath. When he spoke again, his voice was merely a whisper. "How can you say that to me?"
 
Starsky didn't answer, but his gaze dropped.
 
Hutch stared at him, anger rising again, as the first shock ebbed away. "Where d'you get off saying something like that to me?! What the fuck is your problem?!"
 
Starsky's head snapped up, the fury in his eyes matching the one in Hutch's. "You want to know what my problem is, Hutch?! My problem is that I told you about Mal-"
 
"Stop calling him Mal!" Hutch interrupted him in an almost yell. "Stop talking about him like he was your friend!"
 
Starsky looked at him hard and with exaggerated emphasis continued, "I told you about Malcolm, and after everything you heard you still only think of getting him. Like he was your regular bust of the month!"
 
Puzzled, Hutch shook his head as if to clear it. "So what, you don't want him to be arrested for what he did to you?"
 
"I didn't say that," Starsky replied, unnerved.
 
"Then what exactly DID you say?"
 
Starsky opened his mouth, closed it and dropped his gaze, searching for words. Finally, he said, "I want you to leave the kid alone."
 
It took all Hutch had not to simply explode. "There! You do it again! 'The kid'! Like he's a five-year-old who crashed a window!"
 
When Starsky didn't look at him, Hutch grabbed his arm, a bit rough, but he couldnt help it. All the suppressed anger seemed on the edge of breaking free, and he simply couldn't stop it.
 
"Damn it, look at me! This 'kid' is an insane, dangerous person. What he did to you, he might do again. You keep telling me you're a cop, you can make decisions of your own, blah, blah, well, then start acting like a cop! If you don't want him for what he did to you, at least think about the next victim!"
 
Starsky jerked his arm free. "There won't be any next victims."
 
"How do you know that?!"
 
"Because I know him!" Starsky yelled and, out of the urge to move, stood up, taking a few steps into the room, before he turned to look at Hutch again. "I know this guy better than he knows himself. He won't get himself another Bu..." He bit his lip, swallowed, and finished in a lower voice, "It won't happen again."
 
Hutch shook his head in disbelief at his friend's words. "God, Starsk, what's going on with you? We're talking about an insane criminal who beat you half dead, who tormented you for six days... How can you want him to get away with that?!"
 
To Hutch's dismay, Starsky gave a short, bitter laugh. "You still don't understand, do you?" he said hard, and before Hutch could answer, added, "Malcolm believes he killed me, Hutch. Don't you think that's punishment enough?"
 
"No!" Hutch exclaimed and stood up too now, out of the same adrenalin rush as his partner had before. "No, I don't think so. And it's not about punishment, it's about protecting the citizens of this country, for crying out loud! A guy like Watters shouldn't be running around freely!"
 
Starsky made a mocking gesture. "'Protecting the citizenry'... C'mon, Hutch, who're you, Captain America? No one needs protection from Malcolm."
 
Hutch's mouth actually fell open at that.
 
"He's not of any threat to anyone," Starsky continued. "Believe me. He's broken," he added grimly and sighed, looking down. "I wouldn't be surprised if they find his body soon."
 
Silence followed, before Hutch, quietly now, asked, "You really believe that, don't you? You actually believe he will kill himself, because he thinks he killed you."
 
"Because he lost me, yes," Starsky muttered, but added with a sarcastic snort and a glance at his dismayed friend, "Wouldn't you be devastated too if you'd accidentally killed one of your plants?"
 
Hutch let go of a short breath and squeezed his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger in his typical stress gesture. When he looked at Starsky again, the pain in his eyes shone like unshed tears.
 
"What has he done to you?" he asked so softly it was almost a whisper.
 
Starsky didn't answer, didn't look. Instead, he turned and headed for the bedroom.
 
Hutch needed a moment to gather his wits, closed his eyes, drew in a bracing breath, finally followed his friend, whom he found stuffing the few clothes and stuff Hutch had brought him from his own place into a plastic bag.
 
"What're you doing?" Hutch asked gently.
 
"I'm going home."
 
"Why?" Hutch asked, fighting the sudden wave of panic washing
through him.
 
"Because I feel better," Starsky replied without looking. "I've been getting on your nerves long enough now. Tomorrow I'll go get this stupid health bill Dobey wants me to show to him, and then I'll be back at work."
 
He finished packing and, still not looking at Hutch, rushed past him to the front door. "Thanks for letting me stay. See you tomo-"
 
"Wait!" Hutch exclaimed and all but sprinted over to position himself between Starsky and the door. "You don't really think I'd let you go
like this, do you?"
 
"Hutch-"
 
"No! No, damn it! I've just had enough of this!"
 
Starsky shrugged. "That's why Im leaving, you know," he joked, but Hutch was on the verge of losing it.
 
"That's not funny."
 
With an exaggerated sigh, Starsky dropped his plastic bag and strolled back to the couch to sit down. "Okay, what?" he asked in an annoyed tone.
 
For a long time, Hutch just looked at him, working on things to say, and when he finally spoke, his voice was filled with pain, but determined. "I think you should get yourself some help."
 
Starsky snorted with bitter sarcasm. "You want me to see a shrink? That's nice, part."
 
Ignoring the tone, Hutch gave a grave nod. "Yes, I want you to see a shrink." Softening his voice, he stepped closer, but didn't sit down.
 
"You need help, buddy. More than I can offer," he added sadly, but his gaze snapped up again at Starsky's casual reply.
 
"Hey, no sweat. If you want me to do something, I'll do it. I'm used to other people running my life for me now."
 
Anger quickly rising again, Hutch drew in a calming breath, but still
Starsky continued his cruel answer, dark blue eyes shimmering like frozen lakes.
 
"Besides, I'd hate to make you admit me or something. We don't want them to tie me down again, do we?"
 
Hutch sighed in a strained attempt to stay calm, to not lash out at his partner. "Starsk..." he started, stopped as a thought hit him and started again, softly, but still standing where he was, looking down at his friend.
"Why are you defending Malcolm so much?"
 
Starsky rolled his eyes. "What, you're a shrink yourself now?"
 
"I just want to understand what's going on with you."
 
"Well, you can't," Starsky snapped. "Tough."
 
Hutch's eyes closed briefly as if by their own will. "Why're you doing this? God, why d'you have to keep treating me like I'm the enemy here? I'm only trying to help you. I'm not the one who did this to you. I'm not the one you hate, and you know tha-"
 
The rest of the pain filled sentence was abruptly cut off, as a glass, that had stood on the couch table, came flying in Hutch's direction. Only his fast reflexes prevented the blond from being hit; he'd been the direct target. Behind him, the glass hit the front door and shattered into a million pieces.
 
Eyes wide with shock and overwhelming fury, he stared at Starsky, who'd jumped to his feet when throwing the glass. His eyes were equally wide as he returned the stare, but in visible speed all anger vanished from them, as realization reached the surface.
 
"Oh my... Oh... God, Hutch, I-I'm sorry," he stammered and
swallowed. His voice was shaking as if he'd just woken from a nightmare. "I didn't mean... I... It was just you saying I hate Mal, and... I didn't really mean to-"
 
"Are you nuts?" Hutch interrupted him in a dangerously low voice and glanced over his shoulder at the mess than back. All understanding, all concern had left his expression and pure, uncontrolled rage dominated it now. "Are you nuts?!"
 
"I'm sorry," Starsky tried in a small voice. "I didn't think. I didn't mean to... I-"
 
"I give a damn what you meant!" Hutch cut him off again, his voice steadily climbing to a yell. "You just threw a glass at me! You didn't think?! Well, you sure as hell did act, partner!"
 
"Hutch-"
 
"No, you hear me out now!" Hutch yelled, ignoring the fact that Starsky shrank back into the corner of the couch again, huddling against the clear wrath he'd caused to break free. "I let you snap at me and lash out at me and all in all treat me like shit for much too long, I'm not going to take it any longer! I understand that you're messed up, I understand that what happened to you was horrible, and I understand that you can't deal with it, but I'm just here to help! I'm not responsible for any of this. I'm not Malcolm!!!"
 
At the particularly loud shout, Starsky ducked his head.
 
"Look at me!" Hutch ordered, and his partner instantly obeyed, fear evident on his face. Hutch ignored it.
 
"You've done nothing but try to hurt me ever since you snapped out of your trance, and I sure as hell understand that, but I'd be most grateful if you could at least not try to fucking kill me."
 
A pause followed, Hutch glaring down at his curled up friend, panting with rage. Starsky was so tensed he trembled, but though a wave of familiar protectiveness washed through Hutch, he couldn't back out now. He couldn't stop it now.
 
When he spoke again, his voice shook. Badly. "You know something, Starsk, I'm human too. I have feelings too. I've been hurt too."
 
Starsky blinked, surprised and appalled at the sudden change of tone in his friend's voice, but remained silent.
 
"I might not have had to endure what you had to, but I..." Hutch had to stop and swallow. When he went on, he couldn't look at Starsky. "I found you in that shitty place, and I thought you were dead. I looked under that blanket, and I saw you, and you were dead."
 
As the words broke free, they sped up, tumbled. As if a stream that'd been blocked for too long was allowed to finally go freely.
 
"And I've had to live with that... that image ever since! I have to live with seeing you dead in my dreams every night! Whenever I close my eyes I see you lying there under that blanket. Dead!"
 
He stopped and wiped his eyes with shaking hands, unaware of Starsky's shocked gaze.
 
"God, I'm so tired of all of this," Hutch muttered exhaustedly. "I'm so tired of seeing your corpse whenever I fall asleep." Finally, he looked at Starsky again. "D'you have any idea how much time I spent sitting next to the bed, just staring at you to make sure you're really alive?"
 
At that thought, as cruel a reaction as it was, Starsky had to shudder. He didn't let it on, though. But it fastened in his head, an idea that escaped his grasp and hid, ready to sneak out later.
 
"I know I shouldn't be whining about all this in front of you," Hutch continued, unaware of the effect of what he'd just revealed, "but maybe if you know I'm being punished enough, just like 'Mal', you can at least let me live."
 
At the bitterness in his friend's voice, Starsky cringed. "Hutch, I... I'm sorry, I-"
 
"I don't think I want to listen to this right now," Hutch cut him off in a mixture of tiredness and anger. After a last look, he sighed and turned.
 
"And I better go get some air now, before I say something I might regret later."
 
With that, he opened the front door.
 
"Hutch!" Starsky called after him in dismay. "I'm sorry."
 
"Save it, buddy." And he left.

****

However self-confident the words had sounded, the second Hutch heard the door fall shut behind him, he regretted them. He even stopped, eyes squeezed shut and fought against the urge to just sprint back and apologize to Starsky, to beg for forgiveness.
 
'What the hell've you been thinking?!'  he chided himself hatefully.  'He's been through hell, and you've got nothing to do but accuse him?! God, you're just such an ass, Hutchinson!'
 
But then he couldn't help the anger still roaring inside him, and with a deep breath he continued on his way. He didn't know where he wanted to go, just away, and after a short moment he found himself running.
 
'It might have been wrong, but oh damn!'  he answered the voice in his head as his speed only increased until he was sprinting down the small alleys he chose on his way.  'So I'm human, so I make mistakes. So I feel too!  I did mean that, I'm human too! I don't know who could've let this go by without losing it!'
 
But still the guilt seemed to increase along with his running. He had never meant to tell Starsky what had happened that day, that he'd actually thought he had found him dead. He had never meant for Starsky to know about any of this. Starsky had been through too much to be burdened with Hutch's nightmare also. But still... How much unjustified rage and bitterness and hateful comments was he supposed to endure? He knew it wasn't Starsky's fault, Starsky was one messed up person at the moment--with every right to be so--but he couldn't help thinking that, yes, he himself was too. It hadn't been a lie, he did see his friend's corpse every night. He did watch over Starsky's sleep. He couldn't remember the last time he himself had had any decent rest, and most of his obsessed work on the case was a result of fear of having time to think. 
 
Then there was Starsky's emotional handicap when it came to dealing with his own case that had--unjustifiably, but understandably--started to irritate Hutch ever since the beginning. It wasn't that he didn't want to punish Malcolm for what he did to Starsky, but if he was completely honest with himself, the truth was that he wanted Malcolm for what he'd done to him, Hutch. For placing that image hed never get rid of into his mind. For settling a fear inside him, so powerful it'd always be like a shadow over everything that concerned his partner. As if he would never again be able to think of Starsky without feeling what it was like to lose him too.
 
And if Starsky couldn't admit it, Hutch could-- he hated Malcolm Watters. With all his heart.
 
When he finally stopped, panting so much it hurt, and had to steady himself against a brick wall; hed run twenty blocks and there was moisture stinging in his eyes that wasn't only sweat.
 
The walk back home he spent overwhelmed with guilt as he'd run out of rage. The truth that had been in his words seemed to have faded into a grey fog, and all that was left was remorse and the distinct feeling of having let his friend down, when he'd needed him the most. If only for having a target for his wrath. He knew Starsky, he should have known better.
 
And there was fear. So much fear that it quickened his steps again, until he was running once more. As if to a rescue.
 
The remains of the shattered glass were gone, when he entered Venice Place, and so was Starsky.

****

Knowing Hutch would undoubtedly follow him, when he'd run it out of his system, Starsky had gone for a drive after having taken a cab home. It felt good, cruising around, like he sometimes did, just savoring the familiar feeling of his beloved Torino, time for himself, time alone.
 
He had troubles with being alone recently. He hadn't told Hutch, but then, he had to admit, he hadn't spoken to Hutch much, anyway. Apart from sarcastic replies and bitter comments.
 
But being alone at Venice Place had bothered him. It hadn't happened too often, since Hutch had done most of his work via phone calls, and now Starsky knew the reason for that too. Guilt washing through him when he thought of what Hutch had just revealed to him, Starsky briefly closed his eyes and sighed.
 
'God, I'm so sorry. I never thought about him.'
 
Whenever he had been alone at the place, though, it'd been hell. He had had to fight against flashbacks, just like the day he'd snapped out of his 'trance' as Hutch had called it. Being alone, he'd sometimes found himself sitting in a corner as if hed gotten there by sleep-walking and had just waken up. Being alone he had found himself waiting for Malcolm to return.
 
So when he'd gotten home, he'd instantly taken the Torino. He hadn't even taken a moment to look around, to get the feeling of having finally returned home. He'd been too scared. And too shaken up by what had had just happened.
 
'"You know something, Starsk, I'm human too."'
 
The words circled in Starsky's mind, over and over and over again, and, without him being aware of it, they mixed with others he'd listened to before. Words that had meant so much to Malcolm. Words that had had to be said for so long.
 
Thinking of Malcolm hurt. In a strange way.
 
'Human. Malcolm was human too. Malcolm hurt too. Until Buddy came. God, what must it have done to him? Killing Buddy. Poor Malcolm. Poor kid.'
 
Now that he was sitting in his car, driving aimlessly around, he felt so calm. So serene. He couldn't understand what had driven him to treat Hutch the way he had. He could see himself yelling at Hutch, snapping at him, as if he was watching a movie. Watching someone else throwing that glass at Hutch.
 
God, what had he been thinking? Or, no, he hadn't been thinking at all.
He'd been too... angry to think. At... Oh hell, he didn't know why he'd been so angry. He couldn't understand it now. He felt as if he'd never been angry in his entire life. As if he never could be.
 
As if someone else had thrown the glass, and he had just heard about it. He shook his head. He couldn't understand it.
 
He wasn't angry at Hutch. He didn't hate Hutch. He never could.
 
Not Hutch, and not Malcolm.
 
In fact, he couldn't remember feeling at all. He remembered listening.
 
Sitting. Being. Existing.
 
He smiled.

****

Hutch jumped from the couch, when he heard the door being opened.
 
Having found the Torino missing at his arrival, he'd decided to stay at Starskys place and wait for him, figuring his friend would show up there sooner or later, anyway.
 
It was time for some apologies, and during the hours he'd spent waiting and thinking and regretting and thinking some more, he'd figured that maybe what had happened hadn't been too bad a thing after all.
 
Usually, a real, loud fight cleared the air and now with all of his
emotions in the open, maybe Starsky would come to share his burdens too, his fear, his anger, his experiences. Maybe he'd tell Hutch more now than just the sterile, cold facts like he had in his official statement.
Hope had replaced most of his guilt and it felt good, calming.
 
"Hey," Starsky greeted him with a shy smile, when he closed the door behind him.
 
"Hey," Hutch replied, equally quiet and with a slight smile of his own. He was surprised at Starsky's obvious change of appearance, the serenity that seemed to surround him where only bitterness and anger had been before, but then Starsky probably had done enough figuring things out himself by now.
 
Things had been changed by Hutch's revelation.
 
"Had a nice drive? You look a bit tired."
 
Starsky widened his smile a bit and slightly shook his head. "I'm fine."
A pause followed, both friends just standing in the room, looking at each other and away and back and away again, before they both said at the same time, "I'm sorry."
 
They laughed softly, gestured for the other one to speak first and grinned once more at the synchrony.
 
Hutch then was the first to speak alone. "I'm sorry," he said in such heart-felt honesty that Starsky felt like he couldn't endure to hear more. "I shouldn't have-"
 
"No," Starsky cut his friend off quickly, but gently and stepped nearer to briefly pat Hutch's shoulder, before he sat down on the couch. "I'm the one who has to apologize here. You were right, I treated you like shit, and I'm sorry for that. Very sorry. I... I don't know why I did it. I guess I was just too..." He hushed himself, sighed and looked up at
Hutch with a somewhat strange looking wry smile.
 
"But you're right. You're human. You didn't deserve this, and... I'm sorry, Hutch, honest. I never stopped to think what it must have been like to... find me... like that."
 
Hutch frowned, startled a bit by the sound of "you're human", but didn't say anything. Instead, he also sat down, next to Starsky and briefly touched his arm. "I'm sorry too. I didn't mean to blurb things out like that." He gave an apologetic smile, adding, "You just pissed me off majorly back there."
 
Starsky nodded sadly. "Yep. I know."
 
It was silent for some time, the familiar feeling of unspoken comfort covering the scenery like a soft blanket, before Starsky spoke again, softly, caringly. "It must have been horrible. I can't imagine how I would have reacted if I'd have found you... dead."
 
Taken by surprise by the openly offered comfort, Hutch couldn't help but nod. "Yeah. It was." A shadow rushed over his features and he opened his mouth to speak, but found he couldn't. Instead, he let his head hang and weakly nodded once more.
 
Starsky watched for a moment and reached out ever so gently to grab Hutch's shoulder and tugged. "Cmere."
 
He was met by feeble resistance, but didn't give up.
 
"Hutch," he whispered and then for the first time since Malcolm added, "Buddy."
 
Tears were already silently falling down Hutch's cheeks when he finally let himself sink into the offered arms, hold onto his friend and cried. Allowed himself to cry.
 
"`Sokay," Starsky soothed, rubbing a warm hand over Hutch's back while softly stroking his hair with the other one. "It's okay, babe. It's alright. Let it out. I'm right here. I'm not dead. It's okay."
 
He could feel Hutch tremble against him, heard him stifle sobs. It made his heart ache to know that his friend had needed this comfort so badly for so long and all he'd received had been hate and sarcasm.
 
"I'm here, buddy. I'm right here."
 
The first nice words Hutch had heard in a long time... Starsky closed his eyes against the guilt washing through him.
 
Hutch's sobs subsided finally and he pushed away weakly, rubbing his eyes, then cast Starsky a shy, embarrassed glance. "Sorry," he mumbled.
 
"Don't be," Starsky said and rubbed Hutch's arm once more before sitting back a bit to give his disheveled friend some privacy to regain control. "You okay?" he asked gently.
 
Hutch sniffed and nodded. "Thanks," he muttered, and again, they sat in comforting, familiar silence.
 
"Starsky?"
 
"Yeah?"
 
"Why do you feel so sorry for Malcolm? What did he tell you?"
 
Surprised at the question, Starsky looked at Hutch, then, suddenly, smiled. "Nothing spectacular really. Just... stuff. About himself."
 
"Like what?" Hutch pressed.
 
Starsky shrugged. "Like how his day was, what his fave food was, what he thought about his work." Another shrug. "Stuff."
 
Hutch narrowed his eyes as he studied him closer, confused by the sudden calmness in Starsky's eyes. "Buddy..." he started and paused to think about his next words, when Starsky stated, "He called me that, you know?"
 
Hutch frowned. "Called you what?"
 
"Buddy."
 
The frown deepened and dread crawled up Hutch's spine like ice cold tiny fingers. "What d'you mean, he called you that?"
 
Starsky looked at him, no expression whatsoever revealing his emotions, as he answered, "He named me Buddy. It was my... name."
 
Hutch felt all color drain from his face. "Wh-wh... B-but... Didn't he call you by your own name? He knew your name, he had your ID."
 
Starsky thought about that, then looked back at Hutch with a half shrug. "But I wasn't David Starsky for him. I was Buddy."
 
Hutch stared in dismay.
 
Seemingly unaware, Starsky averted his eyes as if following a trail of thoughts. "He didn't want David Starsky. I don't think he wanted anything but Buddy."
 
"Any...thing?" Hutch asked, but Starsky didn't answer. He seemed lost in thought.
 
Hutch watched him, brows arched in shock. All the times he'd used his favorite name for Starsky during the last days re-playing themselves in front of his inner eye. All the flinches he had caused without knowing why.
 
"Aw, Starsk, why didn't you tell me about that earlier?"
 
Starsky blinked and looked at him. "Huh? Tell you `bout what?"
 
"That Malcolm named you. That's awful."
 
To Hutch's appall, Starsky frowned slightly and asked, "Why would you say that? You call me the same thing."
 
"B-but I don't re-name you!" Hutch replied, eerily feeling like he had to defend himself. "I give you nick names, that's a difference."
 
"Is it?" Starsky asked quietly, not accusingly, but, as Hutch figured with increasing distress, honest interest. "What're nick names, really? A sign of belonging."
 
"No, they're-"
 
"You name things you own, don't you?"
 
"But people are not things, Starsk," Hutch replied, fighting panicked sternness to slip into his voice. He didn't know yet what to make of his friend's sudden change, but he sure didn't like it. "No one owns anyone because of a nick name! Nick names are just meant like..." He was searching for the right expression and finally finished helplessly, "I don't own you because I sometimes call you buddy or Gordo or whatever, now do I? No one owns you. No one owns anyone!"
 
"No," Starsky muttered and looked away again.
 
Hutch waited, anxiously, distressed by the uncharacteristic calmness in Starsky's voice, and finally asked, "No what?"
 
Starsky glanced at him, smiled, shook his head and stood. "I'm sorry." He absently rubbed his forehead, his gaze slipping away. "Head hurts. I'm babbling nonsense, I guess."
 
'If that isn't the truth!'  Hutch thought but remained silent.
 
"I better go get some shut-eye," Starsky continued, still with an apologetic smile. "I need to see a doctor tomorrow, so I can go back to work. Gotta stand up early for that."
 
"You really think it'd be wise to return so fast?" Hutch asked concerned, standing up too.
 
Starsky nodded.
 
Hutch studied him, still confused by his friend's appearance, the eerie air that surrounded him. It was like Starsky had slipped from one extreme into another one. "Want me to stay here tonight?"
 
The smile on Starsky's lips faded slightly, and Hutch instantly knew what to ask next. "Mind if I stay?"
 
Relieved, Starsky shook his head, cast Hutch a grateful smile and turned to get some blankets and pillows for his friend.
 
Hutch remained where he was, watching after him, feeling like hed just witnessed the traumatized victim entering a new stage of digesting.
 
A scary one.
 
*****
 
Starsky returned to work - against doctor´s orders, but since the "health bill" was a verbal thing, really (with just the necessary proof of having seen an examination room from the inside), no one but him knew about that.
 
Apart from Hutch, of course, who had a suspicion, but kept his silence, thinking that maybe returning to work was the best for his partner at the moment.
 
Not that it appeared as if Starsky was not fine. In fact, his suddenly found serenity fooled even Dobey, but, as Hutch grimly thought, Dobey had never SEEN that change take place. He hadn´t seen Starsky during his snapping days, hadn´t witnessed absolute despair fade into absolute casualness, like a switch that had been turned.
 
Hutch couldn´t help admitting it was a relief to not be Starsky´s verbal punching bag any longer, but still deep down inside he knew that things - or rather, Starsky himself - shouldn´t have calmed down like that. It almost seemed to him as if the moment his friend had thrown that glass at him, he´d slipped into eternal shock. Something inside Starsky had just snapped, had frozen, had... changed.
 
Sometimes when Hutch secretly watched his partner in the car or at his desk in the squad room over the following days, the whole impact of the change hit him, and, like before, ugly words filled his mind.
 
Repression. Shock. Sickness.
 
And Starsky would look up at him with a frighteningly blank look that would become a strained smile, as he would try to hide it.
 
'He hates being watched,' Hutch figured. 'It scares him. And he has every right to feel this way! So why the hell can´t he say so?! Before, he would have snapped. "Don´t stare at me!" And now? Now he smiles! God, that bitchiness was irritating, but at least it was healthy!'
 
Out of reflex, Hutch would never return the smile, but instantly avert his eyes, feeling strangely like he´d purposely hurt his friend just by looking at him.
 
'I´m not Malcolm. Don´t make me feel like I am!'
 
But maybe, though Hutch´s thoughts seldomly went there, out of pure fear, there was the need for a replacement for the original Malcolm, since the original had been officially declared 'lost', meaning the case was closed.
 
That happened three days after Starsky´s return to work, and it didn´t seem to particularly bother him. Hutch, on the other hand, was furious, but for the sake of his friend and since he thought it might distress Starsky to bring up the topic again, he didn´t say anything behind a whispered "this sucks!"
 
So Malcolm Watters faded into the past in silence, a faceless, shadowy demon hovering over the future.
 
At the end of the first day Hutch and Starsky had spent back on the street, still not assigned to a particular case, just patroling, Hutch sat alone in the squad room, doing some paperwork. He´d sent an exhausted looking Starsky home, and Starsky had left at once, without one word of protest.
 
That was another part of the change. Nothing seemed to be worth arguing about anymore, and if Starsky failed to salute, he sure seemed obedient. At least as far as Hutch was concerned.
 
So, glued to his chair for half the night already, Hutch was typing a report, when his phone rang.
 
"Hutchinson."
 
"Hutch, this is Larson."
 
"Hey Doc."
 
Dr. Reilley Larson was the precinct psychologist and, true to his promise, Starsky had gone to consult him as an official patient twice. But after Larson had confirmed that he wasn´t self-destructive nor suicidal nor schizophrenic - in short, as okay as a traumatized kidnap-victim could be - Starsky had quit therapy before it had even started.
At times, though, Hutch wondered if one word from him would be enough to send Starsky right back...
 
"Starsk´s not here, Doc, he´s-"
 
"Good, I wanted to talk to you," Larson cut Hutch off.
 
The detecive frowned. "About what?"
 
After a moment of hesitation, Larson answered, "About something Starsky said during our... short working period."
 
Hutch smiled thinly at the self-ironic remark. "`Kay, what did he say?"
 
"I didn´t really mean to tell you this, Hutch, because it´s-"
 
"Illegal?" Hutch filled in the word with sarcastic delight.
 
Larson snorted and dryly answered, "Right. But since he legally chose to not continue therapy, I figured it´d be okay."
 
"That made so much sense, Doc. But, anyhow, what did he say?"
 
"Well, we were talking about his time with Malcolm, and I asked why he never tried to escape, while he was left alone."
 
All humor vanished from Hutch´s face. "What was his answer?"
 
"He said 'some things belong into corners.'"
 
"A-and didn´t you ask him what he meant by that?" Hutch asked.
 
"Yes, I did."
 
An expectant pause followed.
 
"He," Larson started, hushed himself and continued in a grave voice, "he said something about things having to be freed. He said the things want to be free, but they have to wait for someone who holds them dear, who thinks they're his favorite."
 
Hutch could actually feel all color drain from his face, as he leant forward in his chair, his elbows on the table.
 
"I told him I thought that sounded pretty weird to me," Larson said, unaware of the shock his tale caused. "And he just laughed and said 'sure it´s weird, it´s from Hutch.'"
 
He waited a moment, but no answer came from Hutch.
 
"He changed topic after that, but... something about his tone was... creepy, know what I mean?"
 
"That´s a very medical description, Doc," Hutch joked half-heartedly, his voice faint even to himself.
 
Larson sighed, verbally rolling his eyes. "When you guys are concerned, it is. So," he added after another pause, having sensed the detective´s distress by now, "d´you make anything out of this?"
 
"I´m not sure yet," Hutch said quietly, in a tone that made it clear he didn´t want to talk about his thoughts. "Was there anything else that you would state 'creepy'?"
 
"No," Larson said plainly.
 
"Thanks, Doc."
 
"Only looking out for my patient."
 
"He´s not your patient."
 
"To be honest with you, Hutch, I think he should be." And with that, Larson hang up, leaving Hutch alone, confused and scared.
 
*****
 
The name, written in large, artsy bluish-red letters, gave a tasty promise of what would be found inside the chocolate brown paper, once it´d been torn off to reveal its nutsy-caramel content.
 
The delight of cocoa on your tongue, you could almost feel by just looking at the paper, its color, its shape, neatly drawn by the candy bar underneath.
 
When studied closely, with all due admiration, not torn open and wolfed down, it was a creation designed for the senses only. Like a poem. Like art...
 
'If he doesn´t eat this God damn junk within the next three seconds, I´ll force it into him myself!'
 
As if he´d heard Hutch´s threat, Starsky looked up from his precious treasure and smiled. Hutch was too unnerved to even respond; he´d spent the last fifteen minutes watching Starsky looking at a candy bar.
 
At his friend´s expression, the smile on Starsky´s face instantly faded.
 
"You okay?" he asked concerned.
 
Hutch sighed slightly. "I´m waiting for you to open your breakfast."
Starsky frowned, looked at the candy bar, then back. "Oh," he finally made as if he´d needed to figure out what Hutch had meant. "Why, wanna bite?" he asked friendly, holding the thing out for his friend, who waved, unnerved.
 
"No, thanks. I was just wondering why you´re trying to hypnotize chocolate."
 
Where usually there  would have been the second step to a banter, now there was a shy shrug and an apologetic smile, accompanied by a mumbled "Sorry", as Starsky quickly disposed the unopened candy bar in a drawer.
 
Watching Starsky put the food away, Hutch furrowed his brows. "Don´t you want to eat it?"
 
"I just like how it looks," Starsky answered happily and, flashing the blond a sheepish grin, he turned back to his report.
 
Puzzled, Hutch studied him. Two days had passed since his conversation with Dr. Larson, two days of paying special attention to every one of his friend´s words. Up until now there had actually been several occasions he had found himself staring in disbelief at the honestly, clearly and absolutely seriously stated nonsense Starsky tended to utter.
 
For example, when they had stopped on patrol for lunch the other day, Starsky had asked what Hutch thought about statues, since he´d spotted an ad for an exhibtion taking place in town.
 
"Stone made human," he´d said. "Don´t you find that scary? I think it´s scary."
 
Hutch had frowned helplessly. "It´s still stone, Starsk. What´s scary about stone?"
 
"What if by having been changed in form it comes alive?" Starsky had asked in so serious a tone, Hutch had first thought it was a joke. "What if by LOOKING human, it BECOMES human?"
 
"I take it you don´t wanna go there then?" the blond had joked, but at the shadow crossing Starsky´s face had suddenly realized that his friend was not kidding. He was seriously thinking his idiotic question through.
 
"And what if humans can become stone too, when they look like
stone?"
 
"The only thing that looks like stone around here is your brain, Gordo," Hutch had muttered, meaning to tease, to create a normal base of bantering again, but Starsky had not listened. Instead, he´d glanced at Hutch with so confused a look, Hutch had found it scary.
 
"What if people CAN turn into statues? Do you think they would still be able to feel, even though they couldn´t move?"
 
When Hutch had been a kid, he had believed that the statues in the museums his parents had taken him to, had once been alive and by punishment or evil spells had been turned into stone, had been doomed to eternal stillness. He had thought that if he closed his eyes and really concentrated, he would be able to hear them call out for him, ask him for his help. Ask him to free them too.
 
"I think," he had answered Starsky back then in the car, slightly shaking his head to clear it off the ghostly shadows of the past and starting the engine of his car, "I´m hungry. What d´you want for lunch?"
 
And so they had stopped talking about stone, even though, no, Starsky had not been hungry and had just sat next to Hutch in the place the blond had chosen, still lost in his thoughts.
 
Coming to think of it now, Hutch thought, when watching his partner typing his report, he really couldn´t recall the last time he had seen Starsky eat anything at all.
 
So with a distressed look forming on his face, he leant over his own desk a bit to glance at the closed drawer. A futile gesture, purely meant for emphasis.
 
Starsky looked up questioningly.
 
"How many of those have you bunkered in there?"
 
"How many what?"Starsky asked.
 
"Candy bars, Starsk."
 
"Oh," Starsky nodded with a smile and answered, "Seven," before returning to his typing.
 
Hutch´s features tensed as he reflexively leant back into his chair again, gaze fixed on his partner. "When was the last time you ate one then?" he asked.
 
But before Starsky could answer, the door to Dobey´s office was opened - much more gently than usual.
 
"Hutchinson, Starsky, in my office."
 
Hutch was still so appalled by his latest discovery that he missed the lack of barking volume in his superior´s voice. For anyone else in the room, though, it was enough to exchange wide-eyed glances. You could have sworn Dobey would add 'please' next.
 
But he just turned to vanish inside his office again, Starsky obediently on his trail, while Hutch followed more hesitantly, irritated by the interruption.
 
Inside the room, though, he instantly snapped to full alert at the apologetic look Dobey secretly cast him, before announcing, "I´m putting you two on the Sayers-case. Night shifts. And I know," he quickly added, catching the reaction rapidly working its way into Hutch´s eyes, "you should still be on light duty, Starsky, but there´s nothing I can do about it. We need more people on this, it´s a 24/7-thing, and we need you there to sort out the snitches, anyway. Half of the notes the previous night shifts brought were our own people."
 
"Oh, come on, Cap´n!" Hutch protested. "Night shift?! He´s just been back on the job for about a week!"
 
Starsky shot him a quick glance, but kept his silence, even though both Hutch and Dobey looked at him, expecting an angry demand to be allowed to speak for himself, that didn´t come. He just waited in patient, calm silence, seemingly not caring about anything but listening.
 
But his partner´s lack of interest only enraged Hutch further, and, not knowing what else to do, he let it out on Dobey. "He´s not fit for night shifts yet! He has troubles... concentrating."
 
Frowning in surprise at Hutch´s remark and even more so at the fact that Starsky let that pass by un-commented, too, Dobey asked in a voice that was more puzzled than gruff, "Why don´t you let Starsky decide for himself?"
 
Hutch stared at him and half turned to look at his quiet partner, who had lifted his brows at the mention of his name, like a child whose fate was being discussed by grown-ups without his speaking being appreciated.
A bitter laugh broke free in Hutch´s throat, finished by a frustrated sigh.
 
"Oh yes, let´s do that. Starsk, d´you want to go on a nine-hour night shift for the next hundred years?"
 
Starsky gazed at him blankly, then at Dobey and smiled. "Sure. We´re on it, Cap."
 
"Uh... good," Dobey said unsure and started shoving papers around on his desk, a clear sign that the conversation was officially over.
 
With a frustrated mumble that suspiciously sounded like  swearing, Hutch headed for the door, his partner instantly following him.
 
"Hutchinson," Dobey held him back. "Stay for a second, please."
 
Grimly returning Dobey´s glance, Hutch held the door open for Starsky, who, without a word, left, and threw it shut behind him.
 
He took a few steps back into the room and, with a questioning, challenging look, folded his arms in front of him.
 
Dobey sighed slightly, wiped his face with one hand, before he looked up at the blond. "How bad is it?" he asked quietly.
 
Hutch´s inner wall fell, visibly, as his shoulders slumped and he, too, rubbed his face exhaustedly. After a moment´s thought, he sat down in one of the chairs in front of Dobey´s desk. "I´ve no idea."
 
"Hutch," Dobey started gravely, hesitated and averted his eyes. "If he´s not fit to do the job-"
 
"No," Hutch quickly interrupted him. "No, don´t worry. He´s okay. He can do it."
 
Dobey frowned. "You said quite the contrary a second ago."
 
"I wanted to get a reaction," Hutch said with a sad sigh and at Dobey´s frown stated, "Listen, Cap´n, something´s going on with Starsky, but it´s not affecting his job. You know I´d be the first to do something about that. After all, it´s my back he´s supposed to watch."
 
There was a long silence, the two men just looking at each other.
 
"Okay," Dobey finally waved his detective away, "then go and do your job."
 
With a wry smile, Hutch performed a mocking half salute and stood to leave.
 
"And Hutchinson," Dobey once more held him back, "do something about this partner of yours, will you? It might not affect his job, but it affects me."
 
Hutch grinned sadly and opened the door. "You´re not the only one. Believe me."
 
*****

Walter Sayers´ club had been under observation for weeks, when Starsky and Hutch came to help out with the night shifts. Every available team from the squad had already had their experience with "Sayers-duty", as the cops called it.
 
Initially, it had all been some commissioner´s fault. He was worried about an allegation of incompetence a journalist had recently certified the Bay City police  suffered from and had felt the absolute need for a huge bust that would shine in the papers.
 
That was the real reason why a small tip from a snitch, that there MIGHT be a huge heroin deal going down within the next weeks at the "Sayers" had kept a whole squad busy for so long. No matter how much both the working detectives, and Dobey had protested, Commissioner Coe wasn´t going to be convinced.
 
And so observation went on, day and night, a team from the squad always sitting in their car, noting down every single individual that entered or left the club.
 
Fortunately, the real paperwork -- going through the files later at the precinct --wasn´t part of the night shifts.
 
Still, on the first night of his and Starsky´s new assignment, when Hutch leant back in the driver´s seat of his LTD in a futile attempt at getting more comfortable, he couldn´t help thinking that the very last thing he and his partner needed right now was a stakeout.
 
Endless hours of sitting around, doing absolutely zip. Even under normal circumstances, that wasn´t something you´d skip your vacation for. But under normal circumstances, they would at least talk or play one stupid game after another and not sit in silence all the time, except for the times Starsky would present his friend with the mass of thoughts that seemed to flood his mind every waking second recently.
 
Sometimes Hutch thought that that was even worse than the silence.
The discovery of one night were advertising pillars.
 
They had parked next to one, and after watching it for some time, while Hutch had watched the club, Starsky asked, "Did you ever think of humans as advertising pillars?"
 
Hutch sighed. The sentence didn´t even take him off guard anymore. With a typical gesture for him, he drove a quick hand over his exhausted features. "No, Starsk, I´ve never thought about that. And d´you want to know why not?"
 
Starsky didn´t listen. When he´d found something to think about, he never did. "They´re there to inform. But in silence. It´s seeing with them. Like those kids holding signs in front of some stores, you know? Silent information," he repeated in a nearly devout whisper and looked at Hutch. Suddenly, his forehead furrowed slightly.
 
"D´you think the advertising pillars care about what is on them? But then, I guess they don´t."
 
Hutch stared at him helplessly. He felt like he´d reached the point where he really just didn´t know what to do anymore. What to say. He had days ago found out that arguing with Starsky, on a rational level, would lead to nothing but a final "yeah, sure, you´re right" and then silence. And snapping would only shut him up immediately. Not that that would not have been a good thing, Hutch thought sarcastically, but the mere knowledge of those trails of thoughts still going on and on behind his friend´s eyes drove Hutch crazy.
 
Ignoring worked sometimes.
 
"I´m starving. How about I head over to that place there and get us something to eat?" Hutch suggested, as if the one-sided conversation had never taken place. He half opened the driver´s door, one foot already on the pavement. "What d´you want?"
 
"I´m not hungry," Starsky said casually, his gaze still fixed on the advertising pillar.
 
Hutch let himself fall back into his seat with a deep, annoyed sigh. "Starsky," he ordered quietly, "look at me."
 
Starsky instantly obeyed.
 
"Yes, you are hungry. So what do you want?"
 
Starsky frowned at him, puzzled, then smiled. "Don´t care. Get me anything."
 
"I´ll get you a tofu burger with soy-spurs and carrots then," Hutch told him sweetly.
 
Starsky just nodded. "`Kay."
 
A long pause followed, Hutch not moving, but working hard on restraining himself from yelling in earnest. "Last chance," he finally announced in a dangerously low voice. "`Cause, I swear, you´ll eat whatever I´ll put in front of you, and if I have to force it into you myself."
 
That brought a reaction, but one Hutch had not anticipated. And, as tiny as it was, it made him regret his words instantly.
 
Starsky flinched. Not hard, but visibly. His gaze dropped, and Hutch could see him swallow dryly.
 
"I´ll... get you... something," Hutch muttered, reached out to pat Starsky´s shoulder, but thought different and left.
 
When he returned, he carried a sandwich for himself and a burrito for Starsky, that he handed out for him with an apologetic smile.
 
Starsky gratefully took it, looked at it - and Hutch could have yelled all over again.
 
"Eat it, Starsk," he said patiently, when a whole minute had passed, but only earned a vacant look.
 
After a moment, Starsky turned his attention back to the burrito in his hands.
 
"I assure you, it won´t start dancing and singing," Hutch commented. "So you can stop waiting and start eating."
 
"Uhm... yeah," Starsky mumbled unsurely and smiled shyly at Hutch. "Thanks, by the way."
 
Under Hutch´s hawk-like observation, he swallowed his first bite than took another small one.
 
"How long have you not been eating?" Hutch finally asked, not accusingly, but not softly, either.
 
Starsky swallowed and looked at his friend as if thinking. A little frown settled on his forehead.
 
"It´s strange," he said in a voice that reminded Hutch of his 'old' Starsky, a thought that first was acknowledge with relief, then with an inward wince as the full meaning of it hit the blond.
 
"Sometimes I think I don´t have to eat."
 
At that, Hutch felt his features tense and opened his mouth to reply something, but only to be hurriedly interrupted by Starsky, who winked with a  sheepish grin. "Must be those working hours. Gets me rambling `bout bull only. Sorry for that."
 
And with that, as if for emphasis, he turned back to his burrito and happily wolfed it down.
 
Hutch, on the other hand, felt his stomach twist in tight knots suddenly and mutely handed his sandwich out for his partner, when he had finished his meal.
 
Starsky gratefully accepted.
 
*****
 
Night shifts, especially stakeouts, were like the wrath of God poured into a bucket that was then emptied directly over your head. For uncountable days you´d spend your nights staring at whatever you were supposed to stare at, the lack of sleep making your eyes feel like they´d been frozen open, and every blink would be a crinkling, sandy, disgusting sensation.
 
The coffee you didn´t even taste anymore by the end of a shift, you would just swallow reflexively, more believing in the effects of the caffeine than actually feeling it.
 
And why would you be so worn out? Because sleeping the day away was something everyone could say easily, but in reality it was a hard thing to do. First of all, you would -- against your own advice you´d have given your colleagues before -- start doing your bit of the paperwork during the daytime, not wanting it to pile up on your desk.
 
Sencondly, you´d simply start to at some point want your life back. After a week at least.
 
Hutch, for example, had the best "point of too long a night-shift assignment"-radar ever: his plants would start dying.
 
And after a week on the Sayers-case, some had already finished that
task. More than any night shift case Hutch could think of, this one tore at his nerves, left him beat and yet too worried about Starsky to sleep each day. He had tried running in the mornings, when coming home after work, but he had quickly had to learn that jogging was not what
his body wanted to do after sitting for hours.
 
He spent a lot time simply dozing off on the couch, when he´d actually just meant to sit and think for a moment. Reminders piled on his couch table, unopened. His fridge seemed to eat whatever he put into it itself...or had he just not put anything in it for quite some time?
 
He felt as if something was slipping through his fingers, as if he lived in time-lapse photography.
 
He was edgy and snappy and all in all felt just plain miserable. And sometimes -- just before being claimed by slumber -- he thought he missed Starsky.
 
But that was nonsense, wasn´t it? Starsky was there. He sat next to him every night, taking in their by now annoyingly familiar surroundings with re-newed interest every day. Sometimes Hutch sarcastically wondered if Starsky actually saw the people entering or leaving the club and not only advertising hoardings, cars and pieces of litter on the street he could spend hours studying.
 
"Did I mention how much I hate this job already tonight?" Hutch asked one night, tiredly rubbing his eyes. When no answer came, he said, without taking his hand off his face, "I hate this job." He waited for a second, then glanced at his partner, who looked outside the passenger window. "Your turn."
 
"I hate this job," Starsky mumbled uncaringly.
 
"Oh yes?" Hutch said unenthusiastically. "I´d say you love it. Look at all this interesting stuff around. But I forgot," he added dryly, "you are looking at it."
 
Starsky shot him a glance, but didn´t answer.
 
Hutch´s level of irritability climbing up steadily, he waited for an answer in so obvious a way that Starsky after a while seemed to shrank away from him, and Hutch slid down on his seat and bent over to Starsky´s side, as if he wanted to look out of the passenger window too.
 
"Okay, tell me."
 
"Tell you what?" Starsky asked in honest confusion.
 
"What we´re studying today," Hutch replied, his words dripping with sarcasm, and pointed at nothing in particular. "Is that a crumpled ciggarette box over there? How fascinating."
 
He didn´t notice the also very honest dismay that settled on Starsky´s face, until he heard it in his friend´s quiet voice. "Are you mad at me?"
 
His gaze snapping to Starsky´s, Hutch froze, the ugly feeling of just having been unncessarily mean flooding him. With a sigh, he leant back into his own seat again. "No, of course not. I´m not mad at you."
 
"Oh," Starsky made, thought about that and smiled. "Good." He was just about to turn away again, when Hutch´s hand flew forward, grabbing his chin to hold his head in place.
 
"But I will get mad if you go fruitcake on me again now!"
 
Starsky waggled his head free with a shy laugh. "What?"
 
"We need to talk, bud..." Biting his lip, Hutch cut himself off.
 
"It´s okay," Starsky said softly, before his friend could continue speaking. "You can say it, I don´t mind."
 
"But I do," Hutch snapped. "I mind a lot of things lately."
 
Taken aback, Starsky physically widened the distance between them -- a gesture that seemed to symbolize the inner action. "Are you alright?" he asked concerned.
 
A snort escaped Hutch, more pain-filled, though, than bitter. "Are you?"
 
"Why, sure," Starsky replied with a shrug, obviously honestly surprised. "D´you think I´m not?"
 
"Yes!" Hutch yelled, but bit his lip again to regain control. In much lower a voice, he said, "I´m worried about you. I´m worried about the way you seem to... withdraw from everything."
 
Starsky´s brows flew up at that. "I´m not. I´m fine."
 
"You don´t look fine," Hutch insisted, all snappiness vanished from his expression that bore only openly displayed concern now. "You look like hell."
 
"So do you," Starsky replied, nearly laughing in puzzled helplessness and, again, sounding very much like the man Hutch used to know before... whatever it was had started. "We´ve been on night shift stakeouts for over a week. What d´you expect, Gregory Peck?! I´m tired."
 
Hutch stared at him, brows arched in sudden heartache, as the eerie feeling that he´d imagined it all, clawed at his heart. As if it all had just been a dream. For this, this was old, annoyed, exhausted Starsky. Nothing weird about him.
 
Had it ever been there? Has he just misinterpreted things? Had he wanted to see more than there was, because... hell, yes, he was still concerned. And he knew the reason for that could be his own demons as well...
 
He sighed deeply and rubbed his face. "Me too," he muttered and let out a deep breath, before casting his by now concerned looking friend an apologetic glance. "I´m sorry. Guess we´re both tired." He paused.
"And you´re sure you´re okay?"
 
"Hutch," Starsky smiled and briefly touched Hutch´s arm. "I´m fine. Drop dead tired," he added, and Hutch joined in smiling, "but fine. Stop worrying."
 
They exchanged a look, and settled back for observation, silence once more covering the scenery.
 
With an inner frown Hutch couldn´t help thinking it hadn´t changed, hadn´t turned into 'their' silence again, but was still distressing, thick and filled with scary questions.
 
He stole a glance at Starsky, but his friend´s gaze was fixed at something outside his window.
 
'Oh damn it!'
 
"Hutch?"
 
The sudden sound of Starsky´s voice nearly made Hutch jump. "Yeah?"
 
"D´you remember you told me you used to watch me sleep after Malcolm?"
 
Dread creeped up Hutch´s spine with icy, tiny fingers. "Yes."
 
Silence.
 
"Starsk?"
 
His friend didn´t turn to look at him. "Nothing. Just... had to think of it suddenly," he finished, shooting Hutch a brief glance. "`S nothing."
 
And he turned away again.
 
*****
 
Starsky had to admit, it had felt good to eat.  Like the sudden warm and giddy feeling that would sometimes grab you when in the mornings when the first rays of coffee smell would tickle your nostrils... Or in the evening after a long day at your desk, when dark yellow sun light would twinkle on your cool beer bottle...
 
Like a special moment, that´s how eating had felt. Good. It had felt so good to actually close his eyes and TASTE something again.
 
But then, as he returned home that morning, standing in his living room like he sometimes did these days, completely still, just thinking, he found it confusing. Tasting. Feeling good. Feeling at all.
 
It was not supposed to happen.
 
So he tried to figure it out, feeling, and slowly set his feet in motion to carry him to his small corner on the wall to the right when you stepped in, from where he was able to overlook the whole room. At least, NOW, he was.
 
The room had experienced some... changes.
 
As he sat down in his usual posture, legs drawn to his nose, arms wrapped around them, he was once more looking at the large empty expanse, where he´d cleared the path, meaning he´d shoved the couch out of the way (into the kitchen, to be precise) and the couch table was now standing against the wall underneath the phone. Every other piece of furtniture, he´d put into his un-used bedroom, along with most of the things from his shelf.
 
Too many things it had been. Too many things to look at, to think about. He just couldn't endure being around them anymore.
 
But now, now there was very little to look at, and that had a calming effect on him. He was less afraid now, sitting in his corner, less anxious.  He didn´t know why it was that the things had started to bother him, and he didn´t think about it, either.
 
About himself, he seldomly thought.
 
Except for when something really puzzled him. Like today. Why had it felt so good to eat? It was not supposed to feel like anything, it was supposed to fulfill a need and keep creatures alive.
 
And, before that, what had been the last thing he´d felt? And where had THAT question come from?
 
With a mute wince, he squeezed his eyes shut briefly, as if to push against the thoughts flooding his mind from the inside of his head. He really tried to visualize the act, when he used this tactic, and it had worked sometimes, when the fear of being alone had returned with a vengeance. Especially around noon, when the room was as brightly lit as Malcolm´s place had always been.
 
Deep down, way down under his blanket of thoughts and questions, a left-over part of his sarcasm often mused that his whiny partner really had NO idea how much HE hated the fact that they had to work night shifts.
 
No matter how hard he tried, though, his attempts at regaining control failed this time. He couldn´t let himself slip into his routine. So after a while, he stood and walked over to the couch table against the far wall, where he´d spread out all the pages of Malcolm´s various files that Hutch had had to return to the archive after the case had been officially closed.
 
The archivist being female, it hadn´t been very difficult for Starsky to retrieve them for "further investigations". So, finally, he´d read them. Finally, he´d read everything, OTHERS had thought about Malcolm Watters, the diagnosis they´d signed, the medication they´d prescriped.
 
He´d read about what Malcolm had told them during therapy and had marvelled about how good a liar that kid had actually been.
 
And he´d read about what they´d done to Malcolm, which kinds of "therapies" they´d used or had even tested on him. After reading those parts, he, for the first time since his rescue, had stepped into his shower. Fully clothed, and the water had been cold.
 
Why he read them sometimes, he didn´t want to think about. He was just looking for answers, he told himself every time, but what he found were always questions. Questions he knew the answers he gave to himself  were wrong. Yet he gave them. Every day.
 
The truth was, he didn´t know what else to do.
 
Mental dysfunction. That was what the doctor´s diagnosis concerning Malcolm Watters had been. Chemical disorder. Resulting in inability to connect. But dangerous they hadn´t called him. If he was given a chance, they´d said, he would easily manage to blend into society, fully functioning. He would be able to connect, to even form relation-ships, to find happiness.
 
What the hell was wrong with that?
 
Absently he picked up a sheet of paper to look at the report on it, but after a second he found that his gaze was wandering off the content, settling on one word, without really reading it. Then, he focused on one letter. He stared at it for some time and slowly turned the paper around, until he was looking at nothing but whiteness.
 
Shoving all thoughts of food and feelings and Malcolm aside, he found the sight relaxing. That tactic had worked before, and unconsciously he was walking back into his corner.
 
He´d sat, thinking, for some time, when a kocking on the door tore him out of his thoughts.
 
"Starsk, it´s me, Hutch. Open up."
 
Starsky was off the floor like a shot, not so much because he was startled, but just as quickly as possible on his way to the door to obediently open it.
 
"Hey. Dobey called," Hutch announced, his tone giving evidence to his feelings towards that fact, as he stormed past Starsky into the room. "Timmons and Ratkins are on a robbery call this afternoon, and there´s no one left to cover for them but us. Aw, man, I think I´m still asleep, d´you have cof..."
 
And then, all of a sudden, he looked around. "...fee...?" The place was so familiar he hadn´t even seen the changes at first. "Starsk, what the hell...?!"
 
"Hi Hutch."
 
His mouth hanging open, Hutch turned around to stare at his friend, who closed the door and stepped back into the living room to get his jacket.
 
"'Hi Hutch'?!" Hutch repeated, his name coming out high-pitched. "What the hell happened here, a twister?!"
 
Starsky looked at him blankly, then let his gaze wander through his place and shrugged. "Re-organized my stuff," he explained.
 
"'Re-organized'?!" Hutch exclaimed and pressed his lips together, unnerved at how idiotic his constant nearly shrieked repeats must sound. "Care to tell me why?" he asked with audibly strained patience.
 
"I like it better this way," Starsky replied casually. "You comin´ now? We shouldn´t be la-"
 
"You like your couch in the kitchen?! And what is this?!" Hutch interrupted him agitatedly, whirling around himself on the spot he stood in the middle of the half empty room. "Your private dance floor?!"
 
"Why does it upset you so much?" Starsky asked, sounding truly confused, hurt. "It´s my place."
 
But Hutch didn´t listen, anyway. He was storming from one spot to the other, appalled. "You can´t even reach your fridge! Oh, I forgot," he added, turning ever so briefly to shoot Starsky a sarcastic glance, "you don´t need to eat."
 
Without waiting for an answer, he walked over to the bedroom and all but jerked the door open. At the sight of the stuffed room, his face fell and he slowly, as if against his own will, turned around to look at the small corner across him. Starsky thought he´d never seen so helpless an expression on his partner´s face.
 
"Starsk..." It wasn´t more than a whisper, and when he spoke again,
 
Hutch´s voice was far from steady. "When was the last time you slept? D´you sleep at all?"
 
"Sometimes I nod off," Starsky replied honestly, a bit ashamedly even.
Hutch watched him in dismay. "There?" he asked, feebly pointing at the corner.
 
Starsky didn´t answer. He took an almost protective step towards his corner, though.
 
"Why?" Hutch asked in a choked whisper. "Why are you doing this?"
 
He didn´t get a response.
 
"Why do you keep... hurting yourself like that?"
 
"I´m not."
 
"Why didn´t you tell me you were still hurting?" Hutch continued, a flash of anger coloring his concern. "I could have helped you."
Starsky shrugged. "Because I´m not," he offered with a sheepish smile, as if he felt stupid at the attention he experienced. "I´m not hurting. I´m fine."
 
Hutch stared at him in disbelief, but forced himself to remain calm. He squeezed his eyes shut, blinked over his fingers and suddenly set himself in motion to cross the short distance between them. In the middle of the corner, he stopped. "Is that what you do all day? Sit here and..." Not knowing what to say, he trailed off with a bitter snort.
 
"I feel..." Starsky started to explain, but caught himself and started again. He hadn´t moved at all. "I belong in there. Some things belong in corners."
 
There was absolute silence for a long, long time, and suddenly, with a determined glance over his shoulder, Hutch stepped further into the corner until his back met the wall and slid down to hug his knees to his nose.
 
Starsky watched with a frown forming on his forehead. Hutch remained silent, looked up at his friend, then averted his eyes. And after another moment, Starsky followed and slowly crouched down in front of Hutch, gazing at him intensively.
 
They sat like that for only a second, before Hutch moved his head and their eyes met. Instantly, Starsky was on his feet again. Head bowed, he turned and walked to the front door, leaving Hutch behind.
 
"You don´t," he stated, without looking back, and left the place.
 
Hutch sat for some more seconds, feeling as if, since he sat huddled somewhere already, anyway, he could as well have his long overdue nervous breakdown right now, but it didn´t happen. Instead, he switched to routine, stood as if he had just sat down. Not in a corner to prove something to his suffering friend, but just somewhere to rest.
Stood up and let his gaze wander through the apartment that was as much his home as his own.
 
Or - that had once been.
 
It was then he caught sight of the mass of papers spread out on the former couch table, that was standing at a wall now. Frowning, he stepped closer and instantly recognized the files he knew by heart.
Another long moment, he stood, not touching the sheets of paper - he knew exactly what was on them, anyway - but feeling a dreadful thought creep out from its hiding place into the center of his mind.
 
When he finally tore his eyes away and left the place to follow Starsky, who quietly waited for him outside, fear had settled in his heart. Without a comment, he cast his partner a silent look. Starsky smiled and turned to head for the LTD.
 
Hutch slowly walked behind him. He couldn´t recall the last time he´d been that scared.
 
*****
 
Hutch had always hated it when he hadn´t found himself able to understand something. At school, when he had come across a problem, he had read so long until he had found a satisfying solution or he had searched the books until he had found an explanation for a particular phenomenon. He had never given up this habit. If he wanted to understand something, to know something, eventually he would.
 
It had always been one of the things that had fascinated Starsky, who on the other hand loved to ask questions about absolutely everything for the mere sake of asking. Answers, Hutch sometimes joked, Starsky never seemed particularly interested in. But then, one had to admit that Dave Starsky tended to ask questions no one would even bother to think of, anyway.
 
The question that was more haunting Hutch at the moment than just circling in his mind was one he tried to find an answer to with all the energy he could muster. With all his trained research skills, he read every psychology book he could get his hands on, spent precious sleeping time sitting in the city libary, going through articles and if he had dared to, he would have called Reilley Larson.
 
But he was too scared to do that. Too scared to even talk to Dobey or Huggy or anyone. He was convinced that if anyone would ever see what he´d seen, they´d instantly send Starsky away for examination and then...
 
He couldn´t even face the thought. Memories of their undercover assignment at Cabrillo flashed through his mind every now and then, leaving him shaken up and even more frightened. It wasn´t so much that he recalled how much seeing Starsky in restraints and sedated had upset him, but some of the other patients´ expressions. On his daily tours and few emergency calls he´d experienced during his time as guard there, he´d seen his share of insanity. As much as he already had had before during his line of duty.
 
He was pretty sure he knew it, when he was faced with it. And he feared, he recently had.
 
So telling anyone - anyone at all - was not an option. He knew that if all his fears and dreads were true, he was doing the completely wrong thing, refusing his friend the help he would then desperatly need, but a part of him - the part that was Starsky´s partner with all it took - KNEW they were not true. Insanity wasn´t contagious. There had to be something in all those books and articles and papers and reports that would be of some help.
 
For instance, he remembered a psychological phenomenon called Stockholm syndrom. People, who were held hostage, would sometimes think of their captors as saviors, friends even or they would fall in love with them - like Patty Hurst - just so as to not having to acknowledge their fear. They would join the people who´d hurt them, so they would feel safe again.
 
'"No one needs protection from Malcolm."'
 
But then... what was there to fear for Starsky? He had been rescued ('More or less,' Hutch added grimly in his thoughts.), he could be pretty sure that Malcolm would never ever find out about him being alive. He was safe.
 
And yet he wasn´t. For some reason, after having first reacted very normal for a trauma patient, he had chosen to somehow keep Malcolm, to stay in the role he had been given. To BELIEVE Malcolm.

'But why?' Hutch thought, when he sat on his couch one day, open books piling on his table, one lying on his folded legs. 'Why does he do this? What´s he getting out of it?'
 
That was the question, the problem, the phenomenon he needed to understand. Because once you had understood something, you could change it. Once you knew how things worked, you could make them work different.
 
Once Hutch had found out where he had failed to rescue Starsky, he would manage to.
 
He was pretty sure it had something to do with what his friend had learnt about Malcolm, what he had been told. Knowing Starsky, he was convinced that through all the fear and despair that had undoubtly hold him in a tight grip during his captivity, compassion had built inside him. Hutch had read the files, he knew that Malcolm could not be held responsible. He was sick. He had been locked away almost all his youth. Probably no one had ever been friendly to him. Probably no one had ever given him the feeling of being loved, cared about.
 
And like a child that would talk to his teddy bear in the lonely, dark night, cling to it, treat it like the only friend on earth, he had chosen to get himself someone to love then. Someone he could care for, if no one cared for him. Someone who would listen to him, who would - be there.
 
With a deep sigh, Hutch leant his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes, the open book sliding from his legs to the ground with a thud.
 
'How can you possibly hate someone that desperate?' he asked himself, but instantly gave the answer. 'Easily. I hate him. I hate him with all my heart. Whenever I look at that damn smile on Starsk´s face, I could kill Malcolm with my bare hands. I want to lock him up in a pitch dark cellar and throw away the key.'
 
He blinked his eyes open again, stared at the ceiling. 'But you never met him. You only saw pictures of him. You never heard his voice, never heard his point of view. Starsky said he stuttered. But when you imagine his voice, it´s always harsh and stern. Starsky told you Malcolm was always happy being with him, but all you ever see is him being dangerous and brutal. You hate Malcolm, because you hate the man who hurt your friend.
 
- Of course I do!
 
But what about the one who knew him? How can Starsky possibly hate Malcolm after all he´s heard?
 
- He DOES hate him! I know he does! Look at the way he treated ME right after hospital! Hell, sometimes I wanted to lock HIM into that pitch dark cellar! I couldn´t clear my throat without him snapping, and he threw a glass at me!'
 
Pause. He froze, his eyes wide at the sudden thought that had hit him along with his inner ranting.
 
In slow-motion, he lifted his head, until he sat straight on the couch, his gaze focused on the books, unseeing.
 
He remembered, he had had that same conversation with himself before. That day, when Starsky had thrown the glass at him. He had said something about Starsky hating Malcolm, and his friend had simply lost it. Obvious. How could he forget that? Starsky had been devasted over that incident. And soon after that, "it" had started.
 
"Aw shit," Hutch muttered, rubbing his eyes with a tired sigh. "Double-shit."
 
If you could not acknowledge hate, but felt it, how were you supposed to deal with it? What could you do, when you were too scared to let it out on someone else?
 
'Easy. Let it out on yourself.'
 
Almost bouncing off the couch as if jumping at his own answer, Hutch crossed the room to get a beer out of the fridge. Throwing the lid somewhere into the direction of his bed, he leant against the breakfast counter heavily.
 
"What am I gonna do?"
 
Taking a long gulp, he knew that that was the next question he needed to work on.
 
****
 
Everything Starsky did started to bother Hutch. When he only saw his partner open his mouth to say something or feel a questioning look on him, he would cringe, afraid of the words that would follow. Whereas he felt as if he could never leave Starsky out of his sight, he found it almost unbearable to be around him, to listen to him, to watch the destruction increasing with every passing day.
 
He had never felt so incredibly helpless, so unmercifully trapped. He could not talk to Starsky, whenever he tried, he ended up yelling or pleading and submitting to the patient silence and vacant look in the end. He couldn´t talk to anyone else, either, his fear of losing his partner to the system too strong. He couldn´t do anything but be there, a strange counterpart to what Starsky had been for Malcolm, since now, deep down, he needed Hutch to be human, to act, to show him living, not existence.
 
But then - Starsky hadn´t taken a glimpse deep down in a long time.
Hutch had told Dobey they were now both good and fit enough to take over their share of the paperwork too, so that he had a reason to spend more time around his partner. The fact that they had to stay in the squad room for most afternoons wasn´t un-welcomed, either. If he could have, Hutch would have simply forbidden Starsky to ever return to his own partment that he with so much care had turned into something that looked suspiciously like Malcolm Watters´ place.
 
If he could have, Hutch would have dropped everything to go and search for Malcolm Watters, drag the kid back and make him look at what he´d done to the person he´d claimed to care about. It seemed that the more Starsky slid down into accepting Malcolm´s treatment, the more Hutch´s hate for the man increased.
 
One day, they were sitting in the squad room, both busy writing reports,  Hutch noticed the sudden stillness across him, that had probably gone on for some time now, and lifted his head.
 
Starsky had stopped typing to study the piggy bank that stood on his
desk. He had his head slightly tilted to one side, gaze fixed on the silly looking item he had had on his desk for years now. Hutch couldn´t even remember what original use the thing had fulfilled, something about candy money. Nowadays there was only seldom money in it, though.
Freezing in his own typing, with his fingers hovering above the keyboard, Hutch watched, with his head still half bowed, Starsky finally picking the piggy bank up carefully to look at it more closely. On his forehead was the same small furrow that appeared so often these days, when yet another one of his absurd questions settled in his mind.
 
Suddenly, too fast for himself to even register, Hutch´s hand flew forward and he snatched the thing out of his friend´s grasp.
 
Starsky flinched hard, his gaze snapping to Hutch.
 
"You got work to do," Hutch said curtly and with slightly trembling hands put the piggy bank into a drawer of his desk.
 
Starsky stared at him, puzzled. He opened his mouth as if to protest, but managed only a very small "uhm..." , then closed it again.
 
Hutch briefly glanced up from where he´d already returned to his typing. "I don´t want you to look at things," he stated, only after the words were out realizing how crazy that sounded. Repressing the urge to apologize, he averted his eyes again and continued writing.
 
When nothing happened at the other desk, Hutch added, without looking up again, "Move your fingers, Starsk. We´re behind schedule already. I want us out of here in an hour."
 
A split second later, busy typing sounds filled the room.
 
Hutch closed his eyes shortly and let go off a quiet, desperate sigh. They worked in silence for the rest of the time.
 
*****
 
Over the few days that had passed since Hutch had found about the re-decoration of Starsky´s apartment, he had made a habit out of picking his partner up at noon, after too little sleep really, to have breakfast together at Venice Place. It was the most transparent scheme ever, but for once Hutch took advantage of his partner´s disability to argue.
 
Whatever he suggested, Starsky would do, anyway.
 
The truth was, of course, that he wanted Starsky to spend as little time as possible alone in his own apartment. The mere image of his friend sitting motionless on the ground, the thoughts his subconsciousness had laid out for him spreading like a virus in his mind, with no one around to drag him out of his self-produced trance, was often enough to send Hutch driving over to re-collect him again the minute he arrived at Venice Place after having dropped Starsky off at home.
 
Since arguing hadn´t worked in the past, and his own absurdity in the piggy bank-incident had had him scared too much, Hutch had settled for trying normal. He´d treat Starsky like nothing had ever changed, like they were just going through a stressful time at the job, what with their draining working hours. He´d talk about the case, the days off they were sure to get when it was finally all over and sometimes the weather.
And through it all, he felt totally and utterly stupid. Like some person out of a movie, who just refused to see the truth, when the audience would already bark at him to finally work things out, to finally have the guts to SAY something!
 
Sometimes he could clearly imagine him and Starsky watching this - his - movie and Starsky doing exactly that all the time, rant about the character´s cowardness. His partner had always been the talk-to-the-screen-type.
 
Hutch had to think of that when they were watching an old '77 Sunset Strip'-episode one morning. It wasn´t even noon yet, since he had just refused to drive Starsky home at all after their shift and instead had taken him with him to Venice Place, where he´d simply turned on the tv right away, settling Starsky on the couch, while he had made coffee.
For over two hours now, they hadn´t changed the channel, but stared at the screen, both too tired to even care what they were watching. They sat on the couch, Starsky huddled into one corner with his knees drawn up to his nose, Hutch sprawled out in the other one, his long legs lying over the armrest, his shoulder leaning against Starsky´s.
 
The sounds of the show along with the birds´ singing from outside the window making him sleepy, Hutch was dozing lightly, when all of a sudden Starsky´s quiet voice tore him out of his slumber.
 
"Hutch?"
 
"Hm?" Hutch made drowsily, blinking one eye open lazily, though from where he lay, he couldn´t look at Starsky, anyway.
 
"Would you free me too?"
 
"Huh?" Hutch made, becoming more alert at the grave tone of his friend´s voice, and with his hands coming up to wipe his eyes, he sat up more, so that he could turn and cast Starsky a puzzled look. "What?"
 
"Like your toys," Starsky explained. Hutch thought he looked sad. He hugged his knees even closer, his gaze dropping. "Would you build a ship for me too?"
 
Understanding, Hutch felt his expression harden. He slid away even more, his feet finding the ground, as he sat up straight now.
 
"I hate it when you do that, Starsk," he said sternly.
 
"Do what?" Starsky asked, actually a bit dismayed at Hutch´s angry reply.
 
"Talk about yourself the way Malcolm would. He is gone, and he won´t ever get a hold of you again. You can stop thinking his thoughts."
 
Starsky looked at him as if frightened and then down at his socks. "I just wondered," he mumbled.
 
"You always do," Hutch snapped, but instantly bit his lip, knowing it was the lack of sleep catching up with his patience span. "I´m sorry," he said through a sigh, noticing his friend had tensed up more at that. "I´m just tired."
 
As if for emphasis, he rubbed his face, then silently watched Starsky pretending to watch tv for a moment. "Starsk, look at me."
 
Hesitantly, Starsky obeyed.
 
"What is going on with you?" There, he asked it. Plain and simple...
 
"I want to go home."
 
... and wrong.
 
Hutch sighed, but didn´t answer. Didn´t move at all, just looked at his friend, offering every bit of understanding, help and strenth he had left.
Starsky couldn´t take it. Suddenly becoming increasingly restless, he looked over his shoulder, scanning the room methodically, until he had found what he was looking for. Determined, without glancing back at Hutch, he stood up, crossed the small distance to the corner next to Hutch´s wardrobe he had inhabitated so many days before and sat down in it, back pressed against the wall, knees drawn up, forehead resting on them.
 
Hutch looked after him, not sure if he should stop him and also stood up, but remained next to the couch. "Starsk?" he asked helplessly.
 
"Did you," Starsky´s voice came stifled against the fabric of his jeans, "ever think about how big everything looks from out of a corner?"
 
Hutch swallowed dryly, his features contorted to heartache, but he didn´t know what to answer.
 
At the lack of response, Starsky lifted his head. He still looked sad. Not scared, not confused, not vacant, but just heartbreakingly sad. "Some things belong into corners," he told Hutch in a tone a child would use to say that his pet had died, then dropped his gaze.
 
Hutch watched his friend, this strong, independent, life-loving man he´d known for so long, and couldn´t help but find the realization of just how much Starsky really hurt, how much he really hurt himself, overwhelming.
 
He swallowed hard a couple of times, and finally stepped closer, until he could sit down next to Starsky, crossing his legs. The noises from the tv seemed to fade into the distance, silence engulfing the scenery.
 
Finally, Hutch found the strength to speak. "Yes," he said so softly it was a mere whisper, "some things do. Desks. Lamps. Things," he repeated, stressing the word, really not knowing what the hell he was doing.
 
All he knew was that Starsky needed this conversation right now, as absurd as it was. He could almost feel his friend silently beg him to play along. And so he did.
 
"Toys," Starsky said sadly.
 
"Ahm... no." Hutch shook his head, his mind racing to grasp possible reaction plans. "No, toys belong into the open."
 
Starsky frowned. "Ollie sits in a corner."
 
"No," Hutch hurried to answer. "He sits on the window shelf."
 
"In a corner."
 
"Why is it important where things are?" Hutch asked, his tone still gentle, nothing about his behavior letting on how much he hated doing this.
 
"Because they don´t want to be where they are," Starsky replied.
 
"Where do they want to be, you figure?"
 
"Home."
 
"And when they are home?"
 
Starsky shook his head softly. "They don´t get there."
 
Hutch watched him for a moment. "Starsky," he finally said clearly though still softly, "what happened to you is over. Malcolm is gone. He won´t hurt you again. You can stop being what he wanted you to be."
 
Again, Starsky shook his head. "No," he whispered, his eyes so full of pain it hurt Hutch to look into them. "I can´t."
 
"Yes, you can," Hutch encouraged him. "You don´t need me to free you. You are free."
 
Starsky cast him a desperate look. "I don´t feel free."
 
"But you are," Hutch said and reached out to gently grab the back of
Starsky´s neck, brushing his thumb against his skin in a stroking motion.
 
"You are free. Free to accept that Malcolm was insane, and that he hurt you. But he was never right. You´re not what he wanted you to be, you´re not a thing and no one owns you. You´re a human being just like everyone else."
 
When Starsky didn´t answer, he continued in a more urgent voice, "You´re still the same old Starsk you were before, even now. You´re still as annoying and you made me watch tv all morning."
 
The joke went by unheard.
 
"I don´t feel like a human being," Starsky muttered.
 
"That doesn´t make sense. Only humans feel what you feel."
 
"And if they don´t?" Starsky asked fearfully. "If they don´t feel? If they don´t fulfill any purpose but sitting somewhere? Like a statue?" He paused, waiting for an answer, but got none, as Hutch could only stare at him concerned.
 
"What if you can stop being human?" Starsky continued in a scared whisper. "What if you can turn into a thing? What if-"
 
"You can´t," Hutch assured him helplessly, the absurdity of the thought itself tugging at his soul. "You can´t stop being human, Starsky."
 
"But what IF?!" Starsky insisted. "What is a thing? An inanimate object. What is the difference between an item and an inanimate human then?"
 
"The human feels," Hutch said urgently, feeling like crying or running or yelling or all together.
 
"And if no one knows that? If no one hears that? What sense is there in something feeling, when there´s no one to know?!"
 
Hutch sighed shakily and, at the lack of another idea, drew his agitated friend into a half hug. "I know," he told him softly. "I know you feel. I hear you."
 
"I don´t," Starsky replied. He hadn´t struggled against the embrace, but hadn´t responded to it, either. Underneath his hand on Starsky´s shoulder, Hutch could feel slight tremors of tension run through his body. "I don´t hear myself."
 
"Aw bu...Starsk, you-" Hutch started to soothe, but was interrupted.
 
"I don´t think I feel."
 
Hutch let go off him to look into his eyes, a humorless wry smile on his lips. "How can you say that?" He paused, then briefly reached out to touch Starsky´s shoulder again for proof. "You´re shaking. You´re scared."
 
Again, he waited, but got no reply.
 
"And you´re sad and angry and confused. Don´t tell me you´re not feeling, `cause I see you."
 
"Seen I´ve been before," Starsky muttered as if to himself, staring at his feet and the floor.
 
Hutch frowned. The words didn´t make sense to him, but the resigned tone they were uttered in distressed him, and as if to drag his friend out of a trance, he snapped his fingers next to Starsky´s ear to make him look at him.
 
"Hey."

Not a bit startled, Starsky lifted his head slowly, seemingly lazily, his eyes full of sadness, but empty at the same time.
 
If eyes were mirrors of the soul, those midnight blues were just mirrors at the moment, only surface. Like there was nothing behind them.
 
Brows arched questioningly, Hutch looked at him urgently, frightened by the sudden subdued manner. "B... Starsky?"
 
When Starsky only glanced away as if taking in his surroundings for the first time, Hutch bent in closer. "Starsk."
 
'What now? What happened? Talk to me, damn it!'
 
He was met by a blank gaze - then the familiar equally blank smile he´d come to loathe over the past weeks.
 
"Sorry," Starsky mumbled with an apologetic twist of his lips, and stood up, brushing imaginary dust off his jeans.
 
"Rambling again," he added to no one in particular as he scanned the room for some place to go and finally settled for the couch table to reclaim his seat in front of the tv.
 
Hutch didn´t follow at first, but just stared after him, anger building in his chest. And though shame at that feeling rose equally fast, he couldn´t seem to get past it. He felt disappointed, furious, as if his partner had fooled him on purpose.
 
His rational part, of course, knew it was the exhaustion, physical as well as emotional, that supplied those feelings, but at the same time, this rational part couldn´t argue with the fact that exploding had at least changed things once before.
 
Besides, rationality seldomly had a say when Hutch got really upset.
Slowly, he got to his feet too, crossed the room until he stood directly in front of the tv and switched it off. At Starsky´s questioning look, he folded his arms in front of his chest, glaring down at his partner once more huddled on the couch.
 
It took a while, before he was ready to speak, though, since even boiling fury couldn´t withstand the overwhelming concern and sadness that always flooded Hutch´s mind when he just took in the huddled, tensed, frightened posture that had turned into Starsky´s personal label.
When he spoke, though, his voice was calm and stern, sarcasm lingering in the very background of the words. "Have you listened to a word you said back there, Starsky?"
 
Starsky blinked, puzzled, and frowned. "I don´t know what you mean."
 
"Have you listened to yourself? Back there in that corner?"
 
A shy, confused little smile crossed Starsky´s lips. "Wh... I told you, I was rambling. Just... too tired I guess." He paused briefly, waiting for an affirmating reply, and when he got none, added, "I´m sorry, Hutch."
 
"Sorry for what?" Hutch asked quietly.
 
Obviously taken by surprise by the question, Starsky opened his mouth, but closed it again. "Uhm..." he made and gave a half shrug.
 
"Sorry for scaring the hell out of me by acting completely insane or sorry for letting on how things really are for once?"
 
"I don´t know what you´re talking about."
 
"Hm-mm," Hutch made sarcastically, and studied his friend silently for a long time, before asking, "Are you planning on shutting me out for the rest of your life?"
 
Starsky´s chin actually dropped at that. He seemed honestly upset, though he didn´t move an inch, didn´t even lower his legs. "Why are you saying that? I´m not shutting you out."
 
Once more, Hutch paused, watching Starsky. "Okay. How´re you feeling right now?"
 
Though he seemed almost fightened by the interrogation that was going on, Starsky managed a sarcastic snort. "You gonna ask me what I´m thinking next?" he wise-cracked.
 
"Yes."
 
The nervous amusement vanished from Starsky´s face, his gaze dropped.
 
Silence followed, as Hutch just didn´t know what to do and was helplessly watching his best friend, who looked scared.
 
Finally, like he had done weeks before, Hutch settled for the truth. No tactics, no plan.
 
"I´m so worried about you. You´ve no idea."
 
Starsky looked up, surprised. "I´m fine, I told you."
 
"Yeah, maybe that´s what worries me," Hutch joked bitterly, but returned to his quiet, honest tone as he sighed and continued, "I don´t know what to do anymore, Starsk."
 
In a helpless, tired looking gesture, he threw his hands halfway in the air.
Starsky opened his mouth, but was cut off before a sound had left his throat. "And you haven´t been fine for a long, long time."
 
At the silent, somewhat questioning look he received, Hutch drove a hand through his hair in a frustrated gesture and finally walked over to sit down next to Starsky.
 
"I´m-"
 
The phone rang, and Hutch shot it an angry look, but ignored it and turned back to his friend. "I-"
 
"Hutch, the phone."
 
Hutch winked and was about to continue his sentence, but Starsky interrupted him again. "Maybe it´s important."
 
"THIS is important."
 
"But maybe it´s about the case," Starsky said hastily and was about to grab the receiver, but Hutch snatched it out of his hand, irritated.
 
"Not now-" he started to bark into it, but fell silent, when a more impressive bark answered.
 
"Hutchinson! I want you and Starsky at Sayer´s in a minute. We got a breakthrough."
 
"Cap´n, that´s not-"
 
"Why´re you still on the phone?! Move!"
 
Frustrated, Hutch shot Starsky a glance, as he replied, "I don´t think we can-"
 
"Listen, Hutch," Dobey cut him off in as dangerous a tone as he could muster. "Since this case started, I´ve seen my kids maybe three times top. So if our squad screws this because of you and Starsky, traffic control will look like heaven to you two. Understood?"
 
"U-understood."
 
"Good. See you there." And with that, he hang up.
 
The receiver dangling from his hand, Hutch gazed at his waiting partner, his thoughts racing past the resignful frustration on his mind.
 
'He´s not up to it, you can´t possibly bring him to an arrest! - Oh? So what am I supposed to do? Leave him alone?'
 
"C´mon, Starsk, looks like our days off could start tomorrow."
 
Without a reply, Starsky went to get his jacket. Hutch watched as he too stood up and wiped his tired features, muttering to himself, "What am I doing here?"
 
****
 
The side street to Walter Sayer´s club looked like a spontaneous police party had just started. It was crammed with civil and uni cars, and it seemed the whole squad was there, every single person busy doing... something.
 
Truth - it was chaos. All units responsible had been called spontanously by the observing shift, two tired looking young men, who had just finished explaining why exactly it was they thought that "whatever" was going down right now, when Hutch approached Dobey, the center of activity.
 
As he got closer, he froze for a second and rolled his eyes, when he continued on his way. Next to Dobey stood Conmmiossioner Coe, looking like he was  the eye of a twister. Deceivingly calm, his grey eyes shining with what to Hutch looked like excitement.
 
"Cap´n."
 
"Hutchinson! What took you so long? Where´s your partner?"
 
"In the car," Hutch answered, pointing with his thumb over his shoulder. "Commissioner," he greeted Coe with a polite nod, that was ignored.
 
"What´s he doing there?" Dobey barked, his mood of the day obviously Coe-caused.
 
Hutch opened his mouth, but when his gaze wandered over to Coe next to Dobey, he didn´t hear himself state that his partner was absolutely not fit for work. Instead, he heard himself mumble, "He´ll be here in a sec."
 
"He´d better," Coe said, sounding strangely as if he was immitating Dobey. For a commissioner, he was strinkingly young, his too high voice making him appear even younger when he spoke. "We don´t have time to lose."
 
Hutch shot him the quickest of looks, then turned to Dobey again. "What gives?"
 
"Dawson and Linsey here claim they spotted half the Cusa family walk in there half an hour ago," Coe replied, before Dobey had even opened his mouth.
 
Mockingly politely, Hutch nodded and once more looked at Dobey, lifting his brows questioningly.
 
Shooting him a 'Don´t start!'-look, Dobey barked, "You heard the man. Now go get your partner, I want you two at the back door with Tom and Anderson."
 
Hutch blinked, making a show out of his confusion, that actually was beginning to irritate him. And it wasn´t that he wasn´t ALREADY mighty irritated...
 
"Cap´n, the Cusas come here every day. Before I started getting into the paper work, I thought they lived here! What the hell´s this all about?!"
 
"You might want to watch your language, Detective," Coe chided.
 
But Hutch was beyond caring, anway. Nothing of this carried even the slightest resemblence to something important for him at the moment. He just wanted to be told what to do, do it and get straight back to talking sense into his sick friend.
 
"And you might want to tell me what´s such a big deal `bout a bunch of guys entering their local."
 
"Hutchinson-"
 
"`Cause, you know something, Commissioner?" Hutch added, ignoring Dobey´s half whispered warning. "I got better things to do than waste my time blowing your God damned case."
 
Absolutely calm, Coe met the blond detective´s gaze and smiled sweetly. "I´m sure you do, Detective, and I´d suggest doing your homework if it wasn´t too late for that now. See, if you had spent this morning going through the Department´s handouts, you might have read that a Washington cover agent informed us about Enrico Cusa returning back home after a, let´s say, 'business stay' at his friends, the Alambras, in D.C. Enrico used an alias, so we never would have found him on the passenger lists, but fortunately-"
 
Rolling his eyes, Hutch cut him off in as annoyed a tone as Dobey had
ever heard him use to anyone but his partner. "So you know for sure there´s the bust of the century waiting for us in there."
 
Taken off guard, Coe stammered. "Uhm... well... We know that-"
 
"Fine," Hutch cut him off again. "That´s all I wanted to know." With that he once more shook his head as if at the Commissioner´s stupidity and turned to his superior. "Starsky `n me´ll be at the back then."
 
Dobey nodded and was just about to add a rethorical "be careful", when a shot broke through the busy chatting of the group.
 
Only an instant later, Lionel Anderson´s excited voice came over the transmitter in Dobey´s hand. "They made us! Looks like they try both exit-" A second shot could be heard, followed by more, then Anderson again. "Shit! Officer down! Repeat: officer down!"
 
After that, everything went down.
 
Training taking over, everybody stormed to his or her position, instinctively knowing where to be and what to do. Teams built by reflex, moving to their cars or around the corner, as it became clear that the criminals had decided to go for an individual escape tactic, meaning everybody was on his own, left on his own and used his own amount of violence.
 
It was a seldomly used tactic with mob meetings, because the risks for each one were so high, but on the other hand, it was extremely effective when it came to taking as many cops with you as you could.
 
In the chaos following the drive-by shootings of at least four cars that turned around the corner, driving right through the mass of police cars, Hutch had turned on his heels to meet Starsky and get to their position. Acting on pure instict, he expected his partner to run into him halfway on the way and was honestly surprised when he couldn´t find him.
 
"Hey," he called out to a colleague who passed him, "you seen Starsky?"
 
"Went to the back," the man replied without stopping in his sprint.
 
Hutch stopped in mid-run, stumbling over his own feet, turned and ran back into the direction he´d come from, leaving his colleague way behind.
 
Each hasty step he took was accompanied by a curse, like a rhythmical mantra. He constantly had to stop, jump out of the way or return fire, as the escape chaos continued, though it was significantly slowly decreasing, since most of the teams had already chosen a car to follow, and the ground was dotted with fallen victims of both sides.
 
When he skittered around the corner of the building to the back door Hutch froze, wide-eyed.
 
Only Starsky and Coe were standing next to the half ajar back door, facing each other, as Starsky stood completely still and calm, while Coe was holding him at gun point with shaking hands, his breathing ragged.
 
He seemed near frantic.
 
Snapping out of his shock within a split second, Hutch found himself running again. "Coe! Hey... d-don´t shoot! That´s my partner!"
 
Relief seemed to flood Coe, when he saw Hutch approach him, and he lowered his weapon instantly. "I know," he muttered, and received the briefest puzzled look for that, as Hutch came to a halt next to Starsky, who hadn´t moved.
 
"Hey, y´kay?" Before Starsky had even time to answer, Hutch turned to Coe again, anger quickly pushing everything else off his face. "What the f... What happened here?! He´s a cop, for Christ´s Sake!"
 
"I know!" Coe repeated sternly, cast Starsky a despising look and sighed again, driving a hand through his hair.
 
At a loss of words, Hutch stared him expectantly, unconsciously having stepped forward, so that he was partially shielding his friend from the Commssioner.
 
"He refused to stop a fleeing criminal," Coe exclaimed.
 
Confused to the point of being scared, Hutch shot Starsky a glance, but was met only by a vacant gaze. "Wh-what... ?"
 
Spotting Dobey, who turned around the corner, Coe handed Hutch the gun he was still holding and pointed his index finger at him. "I want to see you and your partner in Captain Dobey´s office in fifteen minutes, Hutchinson."
 
And with that, he hurried over to Dobey, who, after a concerned gaze at his detectives, turned to walk next to the Commissioner.
 
Hutch stared after them, then at his partner, whose head was bowed.
 
"Starsky, what happened?"
 
His friend didn´t move.
 
"Starsk!" Hutch almost yelled and grabbed Starsky´s arm, earning a startled flinch. "Tell me what the hell happened here!"
 
The sudden fear in Starsky´s eyes vanished as if a switch had turned off, when he met the concerned gaze of his friend. Absolutely serious, he answered, "I´m not the one, who should stop people."
 
"What?" Hutch shot back and gave his friend´s arm a rude shake, almost unconsciously.
 
Starsky didn´t even notice. He was lost in thoughts.
 
"Starsk!" Hutch called out, shaking him more, but with no results.
"Damn it, talk to me! What did you do here?"
 
But he wasn´t going to get answers. So with a submitting sigh, he finally gave up and nearly dragged his partner back to his car to find out the truth.
 
*****
 
Half an hour later, he wished he hadn´t.
 
Coe had sent him to wait outside, when he and Starsky had entered Dobey´s office. About ten minutes later, Starsky had left it and, without a word, had walked past Hutch and out of the squad room.
 
"Starsk? Wait, wha-"
 
"Hutchinson," Coe´s stern voice had held Hutch back from following his partner. "D´you have a moment? Please?"
 
And there he sat now, seemingly surrounded by Dobey and Coe, though both sat or stood behind Dobey´s desk, one very concerned and one very angry gaze focused on him, who was still working on understanding what he´d just been told.
 
A full five-seconds-silence had just occured, when Hutch heard himself ask in a tone so child-like it put Starsky´s boyish moments to shame, "Is that really true?"
 
The second the words were out, he inwardly groaned at them, and he couldn´t help thinking a hint of Dobey´s worried-father-look had just crossed his face.
 
"I-I mean..." he tried to correct his question. "I... I can´t believe that."
 
"You'd better," Coe said gravely, folding his arms in front of his chest.
"It´s exactly what happened. Detective Starsky did not only refuse to even draw his gun on a fleeing member of the Cusa clan, he purposely stepped in the line of fire and then watched the man run to his car."
 
Unnerved, Hutch wiped over his eyes. "Thanks, Commissioner, the second time the story sounded so much better."
 
Ignoring the sarcasm, Coe added, "He could have easily gotten himself killed. He walked straight into-"
 
"I heard you the first time," Hutch cut him off, casting him a challenging look.
 
Meeting the Detective´s gaze, Coe hardened his features. "Like I said," he said, glancing from Hutch to Dobey and back, "if you want my opinion, that wasn´t a tactic of any sort. I think Detective Starsky wanted to get killed."
 
"And if you want MY opinion-" Hutch started, jumping to his feet, but was interrupted not by Dobey´s instant gesture to sit down again, but by Coe´s talking over his words.
 
"And when I asked him why he hadn´t followed the man or ducked or anything, Detective Starsky told me, he wasn´t 'supposed to stop people.'" He made a pause for emphasis, but when no one spoke, lifted his brows expectantly. "Don´t you two have anything to say to that at all?!"
 
"Why did you threaten him?" Hutch suggested sarcastically, his brows also climbing upwards, as he watched the Commissioner hatefully. He hadn´t sat down, either, so that they were facing each other with a heartbreakingly desperate looking Dobey between them.
 
"I told you," Coe answered coldly, "I thought he was suicidal."
 
"And you thought it wise to hold a suicidal person at gun point?"
 
"Probably wiser than having him keep his weapon," Coe responded.
 
Hutch stared at him for a short moment, then turned his attention to Dobey, who hadn´t said a thing ever since Hutch had entered the room.
"Starsky is not suicidal."
 
Sighing as if regretting his presence had been discovered, Dobey scratched his forehead, avoiding to look at Hutch. "He doesn´t seem to be very stable, either."
 
"But Cap´n-"
 
"Look, Hutchinson," Dobey cut him off with a bark that to Hutch sounded defensively. "There´s no reason to not believe the Commssioner´s statement."
 
He made a pause as if silently acknowledging the angry look he earned for that remark.
 
"And you and I both know Starsky´s been through a lot recently." At the growing protest on Hutch´s expression, he hurried to add, "I´m not saying I think he´s suicidal. But he did act... weird recently." Another pause. "Or didn´t he?"
 
Hutch opened his mouth, but at the expectant expression he caught in Coe´s eyes, closed it and frowned. "Hey... wait a second..." he stammered as a thought hit him. "Wait a second. What´s going on here?"
 
"Detective Hutchinson," Coe said, clearly taking over the conversation again, much to Dobey´s visible irritation. "Did you notice any changes in your partner´s behavior since his... abduction some time ago?"
 
Hutch watched him suspiciously. "What d´you want from me, an official statement?"
 
"Just an answer would be nice," Coe replied sweetly.
 
"An answer to what question?" Hutch shot back. "Do I think my partner has lost his mind? No. Do I believe he´s a danger to himself and others? No. Do I think you, Commissioner, acted totally out of line when you held a police officer in action at gun point? Yes."
 
Out of the corner of his eyes, Hutch could see Dobey close his eyes as if frustrated, but he was too angry to care about it.
 
Still calm, Coe stepped around Dobey´s desk to lean against it, his gaze never leaving Hutch. "Did you," he asked quietly, pronouncing each single word, "notice any changes in Detective Starsky´s behavior that might have indicated he was not able to do his job anymore?"
 
Hutch glared at him, but didn´t respond.
 
"Answer the question, Detective," Coe said and after a pause added, "That´s an order."
 
A long silence passed, and finally Hutch stated in as quiet a voice as he could muster, "No."
 
"No what?" Coe asked, irritated.
 
"If you aren´t talking about being dead on our feet for a month now due to our working hours, for which we are all very grateful to you..."
 
As Hutch paused for emphasis, he could see Dobey quickly hide a smug smile, while Coe rolled his eyes.
 
"I did not notice any changes in Starsky´s behavior since his 'abduction', as you so eloquently put it."
 
"Hm-mm," Coe made, mockingly rubbing his chin as if thinking about the answer. "Can I ask you another question, Detective?"
 
"Please do."
 
"Are you lying to me?"
 
Hutch smirked. "You always that polite, Commissioner?"
 
After another long gaze, Coe let go of a breath, like a sigh, and pushed himself away from the desk again to take a few steps back, while he said, "Hutchinson, I understand you. Starsky is your friend and you want to protect him. That´s fine with me."
 
All sarcastic humor gone from his face, Hutch looked after the man with a frown. "And... why would he need my protection?"
 
Having found the wall to lean against, his arms once more folded in front of him, Coe answered, "I suspended him-"
 
"You don´t have the power to do that," Hutch interrupted him.
 
"Right," Coe smiled. "So let´s say I suggested the idea to Captain Dobey, and then he suspended him."
 
At Hutch´s glance, Dobey seemed suddenly particularly interested in the surface of his desk.
 
"And I´m going to have a psychiatrist of my choice have a look at Detective Starsky," Coe continued. "Before I decide what further course to take in dealing with this... incident."
 
Hutch´s chin dropped. Disbelief colored his staring eyes.
 
"Hutch-" Dobey started in a warning whisper, but he didn´t get very far.
 
"A psychiatrist of YOUR choice?!" Hutch repeated, all initial shock quickly being replaced by clear, protective fury. "What, because your brilliantly planned headliner of a bust didn´t work out - because the whole scheme was one large programmed disaster from the beginning-"
 
"Hutchinson-"
 
"...you want to declare Starsky insane now and blame it all on him?!"
 
"I never said I want to declare him anything," Coe defended himself. "All I want to is make sure-"
 
"That you´ll have a scapegoat!" Hutch finished the sentence in a dangerously low voice. "Isn´t it? Isn´t that what you want to make sure, Commssioner Coe?"
 
"No!" Coe almost yelled back, effectively stopping Hutch, who had stepped closer. "I want to make sure we don´t have men out there on the street, who are obviously not stable enough for the job!"
 
Anger boiling, Hutch continued on his way, until his outstretched index finger almost touched Coe´s nose. "Listen, SIR, I know my partner, and if this psychiatrist of your choice declares him anything but SLIGHTLY suffering from a recent traumatic experience, I´ll know where it comes from, and I´ll drag it up all the way to court if necessary!"
 
Though he didn´t want to acknowledge it, Hutch saw honest sympathy in Coe´s eyes, as he Commissioner quietly asked, "YOU will, Detective?"
 
"I..." Hutch started, but trailed off.
 
Coe sighed. "I understand how you feel," he said. "But I won´t be stopped on this by a case of blind protectiveness. If necessary, I´ll drag it up to court, and I´ll make sure you´ll lose whatever influence you have on your partner´s life."
 
Surprised, Hutch frowned. "How d´you know I´m Starsky´s next of kin?" He answered the question himself by letting his gaze wander over to Dobey, though.
 
Coe hadn´t even listened. "It´s not that I´m particularly fond of the idea of having to admit one of the best police officers in this city," he rambled on, "but my responsibilty are the citizens, and if I have reason to believe-"
 
"I think I got your point now, Commissioner," Hutch cut him off, still staring at Dobey, who still studied his desk. "Would you mind excusing me and my... superior for a moment, please?"
 
"Hm?" Coe made and seemed to take in the situation for the first time.
"Oh. No, of course not. I´ll be... outside," he finished lamely and started to head for the door. "And Detective?"
 
Hutch turned to look at him.
 
"Don´t take this personally."
 
Despite himself, Hutch smirked, and his voice was freezing, when he replied, "Don´t worry."
 
With a sigh, Coe opened the door.
 
"Oh, uhm, Commissioner Coe?" Hutch´s voice held him back.
 
"Yes?"
 
"Just curious... Where did you stand, when Starsky proved his suicidal tendencies by throwing himself in the line of fire?"
 
Visibly unnerved by the sarcasm, Coe rolled his eyes. "Behind him."
 
Hutch lifted his brows innocently. "So he stepped in front of you?"
 
"Yes," Coe replied, irritated.
 
"I see. Try not to forget to mention that in court."
 
And, suddenly understanding, the Commissioner left, all but throwing the door shut behind himself.
 
For the length of a calming breath, there was silence, then Hutch turned to glare at Dobey. "I´m so glad I had you here to back me up!"
 
As if on cue, Dobey´s head snapped up again. "Now wait a second-"
"Where d´you get off listening to this jerk and suspend Starsky?!" Hutch interrupted him furiously. "He didn´t do anything!"
 
"And how d´you know that?" Dobey shot back.
 
"Because I-"
 
"At least Coe wasn´t lying to me!"
 
"And I was?" Hutch replied, honestly stunned by the accusation, his volume dropping a few levels.
 
"Oh, weren´t you?" Dobey asked with angry sarcasm. "You didn´t notice any changes in your partner´s behavior?! Come on!"
 
For a short moment it was so silent in the room, you could hear Hutch hold his breath. And when he let it go, it seemed to take with it all of the detective´s energy, all of his strength, until there was nothing he could do but sink into a chair and let his head fall into his hands.
 
Dobey watched, his heart aching for the sudden wave of despair that seemed ton have broken through a crumbling wall the younger man had built around his own fears.
 
When he spoke, the Captain´s voice was as soft as it could get. "Hutch, what´s going on with Starsky?"
 
Hutch didn´t look up, but wiped his hands over his face, then let them fall in his lap. "I-I don´t..." he stammered and sighed once more, his eyes finding Dobey´s. "I don´t know." He paused, letting his gaze wander off again. "But I know something. Suspending him isn´t helping. And admitting him won´t, either."
 
Now it was the Captain´s turn to sigh. "Hutchinson, if he´s-"
 
"It´s not like that!" Hutch insisted, sounding helplessly. "I mean, he´s not..." He hushed himself, searching for the right words. "Coe is wrong," he finally stated, convinced. "Starsky´s not suicidal, and he´s not crazy, and the worst anyone can do right now is treat him like he was, for, if you ask me, I think that´s exactly what he wants."
 
Closing his mouth with a confused frown, Dobey cast him a questioning
look.
 
"Somehow," Hutch tried to explain his theory, "it´s all connected to Malcolm Watters. Starsky... he´s... I think he blames himself. For what happened to Malcolm."
 
The furrow on Dobey´s forehead deepened. "But we never got the
guy."
 
"I know. I meant back... then. You know, when Malcolm was a kid. I think Starsky somehow blames himself for all that."
 
"That doesn´t make any sense!"
 
"No," Hutch admitted and smiled sadly. "You´re right, it doesn´t. But that doesn´t change how he feels." When he paused again, his gaze seemed to drift off, where his mind took it to see an inner picture, an inner scene that for Dobey was painted by the absolutely desperate sound of his voice.
 
"He´s still scared, naturally. And he´s so full of hate against Malcolm. And that´s also natural. But at the same time," he lifted his head again to look at Dobey, wanting to see understanding in the older man´s eyes, "he thinks how can he feel this way, after all Malcolm told him? After everything he knows about how the poor kid had to suffer, how can he still feel this way? Why can´t he let go? Why can´t he forgive?"
 
It seemed that as he said the words out loud for the first time, he himself understood their full meaning, the logical conclusion they led to.
 
When he spoke on, his voice was so grave it sent a cold shudder down Dobey´s spine.
 
"The answer comes easy. If he can´t feel, he doesn´t have to think about it. If Malcolm was right..." He shrugged. "... then there´s nothing to worry about. But it doesn´t work that way. He does feel. He does feel hate and fear and..." He trailed off, but caught himself with a sad sigh. "I think he wants to punish himself for what he feels."
 
He looked up and found his own sorrow reflected in Dobey´s expression. He smiled humorlessly. "I´m not so much worried about Coe declaring Starsky insane and admit him, Cap´n. I´m worried about STARSKY wanting that."
 
For a long time they held each other gaze, until Hutch´s dropped, guilt flashing through his light eyes. Staring at his hands lying limply in his lap, he shook his head sadly as if at himself. "I´m such an idiot. I knew he shouldn´t have come with me. I knew he wasn´t up to doing the job, but..."
 
He trailed off, one hand weakly coming up, as if he wanted to hit the desk, but didn´t find the strength. "If anything had happened today..." He closed his eyes briefly.
 
As he listened, Dobey´s features seemed to harden, until he looked almost stern, grim. Like he always did, when he´d made a decision.
"Get a grip, Detective," he exclaimed, his bark definiately on the road to recovery.
 
Surprised, Hutch glanced up at him.
 
"We haven´t heard Starsky´s version yet."
 
A frown quickly digging into the skin on his forehead, Hutch tilted his head to one side slightly, looking almost suspiciously. "You haven't?"
 
"Nah," Dobey replied gruffly with an annoyed waving of his hand. "He wouldn´t talk to the Commissioner, when we had him in here. You know how he is, he was probably pissed at Coe acting out of line out there, so he refused to speak. I mean," he added, averting his eyes when he saw an expression of overwhelming gratefulness spread on the younger man´s face, "I don´t have to tell you how childish your partner can get sometimes."
 
"U-uhm... no... sir," Hutch stammered, actually too stunned to even grin.
 
The relief at finding himself not alone on this side of worried any longer was overwhelming.
 
Dobey growled an affirmative noise and added, "Well, I can´t do anything about the Commissioner´s orders, so if he wants some shrink friend of his to be irritated to death by that clown of a cop, let him. But you might want to check with Starsky and kick some sense into him to co-operate." He paused long enough to make sure the true sense of his words were understood, then added an incredibly soft, "Okay?"
 
Hutch just stared.
 
"The psychological check-up will be in two weeks," Dobey explained quietly. "We´ll see then if it´ll come to a hearing. But I can´t do anything about the suspension for those two weeks."
 
Hutch nodded, opened his mouth, closed it, thought and in the end just smiled warmly. "Thanks, Cap´n."
 
"Yeah, yeah," Dobey grumbled and waved his detective outside.
 
The smile still on his face, Hutch quickly stood to leave.
 
"And Hutch," Dobey´s voice held him back at the door. "If you... need anything..."
 
Hutch blinked gratefully and left the room, leaving Dobey behind alone to sink back in his chair heavily, his tired eyes closing as if looking for inward strength.
 
'God, I hope I didn´t just make a horrible mistake,' he thought, but as his eyes opened again, waved at himself with a silent growl. 'What am I thinking? Like I ever do!'
 
*****
 
Closing Dobey´s door behind himself, Hutch hurried over to his chair to collect his jacket, when his phone rang.
 
Out of pure reflex, he picked up, cursing himself the second he did, since he really wanted out of there as soon as possible.
 
"Hutchinson leaving," he sweetly told the caller, bent over the desk standing, ready to put down the receiver right again, but the nearly frantic voice answering made him froze on the spot.
 
"Hutch."
 
"Starsk, wha-"
 
"Hutch, I-I need you. Can you come here? Like right now? Please? I
need you."
 
"Starsky, calm down. What happ-"
 
"Please, Hutch, please come here. Please. I-I really... I think I made a mistake."
 
Hutch felt as though his heart would stop. "Don´t move. I´ll be right there."
 
He was about to hang up, but couldn´t seem to find the willpower to do so, as he could still hear his friend´s ragged, almost high-pitched breathing. It was obvious that Starsky was in panic.
 
"Starsky, don´t move," Hutch repeated, forcing his voice to carry some calming effect through the connection. "Don´t even hang up, just stay right where you are, and I´ll be with you in a second. Okay?"
 
An audibly scared sniff seemed to be all the reply, but was followed by a whimpered, "Yeah. Hurry."
 
And that was all Hutch needed to have him racing out of the room and
to his car.
 
*****
 
Actually, Commissioner Coe had been wrong. At least about one thing. Stepping in front of him had had nothing to do with stepping in the line of fire. It had had something to do with the reflexes of a cop.
 
When the Sayer´s hell had broken lose, those had been truly everything David Starsky had suddenly turned into. One walking cop instinct. He had left the car, not because he had been startled by the sounds of gun fire, but to go take his position, wherever that might have been.
 
"At the back," some colleague had informed him at his yelled question, and so there he had went, instinctively assuming that Hutch would already wait for him there.
 
If Commissioner Coe had been right, Dave Starsky would have never arrived at the back door. Too many chances to get killed in between.
So, cop instinct on full alert, Starsky had made his way through the chaos of cars, people and gun fire, his own gun drawn - but never used. Which was, also actually, a coincidence. He just hadn´t had to.
 
Until he had arrived at his position, finding it almost cleared by everyone else, except for Commissioner Coe, who had had chosen the wrong corner to take cover behind and one fleeing young man, who had
instantly opened fire at the approaching detective. Still acting in instinct, Starsky had stepped in front of the Commissioner, the unarmed civilian.
And that had been the point Commissioner Coe´s tale had started to come true. That had been when Starsky´s instinct had been replaced by something he´d come to listen to more closely. A voice that had told him not to stop - or even try to stop - the fleeing criminal, but to watch him run.
 
Simply because, as the voice had told him, he was not supposed to stop people. He was not supposed to have this kind of power.
 
He had frozen, not because he had wanted to get himself shot, but because he had been so incredibly confused by the fact that he had had gotten where he´d been on his own means already. What had he been thinking? What had happened?
 
The one or two shots that had - miraciously - missed him, he hadn´t even heard. He hadn´t wanted to get killed, he had wanted to understand.
 
And then, as if all that hadn´t been confusing enough, he had been asked by Coe over and over and over again in Dobey´s office if he had wanted to endanger his life. Why hadn´t he responded fire? Why hadn´t he taken cover? Why hadn´t he ducked? Did he realize that he could have gotten killed? That he could have died?
 
He hadn´t answered, hadn´t said one word - well, except for the small voiced "yes, sir" when he´d been released - but, as always, he had started thinking. The question had started him thinking. DID he realize he could have died? And, more importantly, COULD he really have died?
 
He had taken a cab home and had tried sitting in his corner to think, but it hadn´t worked. He couldn´t concentrate. So he had tried looking at Malcolm´s files, but that hadn´t worked, either.
 
And that had been, when he´d suddenly found himself standing in the bathroom, staring at himself in the mirror.
 
He hadn´t looked at himself for a long time. He wondered whether he should be shocked or surprised or even if he should notice changes.
 
Had he always had those dark lines under his eyes? Had he always looked so... empty?
 
"Can you die?"
 
He didn´t even notice he´d spoken the question out loud into his reflection´s face, until he heard it. And instantly, it had popped into reality.
 
Could he... die? If you stopped being human, did you stop being mortal? If you stopped feeling, what was left then that could have died?
Another thought rose in his - actually very feeling - heart like a twister: if you couldn´t die, you would never end. This would never end. It was the logical conclusion. Things didn´t die.
 
He would always be there. Always exist.
 
Suddenly, like waking from a dream, he felt something warm and wet on his right palm.
 
Blinking surprisedly, he stared at the thin red line on his right wrist, then let his gaze slowly wander to a his left hand. Something small in it, something sharp. He let the item he held fall into his palm. A razor blade.
 
How had that gotten in his hand? How had that gotten into his flesh?
Another sticky drop rolled down his right wrist to dry on his skin, and he studied the small wound again, the former questions suddenly fading away, as a realization hit him.
 
He was bleeding.
 
Not much, mind you, and it seemed to be stopping already, but he had bled from the little cut. Tilting his head to one side a bit,  just like a curious kid would, with the indrawn frown of the explorer etched into his forehead, he studied his damaged wrist closer. After a moment, he scratched at the crusted blood.
 
Digging for blood.
 
After another short moment, he worked the blade back between his fingers. This time he felt the cut. And the blood. And finally the pain.
A tiny sound drew his fascinated eyes down. A handful of drops of bright red dotted the floor. Another one followed.
 
Bleeding. He was bleeding. And it hurt.
 
Blade still in hand, he turned his attention back to the bloody line he´d drawn into his own flesh. If he could bleed, he could die too, couldn´t he? He could die, and it would end. It would finally end. No more fear. No more existing.
 
Freedom.
 
'"Would you free me too?" - "I hate it, when you do that, Starsk."'
 
No corner, but wide, engulfing darkness.
 
'"Where do they want to be, you figure?" - "Home." - "And when they are home?" - "They don´t get there."'
 
Just close your eyes and sleep. And rest. And no more thinking. No more figuring out. No more confusion.
 
'"I´m so worried about you. You´ve no idea."'
 
He had to draw in air and noticed for the first time he´d held his breath. His hands started trembling. The razor blade along them.
 
'"I know. I know you feel. I hear you. - You´re scared. You´re shaking."'
 
Actually it was a slow process. Actually, sounds, images, bits and pieces flashed on before his inner eye, as if his memory was throwing them at him to distract him, until - somehow - help would come.
 
But to him, it seemed like a split second. One moment he´d been nearly slashing his own wrist, the next he practically threw the bloodied blade into the sink, gasping in shock, staring at the evil thing with scared, wide, unbelieving eyes.
 
'Oh my God! Oh my God! What´s going on?!'
 
He was shaking so hard he couldn´t lift his hand to wipe the sweat off his face. His cheeks felt flushed, yet he was so cold violent shudders ran up and down his spine.
 
His hands he still had in the air, turned over, the bleeding cut glaring at him.
 
He couldn´t seem to get his breathing back under control, as it matched the speed of his racing thoughts.
 
'You just tried to kill yourself! Oh my God... What... Why... You wanted to kill yourself, you bastard. What the hell were you thinking?! What did you think you were doing?! You were about to fucking slash your wrist!!!'
 
With a stumbled step back, he grabbed a nearby washcloth and pressed it onto the cut.
 
'Help. I need help.'
 
The way to the phone he felt like walking through a choking fog. He wanted to run, but he couldn´t, as if he couldn´t see where he was going. Blackness seemed to linger in the corner of his vision. He told himself it couldn´t possibly be from blood loss - the bleeding had actually already nearly stopped - but he felt as though it was. He felt as though he was dying. Fading fast.
 
Help. He needed help.
 
It rang once, twice... "Please Hutch, please... Pick up... I need you... Please... Pick-"
 
"Hutchinson leaving."
 
"Hutch."
 
"Starsk, wha-"
 
"Hutch, I-I need you. Can you come here? Like right now? Please? I need you."
 
"Starsky, calm down. What happ-"
 
"Please, Hutch, please come here. Please. I-I really... I think I made a mistake."
 
Silence on the other line, then, tensed, "Don´t move. I´ll be right there."
 
Starsky didn´t reply. He kept pressing the receiver to his ear, holding his wrapped up right wrist against his chest. He could hear Hutch listen for him.
 
"Starsky, don´t move. Don´t even hang up, just stay right where you are, and I´ll be with you in a second. Okay?"
 
Taking in a shaky breath through his nose, feeling like he would really just lose it once he wouldn´t hear his partner´s voice anymore, Starsky managed a pleading, "Yeah. Hurry."
 
The dial tone answered him. He tightened his grip on the receiver, mumbling "hurry, please hurry" to no one like a mantra.
 
*****
 
If he had to, Hutch could keep up with a driving style that put that of his partner to shame on his best days.
 
Now was such an occasion. The wails of the siren marked the battered LTD´s race through the streets important enough to ignore everything you could ignore in day-time traffic.
 
Hutch was so into his task of forcing his poor car to spread wings or beam itself right into Starsky´s living room, that he even forgot to swear at the few freaks, who had the nerve to sound their horns at him.
 
He couldn´t remember the last time he´d been that scared, though, he added sarcastically, it couldn´t have been that long ago. When had been the last time he had not been scared?
 
He came to a halt in front of Starsky´s place with squealing tires. If the driver´s door hadn´t fallen shut by itself, he´d have left his car wide open, as he almost stumbled over his feet on his way inside.
 
He didn´t bother knocking or calling, but practically burst into the apartment and threw the door shut behind him.
 
"Starsk, it´s me!" he announced himself, the last word barely out before he´d reached the kitchen, where he froze in the doorway.
 
Behind the couch he´d stuffed into the too small room stood Starsky, the receiver of his phone still in his left hand, his knuckles white.
 
His right arm he held awkwardly pressed against his body with his hand clenched into a fist. Hutch instantly noticed the washcloth that covered his wrist.
 
Starsky was breathing like he´d just run a marathon, sweat glittered on his forehead, and he was shaking like a leaf.
 
Hutch swallowed dryly against increasing panic and managed a very weary smile, as he started to climb over the couch to get to his partner.
 
"Is this your tacitc, buddy? Make me lose my driver´s license?"
 
Starsky didn´t say a thing, but his eyes never left Hutch.
 
"I think I finally outraced the tomato," Hutch joked and carefully reached out to take the receiver out of his friend´s shaking hand.
 
"C´mon," he said softly. "Give me that. It´s okay now, I´m here."
 
Starsky drew in a shaky breath, like a broken gasp. Hutch had to gently unclench his fingers to finally hang up the phone.
 
"It´s okay, Starsk," he soothed, letting his hand come to rest on
 
Starsky´s shoulder, feeling the tensed muscles. "I´m here now. It´s gonna be alright. I´m right here."
 
As he continued his soothing, he could feel the shaken man relax ever so slowly. A trembling hand wandered off to press against his right wrist, but Hutch caught it before him, gently turning his arm over.
 
"Wait, let me take a look at that," he muttered softly. Carefully, he unwrapped the washcloth. The cut wasn´t bleeding anymore, but now it looked an angry, swollen red.
 
The sigh that escaped Hutch sounded more sad than shocked. He was surprised himself at how calm he stayed, how calm he actually was. As if he had subconsciously been waiting for this moment for a long time.
 
"Does it hurt much?" he asked gently, carefully inspecting the wound closer, deciding it wouldn´t need stitches.
 
Starsky shook his head. He still hadn´t looked at anything but his friend.

"Okay. It doesn´t look like it needs stitches." He let go off Starsky´s arm, but it remained where it was.
 
For a moment, Hutch locked eyes with his partner, then turned, gently taking Starsky´s good arm. "Let´s go bandage you up."
 
Obediently, Starsky followed him over to the couch and into the bathroom. Hutch couldn´t help freezing on spot, when he saw the razor blade in the sink.
 
Starsky saw it too. His gaze snapped up at Hutch, who briefly rubbed his eyes, visibly working on keeping control.
 
"I didn´t... you know," Starsky suddenly said, his voice hoarse, as if he hadn´t used it in a long time. He averted his eyes, when Hutch looked at him. "Try to hurt myself. I-I mean," he added nervously, not meeting Hutch´s gaze, "earlier today. With... the Commissioner."
 
"Yeah," Hutch said. "I figured that."
 
"I was just, like, acting on instinct," Starsky explained and finally looked up at his friend. "But seems my instincts took a little damage too." A shadow crossed his face. "Like everything else."
 
Hutch felt his heart reach out for him, but at the same time, he was scared to jump on the obvious opportunity just now. Experience had taught him to be afraid of relief.
 
"Sit down," he ordered gently, pointing at the toilet. Starsky obeyed.
Gathering together what he needed to treat the injury, Hutch suddenly found he didn´t have a plan. And, even more surprising, he didn´t feel the urge to come up with one.
 
"Give me your arm." He knelt down on the floor and started to carefully wrap a fresh white banadage around Starsky´s wrist, the absurdity of the situation always there but so less frightening than he would have thought.
 
Yes, his friend had cut his own wrist. But - he had stopped.
 
"Does this hurt?" Hutch asked worriedly, when he heard Starsky draw in a sharp breath.
 
"No," came the tiny reply. The pause that followed was so long that Hutch had already returned to his task. "Not much." Another pause.
"Hutch?"
 
"Yeah?" Hutch asked, looking up from where he was just finishing taping the loose ends of the bandage.
 
Starsky gazed down at him, then drew his arm away, glancing at the neat work done.
 
"Starsk?" Hutch urged gently, placing one hand on Starsky´s knee.
 
"Do you think I´m crazy?" The question was uttered in so innocent, sad a voice that it tore at Hutch´s heart. He could barely keep his own voice steady.
 
"No. I don´t think you´re crazy."
 
A fearful glance flickered to him and away again. "This wasn´t an accident."
 
Hutch closed his eyes briefly and sighed - the impact of actually hearing the words still hard to take - but patted Starsky´s knee soothingly. "I know, Starsk."
 
When he looked up, he saw his friend bite his lip, lost, desperate, so, so scared.
 
"Starsky." It sounded almost pleadingly.
 
"I thought..." Starsky hushed himself. When he continued, he wouldn´t meet Hutch´s eyes. "I thought it wouldn´t work. And when it did..."
 
Carefully, afraid of what he might find there, he looked at his friend again. "I was so relieved that-"
 
"Wait a second, you didn´t thought that what would work?" Hutch interrupted him, gently, but confused.
 
The answer was a mere whisper. "To kill myself."
 
The revelation took Hutch off guard. He froze, his hand still on Starsky´s knee, but not warm and comforting any longer, but cold and heavy like the rest of his body.
 
Sensing Hutch´s reaction as clearly as a cool breeze, Starsky added, "I thought I couldn´t die, a-and that... scared me. So I... I don´t even remember doing it, but when I found that I was bleeding, I was so... relieved." The briefest of glance flashed to Hutch´s paling features. He opened his mouth to say some more, but hushed himself, tensed up.
 
Hutch stared at him, dumbfounded, for some time, then, as if snapping out of a trance, shook his head with a humorless little laugh. He was searching for words. "Uhm... that´s..."
 
"It´s insane," Starsky muttered, the statement so overwhelming desperate Hutch found himself tighening his grip on him assuringly again.
"How can you think you can´t die?"
 
Hutch couldn´t help admitting the same thought had crossed his mind, but he had a better answer for his friend. An answer that had just, in that very moment, popped up in his mind. A good one too. He started it with a question.
 
"Starsk... Starsky, listen to me," he urged, when his friend´s dismayed gaze kept wandering off. Unwillingly, Starsky locked eyes with him.
"I want you to tell me exactly what happened when you came home."
 
"I tried to commit suicide," Starsky blurted out. "What´s there to tell?"
 
"Hey!" Hutch snapped with a frown, and to emphasize his words, grabbed his friend´s chin to have him look directly at him. "You called me for help. So let me help you and do what I say."
 
When Starsky blinked affirmatively, a bit ashamed too, he let go and sat back on his knees, looking up at his friend, waiting.
 
"I was thinking about what the Commissioner had said," Starsky started in a nearly monotone voice, just so to please Hutch, not because he felt a comforting effect from talking.

Yet, when he glanced at Hutch, the blond gestured for him to continue.
"I went to the bathroom." He blinked, recalling. "I couldn´t stand my corner."
 
Hutch nodded softly, indicating he would take the information without making a scene this time.
 
"I looked at myself in the mirror." He paused, frowned.
 
"Starsky?" Hutch asked in a concerned, gentle whisper. His hand found Starsky´s ankle this time, lightly holding on to it as if to keep his friend close to him, on this side of reality.
 
Starsky noticed, glanced down, but didn´t react, didn´t waggle his foot out. Instead, he gazed directly at Hutch again. "I started thinking. If you could stop being human, you´d stop being mortal too." The frown deepened a bit, took on a painfilled hint. "Things don´t die." A whisper, broken.
 
It took all Hutch had to remain kneeling where he was and quietly ask, "And that thought scared you?"
 
The curly head bopped up and down, as Starsky nodded eagerly. "Yeah. Yeah. B-because it would never end then. If I couldn´t die, I´d always..." He drew in a shaky breath. "And then I suddenly found I´d cut myself. I don´t even remember doing it, but... it was bleeding."
 
The words started to stumble over themselves, his tone climbing up to high pitches at time. Unconsciously, Hutch rubbed his thumb over his friend´s ankle, a few "shh"s escaping him.
 
"And I figured if I could bleed, I could..." He closed his eyes, not wanting to say the words. He sniffed, though his eyes were unmercifully dry. "It was such a relief. Like... like I´d suddenly found a way out. I wanted out so badly," he added fearfully.
 
"Shh," Hutch soothed. "I know. I know." He didn´t even have to urge his friend to go on.
 
"But wh-when I... When it started to hurt, a-and there was more blood, and..." Once more, Starsky hushed himself, swallowed, struggling with the words. It was a fight he was bound to lose. A sigh like a shaky sob escaped him, and he bit his lip.
 
Hutch couldn´t take it anymore. With a soothing "okay, babe, okay, c´mere," he gently tugged at Starsky sleeve to have him practically sink to the floor heavily and wrapped him in a protective hug.
 
"It´s okay, Starsk, I´m here. It´s gonna be alright. Just let it out, it´s okay." As Starsky clung to him desperately, he comfortingly stroked his back, his head. "I´m here."
 
Starsky´s words were stifled against Hutch´s shirt, but still the blond heard them, and they made his own eyes watery. "I don´t wanna die, Hutch. I want to live."
 
"I know," Hutch whispered back. "I know you do."
 
"I want to live again. I want my life back." A sob cut him off, but his next statement had Hutch tighten his hold on him. "I want myself back."
 
Hutch didn´t answer, he just kept crooning assuring words, as his friend´s inner walls crumbled completely. Starsky was crying in earnest now, the way he always did, his sobs quiet, the shudders grabbing his shoulders tiny, as though there couldn´t be any relief coming from it. As though he was inwardly still restraining himself, working against the emotions pressing to break free.
 
All the time, Starsky kept on muttering what ran through his mind, unconsciously wanting Hutch to hear all of it, to know everything.
 
"I don´t want to kill myself. Why did he have to turn me into someone who´d do such a thing?"
 
"I don´t know, babe, I don´t know."
 
"Why did he have to treat me like that? If he had let me talk to him, maybe I could´ve helped him. I could´ve gotten him help. I should´ve tried harder. B-but..."
 
When the sad silence went on longer than he could bear it, Hutch softly asked, "He hurt you pretty bad, huh?"
 
An affirmative sniff answered.
 
"Beat you a lot." It was meant as a question, but came out as a stament.
 
"I should´ve tried harder."
 
"No. No, Starsk, look at me." Gently, Hutch pushed his friend away a bit, so he could look into teary blue eyes. "What happened to Malcolm is not your fault."
 
Starsky didn´t reply. His gaze dropped.
 
"Starsky!" Determined, Hutch grabbed his chin again, forced his head up. "It was not your fault. Never. You are the victim here."
 
"He too," Starsky whispered.
 
Hutch drew his hand away with a sigh. They looked at each other in silence for a moment.
 
"But I don´t care about Malcolm Watters," Hutch finally said quietly. "I care about you." He brushed the back of his curled up fingers over Starsky´s cheek in the briefest of loving gestures. "I want you to live again too."
 
Exhausted, tired eyes locked with his. No words were spoken for a long time.
 
"Well, I don´t know `bout you," Hutch broke the silence finally, "but my butt´s freezing sitting here." At Starsky´s puzzled glance, he smiled and stood, stretching out his hand.
 
After a second, Starsky returned the smile and accepted the offered help to get to his feet too.
 
A minute later they stole a quick glance at each other where they sat on the couch - and started laughing. Suppressedly, giggly at first, but soon it grew to hardfelt bursting out.
 
"Y´know, this should be great at summer-time," Hutch stated and outstretched his legs so that his feet met the door of the fridge. "If you remove the door, you have your own feet cooler. Could be the greatest invention since fans. If I were you, I´d run to get the copyright."
 
"You just keep on laughing," Starsky told him and turned to lay down on his side, his feet coming to rest on Hutch´s legs. "I think it´s got style, having a couch in here. I might as well keep it."
 
"Figures you like it after all," Hutch joked. "More space for vacuuming in the living room. Neat freak."
 
"Slob."
 
"Guilty as charged. Just remind me to get you 5'7 china dogs for each corner."
 
The easy joking warming his heart, the relief of feeling secure after such a long time, made Starsky laugh out loud at that. "And where would you get those?"
 
"I have connections," Hutch stated, waggling his brows.
 
"You have connections for china dogs? You´re weird, Blintz."
 
Mockingly indignant, Hutch trickled Starsky´s foot, causing both feet to flew in the air a few inches above his legs. "Watch it, buddy, I mi..."
 
All humor vanishing from his face as he the echo of his own words hit him, Hutch bit his lip. Remorse instantly settled in his eyes.
 
"Sorry."
 
Lowering his legs again, Starsky nudged him with one foot. "Better be, Blondie. Next time you do that - duck and cover."
 
Surprised, Hutch blinked at him, and found his friend smiling at him.
 
Understanding, the blond´s eyes lit up. "Do what?" he asked innocently, waggling his fingers over one feet.
 
"Buddy, I warned you."
 
The easy, playful bantering and joking continued some more, its effects as important as the serious talking that followed later. The light outside was already starting to turn golden. They´d made coffe and were sitting next to each other, both holding a steaming cup, shoulders touching ever so lightly.
 
Starsky spent a long time telling his friend some of the things Malcolm Watters had told him. How they had made him feel. Hutch had sat in silence, listening, every so often reaching out to squeeze a shoulder or brush his hand against the back of Starsky´s neck.
 
"Hutch?"
 
"Hm?"
 
"D´you think I´ll ever stop being so scared?"
 
"Aw, Starsk, sure," Hutch said softly, his hand wandering up to stroke through Starsky´s hair above his neck. "Sure you will."
 
"I don´t feel like I will," Starsky said sadly.
 
"Well, I do," Hutch insisted. "And I know you better than you. Trust me, you´re strong. Not fast," he added jokingly, "but strong."
 
"I don´t want to lose my job. I don´t want to be locked away."
 
"You won´t," Hutch assured him and took the half empty cup out of Starsky´s hand, placing both on the breakfast counter before him. "Hey, buddy, listen," he said and gently grabbed Starsky´s shoulders to have him turn to face him. "You won´t lose your job, and I won´t let anyone admit you. Okay? Trust me?"
 
Smiling faintly, Starsky nodded.
 
"Good. But we both know you need more than an afternoon of goofing around to fix this." He searched his friend´s expression for a moment.
"You still need help."
 
"I want help."
 
"Professional help."
 
"I know," Starsky muttered and bowed his head. "But..." He trailed off.
 
"But what? Starsk? What is it?"
 
When his friend failed to answer, Hutch gently shook his shoulder. "Starsk, you can tell me. What´re you afraid of?"
 
He wouldn´t look up, but he answered. "What if I go see a shrink and he says I´m insane? What if they say this can´t be fixed?"
 
His heart wrenching at the fear in the words, Hutch sighed and wanted to answer, but Starsky cut him off with a frightingly grave whisper.
 
"They couldn´t fix Malcolm, could they?"
 
"You´re not Malcolm," Hutch instantly said, his tone almost snapping, and tightened his grip on Starsky´s shoulders. "Hey."
 
He waited until doubting eyes met his.
 
"You are not Malcolm. Malcolm was... is sick. He was born sick. You are a victim."
 
Starsky nodded, but the words seemed to not sink in really. "All this stuff I did..." He shot Hutch a lost look. "What I told you... All this thinking..."
 
"Starsky, listen to me." Hutch waited a moment, until he was sure his friend was with him. "I know what happened to Malcolm was horrible. I read the files too. I´m sorry for him. But you got something he hadn't."
 
"You?"
 
"Uhm..." Surprised, Hutch laughed slightly. "Yeah, that too. But I meant your humanity. You´re the kindest person I know, and eventually that will help you deal with how you feel about Malcolm."
 
Starsky smiled shyly, looking like an encouraged little boy before his
first big ball game.
 
Affectionately, Hutch brushed his hand over the side of his friend´s head. "We´ll call Doc Larson tomorrow morning and tell him you´re ready to continue therapy."
 
"Okay."
 
"And I´ll take sick leave for those two weeks you´re on suspension, so you won´t have to be alone through this at all."
 
For once, Starsky didn´t protest against his partner´s protectiveness.
"Okay."
 
"And now, we´ll order some food, because me, I´m starving," Hutch said as seriously as the sentences before, then grinned.
 
Starsky smiled back. "Okay."
 
Sliding over the armrest of the couch to get to the phone, Hutch stopped and briefly layed his forehead against Starsky´s head. "It´s good to have you back, buddy."
 
Starsky didn´t reply. He didn´t have to.
 
"Hey Hutch?" he asked, while Hutch was going through the numbers on
the "food list" next to Starsky´s phone.
 
"Hm?"
 
"You never told me how your visit went."
 
Puzzled, Hutch looked up. "Huh?"
 
"Your niece. She liked the book?"
 
"Oh. Sure. Sure she did. Read to her every day." He smiled, and, a sudden thought hitting him, added, "And you were right. It is better than 'Alice'."
 
"Oh yeah?"
 
"Yep. Wish I´d have read it when I was a kid."
 
Understanding, Starsky returned the smile and let his gaze wander to where Hutch had his finger on the list of numbers. "You call that veggie shop you noted last year, I´ll spread the word you collect china dogs."
 
Hutch´s finger discreetly slid upwards. "I´ve no idea what you´re talking about."
 
*****
 
Hutch looked up from his typing, when he saw the young woman enter the squad room, looking for someone, then swiftly crossing over to Starsky, who lifted his head and smiled.
 
"Morning," he greeted her, not casually, but most politely, using his seldomly heard business-tone.
 
Puzzled, Hutch waited to be introduced, thinking she looked kind of familiar, but unable to place her. Instead of hearing her name, though, he watched his partner stand up and open the door to Dobey´s office for her, then follow her inside, without even looking back at Hutch.
 
'What´s going on now'? the blond wondered. His friend had been back to work for two weeks now, after his ordered psycho check-up had turned out okay and he had been declared stable enough for duty. He was still seeing Doc Larson on regular terms and wouldn´t stop therapy too soon.
 
Otherwise, things had pretty much turned to normal for those two weeks now. Only seldomly Starsky would call Hutch now to help him through a panic attack, when he couldn´t stand being alone in his apartment during day-time. During the two weeks of suspension, Hutch had found about this deeply settled fear of his partner for the first time, and it had dismayed him to realize Starsky had had to deal with that for so long all on his own.
 
Those other two weeks, they had been exhausting. Having finally found back the assuring basis for dealing with the aftermath of his trauma, Starsky had seemingly lived through all stages of post-traumatic distress at once. He´d had nightmares almost every time he´d fallen asleep, waking up shaking, clinging to Hutch, who´d tried to soothe him. He´d cried a lot - considering his usual behavior. He would sit on the couch for some time, seemingly watching tv, and when Hutch would ask him something, approach him, he´d find silent tears run down his friend´s face, no movements made to wipe them away. And when Hutch would sit down next to him to comfortingly touch him, hug him, Starsky would blink, only then noticing he had been crying. He never stopped being ashamed at that.
 
Those first two weeks, Starsky had a daily meeting with Larson, and eventually it got better. By the beginning of the second week, he found himself able to talk about things he couldn´t have before. The humiliation he´d felt at Watter´s apartment, the constant fear Malcolm might lose whatever restraining control he´d had on himself and rape him after all.
A lot of nights he talked away, Hutch always listening, offering comfort, understanding, asking further, when he noticed Starsky wasn´t sure himself how he felt about some things.
 
The most probing and pushing Hutch had to do, when it came to judging Malcolm for what he´d done. For the crime itself. From the victim´s point of view. He and Larson had spent many hours helping Starsky to understand that knowing Malcolm couldn´t be hold responsible for his actions didn´t have to mean he had to feel the same way. He needed to acknowledge his emotions - as maybe unfair as they were - in order to live with them.
 
That had been the hardest part. It was still.
 
Startled out of his thoughts, Hutch´s head snapped up, when the door to Dobey´s office was opened again, and Starsky and the woman left.
For a briefest moment, Hutch caught her gaze, and she smiled. "Hello Detective."
 
Instantly, he recognized her as the nurse at the hospital Starsky had been treated at so many weeks ago. "Hi..." He couldn´t remember her name.
 
"Cleo," she smiled.
 
"Right. Cleo." He stood to shake her hand. "How are you?"
 
"I´m fine, thanks." She politely widened her smile and turned to Starsky again, who stood waiting behind her. "If I can do anyrthing else..."
 
"Please," he smiled, to Hutch´s puzzlement gratefully, and gave her hand a brief squeeze. "You´ve done more than enough. Thank you."
 
"I´m glad I could help," she said, hesitated, and quickly bent over to place a small kiss on his cheek. "I´m so sorry."
 
Shyly, she glanced at Hutch. "Detective." With her head bowed, she hurried out of the room, her shoulders visibly tensed.
 
Starsky looked after her and practically sank down in his chair.
 
"What was that all about?" Hutch asked, looking down at his friend.
 
Drawing in a deep breath as if to brace himself, Starsky looked up to
meet Hutch´s eyes. "I just pressed charges against Doctors Heller and Brackon from 'Memorial'. Cleo is my witness."
 
Watching Hutch´s chin travel south, he asked, "Want to back me up on this too?"
 
"D´you want me to type it myself or do I just have to sign somewhere?"
Starsky grinned. "Thanks."
 
 Hutch returned the grin, looking so happy as if he´d just found out they were going camping the next day. "So," he asked and sat down on Starsky´s desk, "what´s the verdict? Inhuman assholeness?"
 
Starsky smirked. "Misuse of power. For now, that is. I talked to some lawyer friend of Larson, and he said he could make bodily injury out of it."
 
Impressed, Hutch whistled lowly. "Really? With ER doctors? Think that´s gonna work? Don´t get me wrong, buddy, but you were pretty out of it. They´re going to use that against you."
 
The smile faded slightly, to a wry, grim one. "I told them to not touch me and get you, and instead they tied me to the bed and..." He hushed himself, closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them again, determined anger seemed to illuminate they from the inside like a light.
 
"They should be lucky I only take it to court."
 
His heart overflowing with sympathy, Hutch reached out to squeeze his arm. "You never told me you were that clear back there. They said you didn´t speak to them."
 
Catching the expression of guilt in Hutch´s eyes, Starsky placed his own hand over Hutch´s on his arm. "I guess I wasn´t that clear afterwards. But I am now. And now I want to fight for my right." Once more, he locked eyes with Hutch, pleading with him to understand things correctly.
 
And, being his friend, Hutch did. He smiled. "Well... let´s kick ass then, partner."
 
Relieved, Starsky grinned and leaned back, breaking the contact.
"Yeah." He paused. "Oh, and, Hutch, `nother thing."
 
"Hm?" Hutch made from where he´d absently picked up a file from the desk.
 
"I pressed charges against Malcolm Watters as well." He didn´t pause to acknowledge that the file had fallen out of Hutch´s hands, but continued, "And since I´m not the state, but the victim, they have to re-open the case."
 
"On wh-what charge?" Hutch asked, still working on processing the information.
 
"Kidnapping, bodily injury, intimidation and attempted murder," Starsky answered grimly. It was obviously hard for him to even say the words, yet he managed to sound determined, especially when he added, "He´s wanted nation-wide. They´ll get him. And when they do, they´ll have to deal with who and how he is. They´ll have to inform me, and I´ll see to it that there´ll be a full psycho scan and an investigation against each and every facility he´s ever seen from the inside."
 
"And will you tell him he didn´t kill you?" Hutch asked softly. He was so incredibly proud of his friend it shone in each word.
 
Looking at him, Starsky smiled. "I´ll have them do that."
 
Understanding, Hutch nodded. "Good idea, buddy."
 
THE END

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