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Wuemsel's Fanfic Corner

The Lie of Eden


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Co-Written by Jenna.
Special Thanks to MandyK for her great beta-work, support, encouragement, and, well, being Mandy.
 
Warning: this story deals with violence against children and a youthīs suicide. If reading about those topics bothers or upsets you, please donīt read this.

The last time Hutch had watched "East of Eden", itīd been with Starsky, he remembered that. It had been one of those beer&pizza-tv-nights that usually followed his movie-loving partnerīs "all time classic on"-lines, and Hutch vividly recalled Starsky first driving him nuts by muttering each and every one of James Deanīs dialogues and then falling asleep before the ending, actually at the filmīs most dramatic moment.
 
So when youīd ask Starsky, the "mean old buzzard of a Dad" did not give his son another chance, but either send him off - to East of Eden, probably - or died. After a couple of days, Hutch had given up his attempts at enlightening his partner, and up until that evening, he hadnīt thought about it again.
 
But now he was watching "East of Eden", as a part of a late night James-Dean-re-run, the empty beer bottle sitting long forgotten on the couch table, and, all of a sudden, he noticed that he was huddled totally uncharacteristically in a corner of his couch.
 
Looking around, as if he had just woken up at a strange place, he felt a frown crawl over his forehead. He never huddled somewhere. That was not his tv posture. Actually it was none of his postures, at all. Sprawls were. He was a sprawling tv-watcher. Not a huddler.
 
He used to be.
 
His gaze found the screen again, where James Deanīs girl-friend was just pleading with the ailing father. She would explain to him how much his love was desired by his son, how much his son depended on feeling loved, cared about, at home. How much his son needed a home. And then the father would ask his son to enter. And he would tell him free of guilt. He would not desert his son, but for the first time in his life get him home. The ending of the film was home.
 
Hutch switched the tv off. He stared at the empty black space for a moment, the furrow still on his face. He had not moved, yet. He still sat tensed, huddled, scared too. Suddenly. And he shivered. When had that all started?
 
He tried to go back in time, followed his own trail from when heīd returned home from work that evening. Starsky had dropped him off at Venice Place, muttering more than calling after him a subdued goodbye. It had been unusually quiet in the car for the whole ride. And, suddenly, Hutch remembered he had been already scared then.
 
He had just forgotten. Over the movie. So he had come home and... started watching James Dean vs. his Dad. Right?
 
Wrong. Wrong, and now he remembered. He had headed straight for the couch, jacket and holster landing where he had thrown them, and had huddled there in that God damned corner and had started shaking.
 
Like he always had for this past week.
 
And when the calm of the aftermath of the panic attack, this drained out, absolutely emotion-less emptiness had swallowed him, he had switched on the tv and started watching the very first thing he had come across - of all things, "East of Eden".
 
Usually, he didnīt remember - not this soon, anyway. Usually, the emptiness faded, and he fell asleep eventually. Must have been the damned movie. Must have been his damned instinct to identify. Must have been Starsky seeing his back in the gym at Metro that morning.
 
The scars had healed considerably, and eventually they would vanish, but they hadnīt, yet. They lay like greyish shadows on his back, and Starsky had seen them.
 
Hutch knew he was being irrational. Starsky had seen the scars before, he knew about them, he knew everything now. It was all out in the open, had been for over a week. And still - if Starsky didnīt see the scars, they were not there. When would they finally, finally vanish so that thereīd be no more to see on him? No guide line into his mind written on his skin anymore. No questioning looks anymore. No muttered goodbyes and quietness and broodiness and pity and openly displayed concern, but just them again. Just doing the job and teasing each other. No more fear.
There was so much to fear nowadays. He couldnīt take it. There was fear of being alone, fear of being not alone, fear of losing what he had, fear of having what he had. Fear of nights that would never end and voices that would never cease.
 
With Starsky part of it, there was nowhere left to go, nowhere to feel safe. With Starsky seeing the scars even through a shirt, through a smile, through the lie his past had turned into, there was nothing left to cling to, when the demons would awake.
 
As he hugged his legs even tighter, suddenly helpless against a wave of violent shivers that rattled his body like punishing hands, the thought grabbed him that maybe Starsky was right about the ending after all. There were no second chances. If you had once been deserted from Eden, you could not return. Youīd always be found out in the end.  And  just by questioning looks and uneasy silence and broodiness.
 
Unable to fight the shaking - experience having taught him to not even try to struggle, anyway - Hutch lowered his forehead to rest it against his knees. He knew that the despair was unbearable - and what a crashing thought that was - but it would fade like fog into pretending, as it always had. There was nothing he could do, anyway. So donīt try. Let it run through your system. Let it pass. Like a virus, as it was indeed a thing of that kind.
 
The mocking voices once more told him he was being over-dramatic, exaggerating, and as always he believed them, but still he couldnīt help thinking, in exactly these words, that the lie of Eden had once more settled in his life, and since a liar heīd been, a liar heīd stay.
 
When the birds started singing outside, unknowing, uncaring and unmercifully, he fell into an exhausted slumber, from which Starsky woke him a few hours later.
 
"Hey! Morninī!" Hutch greeted him with a nervous looking, busy, way too bright smile for eight oīclock in the morning.
 
Starsky took one good look at him, still standing in the doorway, and returned a half-grimaced "hm" that acted like a physical blow on Hutch, as his face fell and he turned back into the room, leaving Starsky, who didnīt move, behind.
 
"I, uh, just go, uhm, change and we can..." He trailed off and turned for the bed.
 
With a sigh, Starsky finally entered and closed the door behind himself. "Slept on the couch again?" he asked, looking at the crumpled blanket on the sofa, and with a sad shake of his head picked up Hutchīs jacket and holster.
 
"Yeah," came the reply from behind the make-shift wall of Hutchīs "bedroom". "Watched "East of Eden"."
 
"Isnīt that the one with the depressing ending?" Starsky asked.
 
"Yep," Hutch replied and showed up again, dressed in fresh clothes and busy trying to smooth down a wayward lock of blond hair heīd obviously lain on wrong. It resisted every effort though and stubbornly kept sticking up. Eventually, he gave up. "`Kay, ready," he announced and with a thankful nod took his jacket and holster. "Letīs go."
 
"Weīve still `nough time for what you call breakfast, yīknow," Starsky replied, not teasingly, but sounding more like he just wanted his friend to know. Actually, if Hutch was uncharacteristically cheerful and nervous, Starsky was broody and subdued.
 
"Huh? Oh. Ah, thanks, buddy, but, uh... Iīm outta milk. Letīs go." And with that, not missing a beat, Hutch marched past his friend to the door and outside, not wanting to give Starsky a chance to check his fridge, that had been out of nearly everything but beer for a week now, anyway.
 
Completely aware of that fact, Starsky sighed, looked around the room once more and followed.
 
*****
 
The first day, the day he had returned from Duluth, Hutch had been a mess. Scared, confused, hurt, crying all the time, clinging, needy...
 
The second day, he had hidden. Physically as well as mentally. He had not said a single word all day and had not looked at Starsky at all, no matter how much his friend had coaxed him...
 
On the third day, he had started pretending. And that was where they were still. Back to a normal that had ceased to exist. At least for Starsky. No matter how hard Hutch worked on keeping his guard up, Starsky would not have been Starsky if he hadnīt been able to look through it. And, to be honest, you didnīt even need to be Starsky to do that much. Hutchīs back had not even healed, yet, so how could he have himself?!
 
It was so damn obvious.
 
Starsky had tried, of course. He had nagged Hutch with endless "You okay?"īs until the blond had actually lost his cool and snapped at him to shut the hell up. Not knowing what to do, Starsky had. For - what could you do?! What were you supposed to do about something as bad and big as this?
 
He had asked - just once - if maybe - just maybe - Hutch would consider seeking professional help now that it had all come out, but Hutch had replied that reminded him of his fatherīs plans.
 
So Starsky had settled for waiting, telling himself that eventually Hutch would turn to him. Thinking of disturbing experiences, he had figured that he had needed time, as a kid, as well. He hadnīt talked to anyone just a week after his childhood tragedy, had he? So leave it to time to push Hutch in the right direction.
 
He waited.
 
He was still waiting.
 
Eerie situations sprang from their pretending and not talking. Like, for example, the other day Starsky had found Hutchīs mail from the day before on the floor in front of his door, when picking him up for work. That wasnīt unusual, since Hutchīs mail delivery was a girl he had once dated and then dumped, so that he could be lucky if his mail did find its way in front of his door, anyway. It usually never was in his mail box.
Anyway, among the few letters and this eerie smelling health magazine Hutch read, there had been a postcard. A blank white one, which had been what had stroke Starsky as odd, so that he had turned it while knocking.
It had been from Hutchīs parents. His mother, to be precise. And there had only been a short message on it, written in a neat, sort of tensed looking handwriting. "Just wanted you to know I sent it off. Mom."
 
"Sent what off?" Starsky had asked a few minutes later, when his partner had dumped his mail on the couch table carelessly and had been busy searching for his jacket heīd thrown somewhere the night before.
 
"Huh?"
 
"What your mother wrote. She sent off what?" It was strange, Starsky had thought, asking a question so casually, when knowing about a tragedy hidden behind it.
 
"You read my mail?" Hutch had asked teasingly, from where heīd checked his bed area for his jacket.
 
"Yup. So, whatīd she mean?"
 
Having found his jacket, Hutch had winked at his friend on his way to the door. "Nothinī spectacular. I just forgot something in Duluth."
 
Starsky had frowned. "Yeah? What?"
 
Casually, Hutch had answered, "My stuff."
 
"What dīyou mean, your stuff?"
 
A shrug. "You know, suitcase. Stuff."
 
They had already left the building by then, and opening the passenger door of the Torino to get into, Hutch had added, "I guess I didnīt think to take it with me when I climbed out of my window, so..." And with the one shrug too many, heīd gotten in.
 
Starsky had lost it. "Thatīs not funny, Hutch!" At his friendīs flinch, heīd regretted his snappiness instantly, though. "So, you called them then?" heīd asked when starting the engine.
 
Hutch hadnīt looked at him. "Had someone else do it. - And donīt start now."
 
"But-"
 
"I mean that, Starsky. Start, and Iīm outta here." The voice that had interrupted him had been so lacking of any humor, Starsky had indeed instantly bit his lip, and the incident had never been discussed again.
Nothing was being discussed. He was just waiting. And slowly, without him having any control of it, concern faded into fear and fear faded into anger. Anger that grew. Met older emotions, mixed with them.
 
How desperately Starsky wanted it all to end, to get back to "real" normal, to their "real" selves. And not the way Hutch had ended it. He didnīt want to blindly head back to prae-knowledge, he wanted them to deal with it, together, and live through it, grow from it, not merely stay alive like Hutch was.
 
"Zebra Three, come in, please."
 
Lost in thoughts, Starsky actually jumped at the sudden voice filling the Torino, and he quickly blinked, pretending to have concentrated on the street, wheras he had actually even turned around a wrong corner on their way to Metro, he suddenly noticed.
 
"This is Zebra Three, we read you," Hutch answered, avoiding Starskyīs frown. He too hadnīt pointed out their wrong driving
"We have a 10-40 at Potterīs Place, in the loft of a place called Alanīs Antiques."
 
"Good morning," Hutch sighed sarcastically.
 
"Pardon Zebra Three?"
 
"We are responding," Hutch said more clearly and started to reach for the siren, when Starskyīs voice held him back.
 
"Save it, huh? 10-40īs donīt run."
 
Lifting his brows in surprise at that, Hutch shrugged and put the siren back. Casting his partner a doubtful look, he let a brief moment pass, then looked back front as he asked, "Something on your mind?"
 
"Iīm just not in siren-mood," Starsky snapped, and, with a sigh, added,
"Not in 10-40-mood, either. I donīt know why they always pin this shit on us, anyway. We havenīt even signed in now."
 
"Starsk, itīs probably routine. Suicide or stuff. They usually are. No need to get upset about it."
 
At the casual remark, Starsky shot his partner a quick, angry glance, that wasnīt missed, but caused only puzzlement.
 
****
 
Alan Rodgers could have easily been compared to the antiques he sold in his store. He looked like a man who once might have been tall, but in age had shrunk to half his size, and his greyish skin bore striking resemblance to a raisin, as Starsky thought to himself, when he and Hutch approached the old man.
 
He was standing next to the narrow staircase that let to the loft inside his store, and the clear signs of fading shock had been edged into his expression. Blue eyes that once might have looked like Hutchīs, but which color had faded into a murky whiteness, wandered about the room as if afraid of being caught by anyone otherīs gaze. Moisture stood in small lakes in them, the tears had yet to fall.
 
As they came to a halt next to him, the detectives exchanged a quick look deciding whoīd lead the questioning. None of the few other officers at the scene had been willing to tell them anything yet, they had all been too busy clearing the sidewalk outside of curious spectators or organizing yellow duct tape. At the nearly desperate "Who called?!" that was called after him, one of the busy unis had, without even looking back at them, simply replied, "The owner, Rodgers. Over there," before, with a wave of his hand at the man huddled next to the stairs, heīd hurried outside.
 
"Mr. Rodgers?" Hutch asked, having silently been nominated questioner of the day.
 
The man blinked up at him, then at Starsky, then away again. He didnīt move an inch, one wrinkled hand seemingly cramped around the banister as if he would fall without the support. "Alan," he corrected in a croaked, quivery voice. "Just call me Alan."
 
"Uhm, `kay... Alan." Hutch smiled, but it was not seen. "Iīm Detective Hutchinson, this is Detective Starsky. You called in a-"
 
"Heīs dead," Alan interrupted him, his words as hollow as his eyes.
 
The detectives exchanged a quick look. "Who is?" Hutch asked in his well-trained, often used, half soft, half professional "talk to witness in shock"-voice.
 
Colorless eyes found his for the first time, stared at him directly, but no answer would come, though Alanīs mouth opened.
 
"Okay," Starsky intervened after a second. "Itīs okay, Alan." He gave the
old manīs shoulder a friendly pat, as he passed him, climbing onto the first step. Bending closer to Hutch, he muttered a quiet "Stay with him til the medics come, huh?"
 
Hutch gave a mute nod and turned to gently grab Alanīs arm, while his partner hurried up the stairs. "Cīmon, Alan, why donīt we sit down somewhere, hm? Come on."
 
It took him a moment, but eventually he managed to free of Alanīs surprinsingly strong grip from the banister and was about to lead him over to an antique, purple couch, when a storming sound made him jump and turn around again, just in time to reach out and half catch Starsky, whoīd nearly fallen down the last few steps of the stairs on his race back down.
 
"Hey, buddy, wha... Starsk?" Hutch interrupted himself, concerned at his friendīs deathly white pallor and wide eyes. He looked about as shocked as Alan, and for a moment of absurdity Hutch felt as if having been placed in an old-fashioned horror movie, where heīd be the only one who had yet to enter the chamber of horrors everybody around him had taken a look into already.
 
Starsky stared at him, seemingly struggling to catch his breath, and the moment the medicsī call turned Hutchīs attention away from him, he was out of the store like a shot, leaving his partner behind to call after him in puzzlement.
 
"Uh, Hutch, could you let him go? We need to take a look at him," a medic Hutch knew suddenly asked, and, once more, the blond jumped.
 
"What?" Only then did he realize he was still holding Alan Rodgers by his arm and let go immediately. "Oh. Sorry. Here." With that he gently shoved the old man towards the waiting medics, suddenly too eager to check the chamber of horrors to waste any time stating the obvious to them. So without another word, he was climbing up the stairs, bracing himself for whatever he might find.
 
The first thing that hit him was the smell. Over the years he had learned to deal with the odors of decay. Came with the job. Still he had to pause in his steps for the briefest of moments to order his stomach to stop reacting. That done, he settled for taking shallow breaths through his mouth and continued on his way further into the narrow room that had only one dirt-smeared window, through which murky white light fell, more shadowing than illuminating. The room was formed like a half tube, a huge corner reaching into it and creating some sort of tiny narrow hallway in the middle.
Instinctively taking in his surroundings, Hutch noticed the mass of books that covered the dusty floor, mostly paperbacks, almost shredded from use. Burnt down candles stuck to the floor in between the papery piles, giving testament of lonely nights.
 
A shudder grabbed Hutchīs shoulders as a sudden déjā-vu hit him, but he pushed it aside in a split second, cop modus firmly taking over, especially once his eyes had fallen upon a probably once neatly piled up tower of books that had been pushed over and sent its contents flying against the nearest wall. Looked as if someone had crashed into it, blindly.
 
'Starsk.'
 
Despite better knowledge, Hutch drew in a deep breath and made a face, but needed to steel his nerves for whatever would await him behind the corner he was now rounding.
 
And then there was sight.
 
The corpse wasnīt swaying, but hung still, a swollen grey hand at its side like an animalīs paw. The other one was lifted, bent at the elbow, held in place by something, probably, Hutch unconsciously registered, the noose around the dead neck.
 
'Like meat on a hook,' Hutch thought involuntarily and scowled at himself. But still, as cruel a statement it was, it fit. What once might have been able to form characteristic postures, to move in familiar ways, had now turned into nothing but flesh. Blue dotted grey skin seemed to fade into the color of the wall behind the corpse, and the feet seemed to have no toes. Everything was swollen, disfigured, unreal and inhuman.
 
Short blond hair fell slightly aside, as the head had been sharply tilted by the rope cutting into the neck, enough to draw blood that had crusted on it, a dark black against the colorless surface.
 
It was a he, that much Hutch could tell, as he slowly took up his steps again to round the figure in order to get a look at the face. It was a he, and he was small, much smaller even than Starsky. Blue jeans, baggy, too wide, and a green t-shirt was all he wore.
 
The size was disturbing, Hutch found and could feel a frown start on his face. This had to have been one small guy.
 
But, when Hutch had rounded the corpse enough to look into the dead, grey face, he sadly thought that, no, for his age, the boy had actually been pretty tall. He didnīt gasp, like, he imagined, Starsky probably had, but just stood, looked, let the overwhelming sadness reach for his heart for a brief moment, before pushing it aside, struggling for control.
 
A little boyīs hand was clamped in between his throat and the noose he had made to kill himself.
 
"Hello? Detective Hutchinson?" a sudden voice broke through the silence, followed by the sound of approaching steps.
 
"Yeah," Hutch answered weakly and cleared his throat, when only a croak came out. "Yes! Over here."
 
A split second later a whole army of unis and medics tried to fit into the narrow space of the artificial hallway, one of the white-clad medics casting the detective a questioning look. "You done here?"
 
"Yes," Hutch instantly replied, taking a step around the corpse for emphasis. "Yeah, sure. Heīs... all yours," he finished lamely and avoided the medicīs look as he squeezed through the small crowd back towards the stairs. "Oh," he added, when he had already half vanished down the stairs. "Anyone seen my partner?"
 
"Outside," ten voices answered in unison, and Hutch rolled his eyes.
 
"Thanks a bunch, guys," he muttered, unheard, and left, catching only a frightened whisper from one of the unis more back. "Oh shit, is that a kid?!"
 
*****
 
The miserable figure sitting on the passengerīs seat with his feet on the pavement stood in eerie contrast to the carīs cheerful makeup. He leant against the backrest of the seat, still as white as the Torinoīs stripe, and cobalt blues remained fixed to the pavement, when Hutch slowly crouched down in front of him, one hand coming up to gently rest on his knee.
 
"Hey," the blond said softly. "You okay?"
 
Starsky didnīt look up. "No."
 
Hutch waited, but when it became clear no more would follow, said, "Tough, huh?"
 
After another endless moment, Starsky looked up, sad eyes piercing into Hutchīs. "Are you?"
 
"What?" Hutch asked.
 
"Okay."
 
"Oh. No," he answered and let his head hang for a brief moment, his forehead almost touching Starskyīs knee. "No," he repeated and looked up again.
 
"Heīs just a kid, Hutch," Starsky stated as if his partner didnīt know. "He canīt be older than twelve!"
 
The fact that Starsky refused to speak of the dead in the past tense didnīt fail to lift Hutchīs brows, but he held back a comment on it. "I know," he muttered instead.
 
Starsky searched his friendīs eyes as if for answers, but there were none to find. "A kid," he repeated as if thinking Hutch might have failed to understand him the first time. "A little boy."
 
"I know," Hutch whispered, but wasnīt heard.
 
"He should be at school now, or... or missing school, because heīs so busy reading comics at a store or..." Noticing he rambled, Starsky trailed off.
 
Hutch brushed his thumb over the knee under his palm. "I know, buddy. Itīs horrible."
 
"Why does a kid do that?" Starsky asked, sounding like a kid himself, scared of the grown-upsī businesses he couldnīt understand. "Why?"
 
"I donīt know," Hutch replied. It was a lie, that passed by undiscovered.
 
Starsky was too occupied gazing around, as if even his gaze wanted to flee reality.
 
"Why?" he asked again, even more urgent this time. He seemed strangly unfocused too.
 
Beginning to wonder if his partner might be slipping into shock under his hands here, Hutch reached up to cup Starskyīs face with his free hand and forced him to look at him. "Hey."
 
Starsky didnīt respond, but eventually his gaze stopped wandering off and settled on his friend again.
 
"You feelinī okay?" Hutch asked, so softly it seemed he feared he might hurt Starskyīs ears otherwise. "Not sick or something? Cold?" he added and lifted his hand from Starskyīs knee to gently rub one arm.
 
No reply.
 
"Feel like throwing up?" Hutch asked, his tone still soft.
 
Starsky shook his head.
 
"Have thrown up?"
 
Another shake of his head.
 
"Starsk-"
 
"Sad," Starsky stated with a startling vehemence, that caught his partner off guard. "Iīm just sad."
 
"Yeah." Hutch drew his hand away from Starskyīs face and this time actually touched his forehead to his friendīs knee before standing up. "Yeah, me too."
 
He stood for a moment, unmoving, then turned to get to the driverīs door, not knowing what else to do.
 
"Hutch." A weary tug at his sleeve held him back.
 
"Hm?" Hutch made and crouched down once more, lifting his brows questioningly at his friend, who didnīt say a thing, just looked at him.
 
Understanding, Hutch held his partnerīs gaze and with a whispered "yeah" as if answering a silent question, patted his knee one more time, then stood and got into the car, not even asking if he should drive. It was understood.
 
With a sigh, Starsky drew in his legs, closed the passenger door and leant his head back, eyes closed, when Hutch started the engine. "I hate this job."
 
Once more Hutchīs brows flew up at the missing "sometimes", but he kept his silence and just drove, even as the unfamiliar line was repeated in a despiseful whisper next to him.
 
"I hate this job."
 
*****
 
The first thing they did, after Hutch had supplied his slowly recovering partner with a cup of especially strong black coffee, was to ask for the hospital Alan Rodgers had been brought to with a severe shock.
 
By the time they arrived there, sadness had given way to fury, as far as Starsky was concerned. Hutch was still driving the Torino, and next to him a volcano boiled. From time to time Hutch threw a glance at his partner, knowing exactly what was happening, but also knowing he was unable to do anything about it. Starsky-wrath was something like a natural catastrophe. Nobody could prevent it, it just had to happen.
 
"Think heīll tell us anything?" Hutch tried, when he was pulling over at the hospital, but his partner just grimly nodded, leaving him with the rising feeling of needing to protect their witness.
 
"Mr. Rodgers," Starsky more snapped at the man than greeted him on his entrance, Hutch on his trail with an apologetic smile on his face.
 
"Hi," the blond quickly cut in and even stepped in front of his partner to place a hand on the old manīs shoulder. "Remember me? Detective Hutchinson?"
 
"No," Alan said. "Did we meet at my store?"
 
Hutch nodded friendly. "Yeah, but `sok-"
 
"You knew the boy upstairs, didnīt you?" Starsky interrupted his partner, turning around the bed to the other side.
 
Alan cast him a quick, almost frightened glance, than looked back at Hutch, who smiled reassuringly, after heīd shot his friend a warning, but unseen, glance.
 
Uncaring, Starsky snapped his fingers. "Hey. `M here."
 
Alan flinched, but indeed looked back at him.
 
"Did you know the boy we found upstairs?" Starsky repeated his question.
 
"Yes," Alan answered, sounding a bit desperate, and looked back at Hutch, who grew increasingly unsettled with his partnerīs behavior. "I knew Wills."
 
"Wills?" Hutch repeated.
 
"William," Alan explained. "His name was Will-"
 
"He a relative?" Starsky asked harshly, receiving another - ignored - glance from Hutch.
 
"No," Alan replied, only gazing at Starsky, before turning to Hutch again,
obviously feeling much safer talking to the blond. "No, he was just a kid."
 
"Who lived in your loft," Starsky said sternly.
 
"No," Alan answered and this time settled his gaze on Starsky. "No, I just allowed him to hang around there. In the afternoons. He didnīt live there. I had nothing to do with him."
 
That was the wrong thing to say, and Hutch instantly opened his mouth to ask another question, but he was too slow for his tensed partner.
 
"You had nothing to do with him?! The kid 'hangs around' your store right now, you know! And you-"
 
"Starsky!" Hutch yelled, efficiently cutting his angry partner off.
 
Alan looked truly appalled, not at what heīd said, but at the cruelty of the police officer he was doomed to deal with.
 
Starsky, though, ignored his friend. "And you," he repeated clearly, shooting Hutch a 'shut up'-look, "expect us to believe you knew nothing about him?!"
 
"Starsky," Hutch cut in, before Alan could answer, "I think you better wait outside."
 
"I liked Wills," Alan told him, sounding so desperate Hutch couldnīt help giving his hand a sympathetic squeeze. "I didnīt know he was-"
 
"You didnīt know?!"
 
"Starsk," Hutch hissed.

"You have this kid, who trusts you enough to have his private little refuge in your loft, and then one day he goes 'hmmmmmm... think Iīm gonna hang myself here' and you didnīt know?! Just how dumb you think we are?!"
 
Before Starsky could physically harm the poor man, Hutch was beside him in two long strides, roughly grabbing his arm to practically drag him outside. "We," he said, flashing Alan an apologetic smile as he opened the door, "are going outside for a sec here, `s what I think. Be right back."
 
The door had not fully fallen shut, when Starsky jerked his arm free, stumbling back a step in the process. "Let me g-"
 
"What the hellīs wrong with you?!" Hutch hissed at him, keeping his voice low. "You act as if the guyīs convicted guilty."
 
"He knew the kid," Starsky pointed out.
 
"Probably a whole school class knew the kid, you wanna scare those to death too?!"
 
"Heīs not a school class, heīs-"
 
"A witness!" Hutch cut him off. "Our only witness. And heīs in shock. I highly doubt  he hung the kid up there, okay? So why donīt you just go outside, run it outta your system, while I try to find out more about Wills?"
 
Starsky glared at him, lips pressed together tightly and attempted to push past him back into the room, but was stopped and shoved back. "No, Starsk. No."
 
Furious blue eyes met determined, if concerned ones.
 
At last, Starsky wordlessly turned to march off. With a sigh, Hutch re-entered the room.
 
*****
 
William Summers had come to know Alan Rodgers about a year ago when looking for a present for his mother in the store. It had been in talking to the shy kid that the curious Alan had found out Williamīs mother had been dead for years, already. The boy had wanted to put the lamp heīd bought onto her grave, so itīd be light at dark there. That had been when Alan had developed a soft spot for the smart, withdrawn boy, and when he had found out about Williamīs love for books, he had told him about the loft in the store, where he kept his own old books.
 
It had been the beginning of a strange friendship, that had led to Wills getting a key to the storeīs loft in order to being able to go up there for a read whenever he liked. He seemed to have been a lonely kid, in need of some refuge, and Alan had felt good, proud, to have gained the childīs trust.
 
That much Hutch had found out, when he left Alanīs room to let the old man sleep. Tears finally had fallen, on Alanīs side, and the genuine care that had shown in his voice when talking about Wills had convinced Hutch of the truth of the words too.
 
It was not yet noon, and the day had been one of death, decay and loss already. "Bright shiny morning, no ghosts around," Hutch quoted inwardly from a poem heīd loved as a child as he took a moment to lean against the wall outside the room and briefly closed his eyes, before he pushed himself off it again to go look for his partner.
 
He found him in the Torino, outside, on the driverīs seat again, of course. Comforting was over, this was boiling anger, and not even Hutch was able to stand up against natural catastrophes.
 
"Hey," the blond greeted nevertheless, as he got in, the hot air of anger inside the car almost palpable.
 
"Done questioning the witness?" Starsky asked, dangerously sarcastic.
 
Keeping his guard up, Hutch just nodded. "Yes. The kidīs name was William Summers. Letīs give it in to dispatch, so we can inform the family." With that, he was already reaching for the mike.
 
"Oh yes, letīs do that. Iīd love to meet the family."
 
It wasnīt his week of the year, but Hutch could still feel anger too, and at this tone, he snapped back. "Those folks lost their son, Starsky, alright?! No matter what you think in your self-righteousness, Wills may have been sick, you know? We donīt know shit about him yet. So if you feel like treating parents whose son hung himself like you just did with Alan, you can forget it."
 
Starsky stared at him.
 
"Just say 'Hutch, I canīt take it', and Iīll go there alone, but donīt you dare let your anger out on grieving parents," Hutch continued and paused, lifted his brows questioningly. "Okay?"
 
"Okay."
 
Unconvinced, Hutch gave a slow nod. "Okay."
 
After a silence as thick as jungle-fire smoke, dispatch called them back.
 
*****
 
The door was opened by a man who bore so much resemblance to the late William Summers that Starsky instantly flinched.
 
Hutch, on the other hand, looked at the man apologetically, as if their being there was the cause. For relatives, the messenger almost always turned into the ones who did it. Experience. "Mr. Summers?" he asked.
 
"Yes?" the man replied, nervous, scared even, as if - Starsky thought with suspicion - he knew what they were there for. "Who are you?"
 
"Uhm... Detective Hutchinson," Hutch introduced himself, flashing his badge. "This is Detective Starsky. Could we come in, please?"
 
"Oh my... Is this about Wills?" the man asked, his eyes widening with the expectation of shock working into them.
 
"Could we please come inside, sir?" Hutch asked, but, once more, Mr. Summers answered with a question. "Itīs about Wills, isnīt it? Did something happen to him? What is it?"
 
"Mr. Summers-" Hutch started, and, suddenly, from out of nowhere, his partnerīs voice appeared, cold as ice.
 
"Your son was found dead today, Mr. Summers. He hung himself."
 
Simply unable to believe what Starsky had just done, Hutch stared at him, while in front of them the man seemed to crumble. A hand of the weight of stone was lifted to cover an open mouth, that would form no sound.
 
Hutchīs gaze flickered from Starsky back to Summers, who looked like he was about to pass out. "Maybe we should go inside," he suggested, taking Summerīs arm to lead him inside. Though he was glared at like the anti christ, Starsky followed.
 
"Whatīs going... Treat?" another male voice asked, worriedly, when Hutch closed the door behind them all, and from a nearby hallway, another man appeared, a bit taller than Williamīs father, but equally looking alike.
 
"Whoīre you?" he asked, frowning.
 
"Police," Starsky answered. "Weīre-"
 
"Iīm Detective Hutchinson," Hutch cut him off. "Are you related to Mr. Summers?" He didnīt introduce Starsky.
 
"Iīm his brother, what-"
 
"Just a moment, please," the detective interrupted him quietly and gently
lowered the seemingly half-tranced Summers onto a nearby couch. "Come with me, for a moment." And with that, he led the man outside the room, into the hallway, his partner on his trail.
 
"Iīm sorry, but it looks like your nephew has committed suicide. Iīm sorry."
 
The manīs face fell, the color draining from it in watchable speed, while his gaze wandered over to rest on his motionless brother on the couch. "Oh my..." he whispered.
 
Taking momentary advantage of the menīs processing time, Hutch determinedly shoved his partner back to the door and opened it behind him. "Out."
 
"Hey, wha-"
 
"Out." Hutch repeated, lifting his warning finger at him. "I warned you, Starsk. You crossed the line."
 
"Are you cra-"
 
"Cool off!" Hutch hissed and closed the door to turn into the living room again, where Mr. Summerīs brother had started to console his by now crying brother.
 
"I-Iīm sorry," the detective started, nervously hovering in the doorway. "But Iīve... Iīve to ask some questio-"
 
"Donīt you have no heart, man?!" Willsī uncle yelled at him. "His son died!"
 
"I know, but..." Hutch trailed off. Stared. Wiped his face. Two pm. Was this a real day? Did it have a beginning and an end? "I need to ask some questions."
 
"Out!" Willsī uncle yelled at him.
 
Giving an apologetic nod, Hutch placed his card on a nearby drawer and silently left.
 
"Well," Starsky asked, when Hutch leant against the Torino next to him. "Been successful?"
 
"I donīt need that right now, Starsk."
 
"I didnīt need to be thrown out of a suspectīs house by my partner, either."
 
"Suspect?" the blond repeated incredulously.
 
Starsky shot him a glance, but did not move. "A childīs suicideīs like a murder," he stated. "Someoneīs responsible for it."
 
"Someoneīs grieving inside there," Hutch snapped back, pointing at the house. "They just lost a kid inside there."
 
"You donīt know `bout these people!"
 
"Neither do you!" Hutch yelled back. "Whatīs the wrong with you?! Where dīyou get off dropping it on the father like this?!"
 
"Everyoneīs a suspect," Starsky said.
 
Hutch stared at him, shaking his head. "In there," he hissed, "everyoneīs just-"
 
"Zebra Three, come in, please."
 
"Everyoneīs just crying," the blond finished his sentence, as he reached inside the car for the mike. "Zebra Three here."
 
"Morgue wanting to speak to you," the disembodied voice said.
 
"Weīre on our way," Hutch replied, frowning at his partner. "Whatīs Killdare want?"
 
Shoving him aside to open the driverīs door, Starsky cast him a grim glance. "Dunno. Cry?"
 
*****
 
Clint Killdare, MD. was a man whose days started with death in various shapes on his table. Heīd seen it all, as it had seen him.
 
"Hey Doc," Hutch greeted him on their arrival, Starsky walking a step behind him like a sulking child.
 
Killdare simply nodded at the blond, his hand coming up to wipe over exhausted looking eyes.
 
Instinctively glancing at Starsky, but met only by anger there, Hutch sighed inwardly and followed the pathologist inside an examination room, where a familiar shapeless form lay on the centered autopsy table.
 
Knowing who they’d  meet again, Hutch once more turned for his friend, worried this time, but received an unnerved rolling of midnight blues for his efforts, before his partner pushed past him to come to an halt next to the table before him.
 
"I assume youīve meet young Mr. Summers," Killdare announced in a voice that made it clear this would remain his only joke.
 
"Yes," Starsky answered tonelessly, his gaze focused on the small corpse, while Hutch stepped up next to him, sadness once more claiming its place in his expression.
 
Willsī chest was uncovered, and apart from the few blue spots of death, there were long faded, once reddish, now grey scars to be seen, long lines edged into young skin.
 
"Whatīs this?" Hutch, ever the observer, asked, and, frowning, Starsky followed his gaze.
 
"That," Killdare replied, again wiping his eyes, "is the reason I wanted to talk to you."
 
Out of pure reflex, the detectives exchanged a quick look. "What, it wasnīt suicide?" Starsky asked, alarmed.
 
"Oh, no," Killdare said sadly. "It definiately was. Choked to death. Tried to get his hand in between here," he pointed at a dark blue bruise on the boyīs throat, "and the noose. Reflex," he added with a shrug. "I donīt think heīd have removed it."
 
Equally reflexively, both detectives lifted a hand to absently rub their throats. The second they noticed the other one doing it, their hands fell again, embarrassed.
 
"Clint," Starsky started, unnerved, and for once Hutch didnīt make a single move to calm him, "what dīyou want us to do, play twenty questions? We knew it was suicide before, so-"
 
"I think," Killdare interrupted the younger man quietly, "I stumbled across the motive."
 
"Whatīd that be?" Hutch asked, instantly alert, silencing his partner effectively.
 
"Abuse," Killdare replied plainly and at the widening gazes he was met with, added, "This child was severely beaten over the past..." He stopped, thinking. "Three years, Iīd say. Probably longer."
 
Starsky stared at him. "Wh-what?" he asked, his voice not really obeying him, whereas Hutch had obviously ceased to find the desire to ask any further. His gaze had settled on the dead boy on the table. On scars that had faded into death along with the surface that had carried them in life.
 
"I found numerous mended broken bones on his x-rays," Killdare explained. "As well as a mass of anomalies that indicated there had once been intensive-"
 
"H-he was... beaten?" Starsky cut him off in a small voice, and the doctor gave a grave nod. "When?"
 
Killdare sighed. "At least a couple of hours before his death, it seems. And as for the healed bones..." He trailed off, not meeting Starskyīs gaze, but suddenly extremely busy fiddling with the chart he held.
 
"You mean the kid has been abused over an extended time span?" Hutch asked, not visibly participating in the discussion, since his gaze was still focused on dead Willsī. His voice sounded eeeily hollow, as if he was speaking up to them from out of a bottomless well, and Starsky instantly turned to look at him.
 
Killdare didnīt notice. "Yes," he answered. "Yes, I think that assumption is pretty likely. See," he added, pointing at the corpse, but not at any spot in particular, "there are not only the healed breaks, but it seems some of them have never been treated. That usually is a clear sign of the neglect of abusing parents."
 
That drew Starskyīs attention back to him. "He wasnīt treated?"
 
"Sometimes he wasnīt," Killdare corrected. "In his left arm I found remains of a break that definiately didnīt heal right. You donīt get this when wearing a cast. And," he added, checking the chart, "I also found extensive damage to his vertebra. If this kid would have grown up," he added, "heīd probably have to deal with back pain for the rest of his life."
 
Starskyīs gaze secretly wandering over in search for Hutchīs, but his partnerīs eyes wouldnīt leave Willsī body. He turned to the pathologist again. "Are you sure about all this? Would you declare it again in court?"
 
"Any time," Killdare replied with a shrug and suddenly turned to draw the thin blanket back over Willsī body with a rush. Hutch jumped, flashed them a sheepish smile.
 
"`Kay," Starsky nodded and, with a parting nod at Killdare, turned, slightly touching Hutchīs shoulder with his as he passed him on his way out.
 
"Hey," Killdare held the leaving duo back gravely. "I hope you get who did this. They deserve to rot in hell."
 
"Maybe they already are," Hutch replied in a subdued mutter.
 
"We will," Starsky stated firmly. "See you, Doc."
 
The door fell shut behind them, leaving Clint alone with the dead. "Sleep, kiddo," he muttered under his breath, and turned away.
 
*****
 
Starsky and Hutch had stepped up the stairs to the door outside the building, when Hutch was the first to speak. "Well... back to Summers, Iīd say."
 
Starsky glanced at him, but remained silent. The tension working its way up his shoulders was almost watchable.
 
"We should drop by the hospital too," the blond continued, scrambling at his pockets to produce his note pad. "Have Alan answer a few ques-"
 
"We need to talk," Starsky cut him off and planted his feet. "Now."
 
Surprised, Hutch walked on two more steps, before noticing his partner wasnīt beside him anymore and turned. "Uhm... `kay." Expectantly, he waited.
 
Starsky looked at him directly, opened his mouth, closed it, sighed.
 
"Starsk-"
 
"Are you okay working this case?"
 
"Wh... Sure," Hutch replied, honestly surprised. "What kinda question is that?"
 
"A smart one," Starsky observed gravely.
 
"Some definition of smart Iīm not aware of?" Hutch asked dryly, but was, instead of a counter, met by unsnapped anger suddenly lashing out at him.
 
"This isnīt funny, Hutch! A child is dead!"
 
Taken aback, Hutch blinked. "Iīm not the one who jumped at the relativeīs throat on first occasion, buddy. Maybe you should calm down before we head back there."
 
"Oh yeah? Maybe you should stop being so calm."
 
Hutch frowned. "Whatīs that supposed to mean?"
 
Starsky met his gaze, his own shimmering in fury, and paused, before clearly stating, "You donīt seem very involved."
 
The blond blinked, startled. "Of course Iīm not," he finally snapped. "And you shouldnīt be, either. Itīs a case, Starsk. Not mo-"
 
A sudden vice grip on his arm shut him up, and he was all but dragged over to the menīs room, shoved inside, the door falling shut behind Starsky, who straightened as if trying to look taller than his friend.
 
"What... ?" Hutch asked, startled.
 
"This is not just a case, Hutch," Starsky stated. "And we both know it."
 
"Ah... nope," Hutch replied, giving a short shake of his head. "You lost me on the way here, partner."
 
'Long way, that,' Starsky thought bitterly, but kept his silence, just watching his friend expectantly.
 
Getting nervous and involuntarily starting to squirm under his friendīs stare, Hutch smiled helplessly. "Starsk... what?!"
 
"When are you going to admit that this kinda case is too much for you to handle?"
 
"When itīs the truth," Hutch replied, irritation audible in his voice. "Whatīs
this crap all about? Weīve work to do, in case youīve forgotten. So how about you do whatever you came in here for and-"
 
"Damn it, Hutch!" Starsky cut him off, and the blond took an involuntary step back, startled.
 
"Uh... you came in here to yell at me?"
 
"Stop it! Just stop it!" Drawing in a deep breath, Starsky obviously worked on his volume, before continuing. "We can hand this case over to someone else. You just have to say it, and-"
 
"Is this the twilight zone?!" Hutch burst out, actually letting go of a nervous laugh. "Whatīre we talking about here?!"
 
"You," Starsky replied, and this time he did not yell. "Weīre talking about you, you idiot. Weīre talking about the fact that a twleve-year-old killed himself over something that happened to you in exactly the same way." He paused, trying to figure out his friendīs expression. "If it was me," he finally added softly, "I couldnīt take it. `S all Iīm saying."
 
Hutch stared, suddenly feeling as if he was too scared to even breathe. What was happening here?! He had just wanted to do his job! "Well, Iīm not you," he finally came up with a reply. "I can take it. And if I couldnīt, Iīd tell you before youīd have to drag me out of publicīs sight!"
 
"Hutch-"
 
"Just because you found out about something I never intended you to know," the blond continued calmly, "doesnīt mean youīre running my life now. Itīs my job and itīs my decision, and, correct me if Iīm wrong, but I seem to be the one trying to be objective here."
 
Starsky snorted. He didnīt even feel the reply working up, but suddenly it was out. "Objective?! Hutch, how can you be objective, youīre the subject!"
 
They stared at each other, both appalled at what had just been said, both unable to understand it, both trying to figure out when they had stumbled into the middle of a fight. Finally, with a dry swallow, Hutch turned for the door.
 
"Hutch-" Starsky started, but his partner didnīt face him again.
 
"Fuck you," he whispered and left.
 
Squeezing his eyes shut briefly, Starsky drew in a deep. 'Shit.'
 
*****
 
The silence filling the Torino on their way back to the Summers house would have been enough to choke more men than two. An apology had been offered on Starskyīs side, but had been ignored, and now every once in a while, Starsky stole a glance sideways at his friend, who continued to stare outside his window in stony silence.
 
When Hutch spoke again, it was so sudden Starsky actually jumped.
"Pull over."
 
Not daring to say anything, Starsky instantly obeyed, the car coming to a halt with squealing breaks on the side of the street.
 
Hutch paused, obviously trying to gather up all the obscenities he wanted to yell at his friend, and finally half turned on his seat to face him. "Iīm not a 'subject'."
 
"Hutch-"
 
"Shut up, you said enough."
 
Starsky bit his lip.
 
"I wonīt let you treat me like Iīm the victim here, dīyou hear?"
 
Starsky nodded. He was pretty sure heīd never heard Hutch talk to him like that. But then he had seldomly been that insensitive before.
 
"Iīm an investigating officer, just like you, and youīve no right at all to assume me not capable of doing my job."
 
"I didnīt-"
 
"Yes, you did," Hutch snapped, pointing his index finger at him. "Yes, you did, and that sucks. So either you do something about this attitude of yours from now on, or Iīm going to work this case alone, because, as I may remind you, it wasnīt me who almost lost his stuffing on the crime scene, and it wasnīt me who jumped into the witnessī face. Youīre the involved one, and that is mighty unprofessional, if you want my opinion. But then," he continued, having worked himself into a rambling he couldnīt stop for the sake of his friend defending himself, "you probably donīt want my opinion, since Iīm just a subject here."
 
Their eyes met, and with all honesty he could show, Starsky softly stated, "Iīm sorry."
 
His friend let go of a deep sigh. "Okay."
 
Another glance, and off they drove again. But even though heīd stood his ground, Hutch couldnīt help sudden fear washing through him freely, as if he hadnīt saved his pride, but endangered something far more important instead.
 
His friend didnīt notice, though, in silence, he was as scared.
 
*****
 
The man who opened the door this time was a shadow of the one who had opened it merely hours before. It seemed that, along with his son, Treat Williams had faded away to follow him into eternity.
 
The openly displayed grief instantly stroke Hutch as revealing, and he frowned slightly at his partner, who, for once, was not close enough for silent communication. Actually, he was as far away from Hutch as he could be, and it seemed that contrary to his partner, he was blind.
 
Starsky didnīt see a grieving, but an abusive father, and no matter how overwhelming the sadness on the manīs face was, for Starsky it was covered in guilt.
 
Instantly processing what was going on, Hutch tried to step in front of him, but wasnīt going to be allowed.
 
"Detectives," Summers greeted them tiredly. He looked cried out,
exhausted. "Can I help you?"
 
"We-" Hutch started, but Starsky talked over his words. "Did Wills ever break anything? Arm, leg?"
 
Confused, Summers looked at him, obviously trying to remember him from earlier. "Uhm..." he started, trying to adjust to being co-operate. To break through the fog hovering over his consciousness. "I think so, yes. I... I think he once broke his right arm. No, the left," he corrected himself instantly, flashing the grim detective an apologetic smile. "The left," he repeated, then frowned. "Why?"
 
"We-" Hutch started again, and again was being hushed by his partnerīs firm voice. "Because the autopsy showed clear signs of not one, but numerous broken bones your son suffered over the past few years."
 
Hutch suppressed the urge to once more tell his partner off and send him back to his car, while the frown on Summersī face deepened. "Autopsy report?" he asked in a small voice.
 
"Mr. Summers-"
 
"What dīyou have to say `bout this?" Starsky cut his partner off, who was slowly, but steadily losing his nerves and shot him a reprimanding look.
 
"I-I didnīt know there was an autopsy to be done," the man stuttered, settling for looking at Hutch for help. "Why wasnīt I informed?"
 
This time Hutch didnīt even got a full word in, before Starsky snapped, "You are now, arenīt ya? So whatīve you to say?"
 
"Wh-wha..." Summers stammered, obviously too distressed to even understand what he was being told. "I..."
 
Hutch opened his mouth to console him - and of course was being silenced. "Okay, you know what? I have the feeling we better take this to the precinct."
 
That at last was Hutchīs chance. "Starsky!"
 
But like he knew he would be, he was ignored. "Would you get in the car, please, sir?"
 
Summers stared.
 
"Starsk, what the hellīre you doing?" Hutch hissed, trying unsuccessfully to drag his partner a step away. The hand that had grabbed Starskyīs sleeve, though, was shrugged off immediately.
 
"Arresting a suspect, whatīs it look to you?" Starsky replied dryly and reached for Summersī arm, but only to be stopped by a vice grip.
 
"Are you serious?" Hutch asked incredulously, while Summers looked as if he wondered about the very same thing.
 
Starsky merely glanced at his partner, then turned to his 'suspect' again. "Are you gonna move or do I need cuffs?"
 
"Starsk, for Christīs sake-" Hutch started, and this time was interrupted by Summers instead, who got into motion, walking like a man in trance as he crossed the way to the Torino.
 
Flashing his friend an almost triumphant glance, Starsky followed Summers and opened the door for him.
 
Hutch watched in visible disbelief.
 
"You cominī?" Starsky asked as he opened the driverīs door, and after a pause, Hutch shook his head no.
 
Starsky rolled his eyes. "Hutch."
 
"Donīt you want to arrest Willsī uncle too?" Hutch asked coldly instead of an answer, but from the back seat Summers tiredly stated, "Heīs not here. He left to get... something," he concluded confusedly, slightly shaking his head. "Something, I donīt know. He told me, but... I canīt remember."
 
Watching, Hutchīs heart ached for the forlorn man, while Starsky didnīt even look at him. "Weīll send a uni to collect him. Come on now."
 
Again, Hutch shook his head. "You bring in your suspect in. Iīll... go have a look around the house."
 
Uneasiness settling, Starsky frowned. "You sure?"
 
Hutch avoided his glance, just nodded and, without turning back, vanished inside the house.
 
For a second Starsky contemplated following his partner, but at the nearly crushing wrath running freely through his veins whenever his gaze fell upon the man inside his car, decided against it. He needed to work it out. And soon.
 
The sound of the driverīs door being thrown shut was enough to make Hutch inside the house flinch.
 
*****
 
Starsky wanted to understand Hutch. He truly did. But as he drove to Metro in silence, William Summersī father on the back seat and the passenger side empty, he suddenly realized that he could not.
He had thought it to be understood Hutch would be on his side. Of all people, Hutch should feel obliged to fight for Wills. Of all people, Hutch should hate the boyīs family for what they had obviously done to the kid. Of all people, Hutch should be angry.
 
That he was not, Starsky couldnīt understand. And it frightened him. Even more so when the thought hit him that not driving back to Metro with him seemed, as weird as it sounded, like hiding from him. They fought, of course they did, quite often actually, but they could always still stand the other oneīs presence.
 
'Oh,' he shook his head, annoyed. 'What am I thinking?'
 
Pushing aside everything but the anger, he pulled over at Metro and got out to hold the door open for his passenger. "Out," he commanded, and without a word, Summers obeyed. Strangely, that didnīt make Starsky feel better.
 
"Can I," Summers asked, when they were heading down the hallway, looking for an empty interrogation room, "see him?"
 
"Huh?" Starsky made, torn out of his thoughts. "Pardon. What?"
 
"Wills," Summers explained. "Can I see him?"
 
"Ahm... you donīt want that," Starsky muttered, a sudden wave of nervous uneasiness grabbing him at the tone of innocent grief in the other manīs voice. "Believe me," he emphasized and opened a door heīd just pushed open a tad to peek inside, "you donīt want that. In here, please. Iīll be with you in a sec."
 
Not looking back at Summers, he hurried away to the squad room, almost running into Dobey on his way to his desk.
 
"Cap," he muttered unenthusiastically, as he tried to pass him, but was held back.
 
"Starsky, whereīs Hutchins-"
 
"What am I, his mother?!" Surprised at his own firmness, he paused briefly, then finally walked past Dobey. "Got an interrogation waiting. Excuse me."
 
"Heard about your case," Dobey said in what was the closest his voice could get to soft, as he followed his detective to his desk. "Tough, huh?"
Starsky shot him a glance and made a face. 'No, actually the sunīs shining outta my ass, what dīyou think?!' "Yeah," he mumbled and opened his drawer to produce his interview recorder.
 
Watching him, Dobey frowned. "You arrested someone?"
 
"Kidīs father," Starsky replied curtly and again walked past him, heading back for the room he left Summers in.
 
Dobey followed. "Why?"
 
Practically marching away by now, Starsky didnīt look at him and sped up even more, as he mumbled "To hold my score."
 
"Starsky, I asked you something."
 
"Tell you later," Starsky replied loud enough to be heard and vanished behind the next corner, then inside the interrogation room.
 
*****
 
When Hutch arrived at Metro, having gone with one of the unis sent by Starsky to pick up Wills uncle, who had yet to return home, he was greeted with eerily relieved glances from his colleagues, who sighed upon seeing him as if he was the messiah or something.
 
He didnīt even have time to frown about this, before finding out the reason. Starskyīs voice echoed through the hallways as if the wrath of God himself had been sent into him to crash in the city. It seemed that wherever you were in the building, you could hear him as clearly as if he was yelling at you personally. Listening made you feel like that too, which explained their innocent colleaguesī pained expressions, probably.
 
Sighing, Hutch stopped a walking by female uni on her escape to the outside world. "Where?" he asked tiredly.
 
Sarcastically, she lifted her brows at him. "You gotta ask?" she quipped, yet pointed in the direction of the interrogation room and quickly left.
 
Though, contrary to most his colleagues, he was never scared of his partner, Hutch still stopped in front of the room to brace himself for the task that lay before him, then practically burst into the room, effectively startling - and mercifully silencing - his friend.
 
The picture he could have painted before. The miserable, still heap that was William Summersī father sat huddled on a chair at the big table in the center of the room on which only a cassette recorder lay, no papers and not even coffee cups or candy wrappers, as Hutch noticed. The other chair that had once been part of the roomīs equipment was spread in pieces at a near wall, sad testament of what the poor suspect had had to suffer in the last hour.
 
Starsky, still startled by his friendīs sudden appearance, stood with his hands on the table, half leaning over it, but now staring at Hutch and not Summers anymore.
 
"What are you doing?" Hutch asked in faked surprise.
 
"Hi Hutch," Starsky replied, actually sounding hoarse, and had to clear his throat, as his voice needed to re-adjust to a more human volume.
 
"Hi," Hutch nodded with a sweet smile, still holding the door open. "Can I talk to you for a second?"
 
Starsky paused, looked at Summers, who seemingly had stopped moving or reacting at all a long time ago, and shrugged. "Sure."
 
"Good," Hutch said, waited til his friend had passed him and cast Summers a sympathetic look. "I wonīt let him come back," he assured the unresponsive man and left, closing the door behind him.
 
"Okay," Starsky started once they stood outside and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "What?"
 
Hutch studied him with dry sarcasm, and too folded his arms. "Need a sip of water?"
 
Understanding, the smaller one rolled his eyes. "Donīt start."
 
"You gonna bark at me too then?"
 
Starsky didnīt get the humor. "You heard Killdare too, so donīt give me this nice-cop-crap, okay? Iīm just doing my job."
 
"And you couldnīt possibly do your job a little more quietly?" Hutch quipped sarcastically.
 
"What dīyou want from me?!" Starsky snapped. Two passing officers flinched violently and sped up considerably.
 
Hutch sighed, quickly wiping his eyes before looking at his upset friend again. "Do we need to go outside again?"
 
Finally giving in to the calm treatment he was receiving, Starsky let go off a deep sigh. "Iīm just mad, alright? This whole thing is getting to me, I canīt help it."
 
"Okay," Hutch nodded slowly. "I understand. But you have a man in there," he added, pointing at the door, "who has lost his son today." He paused for emphasis, then continued, "And even if we find out he did abuse his child - and we donīt know, yet - he didnīt kill him."
 
"What dīyou mean, we donīt know he beat his son?" Starsky snapped, before his friend could go on. "Are you saying he didnīt?"
 
"Has he confessed?" Hutch inquired calmly.
 
"No, but-"
 
"So how do you know?!"
 
"Wh... Heīs the father, for crying out loud!" Starsky exclaimed, again sending a passing colleague practically running off. "Who do you think did it, the school bully?!"
 
Actually just out of the sudden urge to bug him, Hutch shrugged. "Possible."
 
"Maybe I do want to bark at you after all, you know?" Starsky snapped humorlessly, and Hutch rolled his eyes.
 
"You donīt get it, do you? Have you taken one good look at Summers since you started tearing his eardrums? The manīs not even scared. I donīt think he heard a word past that Wills was being abused."
 
Unbelieving, Starsky stared at him. "Do you actually believe he didnīt know?"
 
"Actually? Yes."
 
A moment went by, eyes locked, and suddenly, as if hit by a thought, Starsky turned to re-open the door, holding it open. "Hey," he called at Summers, who slowly lifted his head. "Out."
 
Since the man didnīt obey fast enough for Starskyīs liking, he swiftly entered the room, Hutch protectively on his trail, and grabbed Summersī arm to practically shove him outside. "Donīt leave the building," he told him, then closed the door.
 
Anger starting to boil, Hutch glared at him from where he stood next to the door. "Care to tell me what thisī all about?"
 
"Sit down," Starsky said instead of an answer, pointing at the sole survivor of the chairs.
 
Following the gesture, Hutch frowned at him. "Think I did it now, or what?"
 
Starsky ignored the sarcasm. "Sit down, Hutch."
 
Visibly uneasy about the whole situation, Hutch finally obeyed, slowly making his way over to the chair he lowered himself on, sitting at the very edge of it, tense.
 
Equally slowly, as if calming himself through his motions, Starsky switched off the still running recorder and jumped onto the table, so that he was looking down at his partner.
 
"Okay, Iīm sitting," Hutch snapped with an exasperated gesture. "What?!"
 
Starsky just looked at him.
 
"What?!"
 
"Talk to me."
 
Confused, Hutch frowned. "I am."
 
"No," Starsky shook his head. "I mean talk to me."
 
Hutch met his gaze, looked away, stood up. "I donīt need this."
 
He hadnīt made it fully to the door, before he turned again, shaking his index finger at his suddenly calm friend. "Youīre just putting on this show, because youīre too stubborn to admit I may be right about Summers. And you know something else? From ever since this whole case started on, youīve been nothing but a damn pain in the ass, and actually Iīm starting to feel itīd be better if I worked this thing alone, after all."
 
"You through?" Starsky asked quietly, not having moved.
 
Hutch stared. "No."
 
A half shrug. "Okay."
 
Hutch didnīt even know what exactly it was that made his fragile hold on self-control snap, but snap it did nevertheless. "I know exactly what youīre doing here, Starsk, what dīyou think I am, stupid? But let me tell you itīs neither the right place nor the right time for you to lay your pathetic guilt trip on me. Weīve a case to solve, thatīs all there is to it. A case. And no matter how much you want me to, I donīt and wonīt identify with Will Summers, because not every case of child abuse is the same, if you get it or not."
 
He knew he was stepping in exactly the trap he was describing, as his partner just continued to sit and watch him, not even trying to defend himself, but he couldnīt seem to help it. And, he suddenly figured with a strange flash of relieving cruelty, he still had an ace up his sleeve after all.
 
"There are differences," he added, sounding more calm now, colder, determined even. "Me personally, I didnīt try hanging, you know."
 
He could see his tactics working, as realization dug into Starskyīs eyes. And he knew he should stop it there. But he didnīt. Couldnīt. Instead, he fell silent, waiting for the inevitable to come and finish his death stroke for him.
 
"Wh-whatīs that supposed to mean?" the inevitable came.
 
A part of him was actually savoring the moment, and he shrugged. "Didnīt think of hanging. Tried sleeping pills." Another shrug, a lopsided grin. "You could probably say Iīve always been naturally drawn to drugs."
 
For the second time that day, Starskyīs face lost all its color. "You tried to kill yourself?" he asked in a very small voice.
 
The child-like tone instantly drew Hutch out of his angered stupor, and with a sudden wave of cold, hard fear the realization of what heīd done hit him. Yet, now it was too late. He gave a mute, small nod.
 
Again, Starsky seemed to need an intolerable long time to process the answer. "When?" he finally asked, still sounding as naive and innocent as a five-year-old.
 
Hutch bowed his head. "Long time ago. I..." he started, hushed himself, started again. "I shouldnīt have said this. I-Iīm sorry."
 
"Whatīs a long time?" Starsky asked. "When you were a kid?"
 
Again, Hutch nodded. "Ten, I think. Or eleven. Canīt really recall," he muttered, his voice fading as if deserted by strength.
 
Starskyīs eyes grew wide. "You canīt recall when you tried to kill yourself?!"
 
Hutch glanced at him shyly, curling his lips to a half smile that held no humor. "I try not to think about it an awful lot, so..." He shrugged.
 
A question forming in his eyes, Starsky opened his mouth, but closed it, as if afraid to ask. When he finally did, it came out as a mere whisper, almost high-pitched. "W-was... uhm... was that the only time?"
 
Hutch looked up again, the true question behind the words showing him painfully just how utterly cruel heīd just been. "Yes," he replied, hoping the honesty in that answer would be carried in his voice.
 
"Did you think about it?"
 
He couldnīt lie at Starsky when he was straightly looking at him. "Yes."
 
If possible, the smaller man grew even paler and swallowed dryly. "Wh-when?" he asked, the fear of the answer evident in his whole tensed posture. As if he really wanted to hide from it.
 
"Many times, "Hutch replied. He didnīt look up, but stood staring at the floor, not seeing his friend slide from the table and pass him with a mumbled, nearly intelligable "Iīm... Iīll... Uhm... need air." He heard the door open and knew Starsky had left it ajar, but it wasnīt until Treat Summers carefully touched his shoulder to ask whether he could go now, that he lifted his gaze again.
 
He gave the shadow of a nod and watched Summers leave. After a while, he followed outside, walking like a man in trance to his desk in the squad room to learn that Starsky had left, leaving a lame lie for Dobey about needing to check out the Summersī residence again. Hutch contemplated about following him, but first of all he had no idea where his partner would go to in a situation like this. As easy as he seemed, Starsky could be a pretty complicated person, and unlike what youīd have expected from the child the surface bore, the adult man had no tactics to cling onto in cases like this. No places to go.
 
He was probably cruising, Hutch figured, and he wouldnīt have found him then, anyway. So he stayed at his desk and started the case report. Normal work for a normal case.
 
But as his fingers worked the typing machine, his mind - as trained to work on auto pilot as it was - started wandering off. 'Oh God, what have I done? What have I done? What have I done?'
 
The question started circling, running, wriggling out of his grasp, unwilling to be answered, in order to save him actually, since the only answer it had in Hutchīs mind was fatal. So instinctively he clung to the question itself as a mantra and the only thing his sanity had always been able to rely on: sarcasm. 'Good to know I still have it in me to scare the living shit out of everyone. God, the look on his face...' Involuntarily his eyes closed briefly. 'How can I ever look at him again? How can I ever talk to him again? Whatīve I done?!'
 
"Uh... Hutch?"
 
Though it just been a quiet mutter, that appeared next to him, Hutch jumped so violently he almost lost his balance. "Huh?!" he asked, setting wide eyes on a female colleague, who stood at his side with an apologetic smile on her face. "I-Iīm sorry. Sorry. What?"
 
Her smile visibly softened. "Just, uh, your paper fell out a while ago," she informed him, lifting the first page of his report sheīd picked up from the ground.
 
Puzzled, he looked at the typing machine, realizing with a sheepish grin he had typed on the empty space for the last few lines. "Oh."
 
"Here," she said, placing the page on his desk. Hesitantly, she took a step away, but stopped to look at him. "Are you okay?"
 
His gaze was almost blank. "Pardon, what?"
 
Worry creeping into her eyes, she smiled again. "I think you should call it a day. Why donīt you go talk to Starsky, and I tell Dobey-"
 
"What dīyou mean, talk to Starsky?" he cut her off, puzzled.
 
Taken by surprise, she shrugged. "Nothinī, just... isnīt that what you normally do?"
 
She truly had meant it to be a joke, but since the blond started to look as if he was on the verge of tears here, she quickly patted his shoulder, appalled, and turned with a nervous "You really should go home, Hutch. You, uh, donīt look... well." And off she was.
 
It took him nearly supernatural power to simply hold it together and move, but somehow he managed and left the building, only to find he didnīt have his car there. Heīd come with Starsky.
 
Cracking one joke after another at himself about his instability being worse enough to probably have him cry about that now, he unconsciously started to walk.
 
*****
 
When Hutch arrived at Starskyīs apartment, he had not only walked for almost two hours, but also thought for that amount of time, coming to the conclusion that things would work out, plainly because they had to. Heīd make them work out. He had managed before, he would manage now. He was not about to let his past destroy his future, simple as that.
 
What he had not thought about, though, ironically, was how Starsky would react. So everything positive and constructive he had come up with in his mind crumbled to ashes blown off by the wind of fright the moment Starsky opened his door.
 
Gathering all the courage he could muster, Hutch smiled. "Hey."
 
Starsky looked at him searchingly and, as Hutch noticed with surprise, relieved. "Hey," he replied softly, then, after an awkward pause, stepped aside to let his friend enter. "Whereīve you been?" he asked, once they were inside and turned to face Hutch. "I drove by your place."
 
"Went for a walk," Hutch answered and added with a sheepish shrug, "Had no car at Metro."
 
"Oh. Right. My mistake. Sorry."
 
"`Sokay," Hutch winked. "Iīve feet. No big deal."
 
It was awkward. Here they were having probably the biggest crisis in the history of friendship and were babbling nonsense. '`Terriffic.'
 
Silence stretched. They still had not moved, stood like people having met an acquaintance somewhere by coincidence.
 
"I can drive you home," Starsky finally offered, and Hutch laughed nervously.
 
"I just got here."
 
"Oh. Right. Forgot."
 
"Are you going to talk to me in syllables only from now on?" Hutch asked, but his instantly bowing his head betrayed the lightness of his tone.
 
"I donīt know," Starsky answered and tried a shy grin. "But that was a real sentence now, so probably not, no."
 
Silence.
 
"Want a beer?"
 
"Oh yeah," Hutchīs answer came like a shot, not missing a beat, and so they were at least starting to act like on a normal occasion with Hutch sitting down on the couch and Starsky producing two beers from his fridge, before joining him.
 
They had both almost half drained their bottles, before the silence was once more broken.
 
"Iīm sorry I left you without a car."
 
They didnīt look at each other, but straight ahead, both looking strangely alike in the same posture, fiddling with their beers in the same way.
 
"Iīm sorry I blurbed things out like that," Hutch replied.
 
Silence.
 
"Starsk," Hutch tried again and shyly glanced over from out of the corner of one eye. Yet, he got no response. "Starsky."
 
He was just about to repeat his friendīs name for the second time, when Starsky quietly, and as serious as he could be, stated, "If you ever... you know," he filled in the gap after a momentīs thought, unable to even say it, and checked Hutchīs reaction, that was an understanding nod. "I donīt think I could ever forgive you." At the tensed silence next to him, he finally turned his head to cast a direct look at Hutch. "Just so you know."
 
Hutch swallowed dryly, didnīt look up, couldnīt meet his eyes. With his head bowed like a child being reprimanded, he gave a small nod. "I donīt... I donīt intend to... you know," he muttered in response. "I donīt think I ever really... really have," he added, trying once more to sound lightly. He failed miserably.
 
"Thatīs not what you said earlier," Starsky observed.
 
"I was just mad," Hutch verbally waved. He still hadnīt lifted his head. "You pissed me off. I didnīt mean half of it."
 
"You canīt mean the truth, Hutch. Either you say it or you donīt."
 
Hutch chuckled nervously. "Whenīve you become so wise?"
 
Starsky sighed and leant his head back. "I donīt feel like funny talk right now."
 
As if heīd been slapped, the blond fell silent again, his shoulders drawn as he tensed up against cold fear nagging at his stomach.
 
"Will you tell me about it?" Starsky asked, blinking up at the ceiling.
 
"`Snot much to tell."
 
"What did I just say about funny talk," Starsky replied. "So, will you?"
 
"It was a Sunday afternoon," Hutch started after a moment, trying his best to not sound unnerved. "My Mom and Karen were I donīt recall where, and I was alone at home, and I knew where my mother kept her sleeping pills in her bedroom and I swallowed half a bottle."
 
When the story didnīt continue, Starsky cast him a quick glance. "And?"
 
Unseeing, Hutch sighed sarcastically, as if marveling over the stupidity of his younger self. "And then I got sick and had to try it again." At the senseable shock next to him, he slightly waggled his head. "Good thing I still had this half bottle, I guess. Who knows what other stuff I might have found."
 
"Where was your Dad?" Starsky asked carefully after a moment.
 
"Business trip," Hutch instantly replied. "To Atlanta. Heīd been gone for the whole weekend. We expected him back that day."
 
Making a mental note that Hutch obviously vividly recalled where his father had been, but not the rest of the family, Starsky tentatively asked further.
 
"Who found you?"
 
Hutch tensed up so much he was starting to tremble slightly. "Dad." A comforting hand came down to lightly rest on his back, but instinctively, he flinched.
 
"Shh, `sokay. `S just me," Starsky soothed. "Itīs okay. Whatīd he do?"
 
"I-I donīt know," Hutch replied nervously, so absolutely obviously lying it was ridiculous. "Called an ambulance, I guess. B-but i-itīs all kinda hazy and blurry..." A particularly violent shiver grabbed his shoulders, and
 
Starsky instantly pushed himself off the headrest to be able to draw his friend into a half hug.
 
"Itīs okay, Hutch. Itīs alright, you donīt have to tell."
 
"What would there be to tell?!" Hutch half snapped, half laughed, sounding suspiciously close to hysteria.
 
Considerably concerned at the piling distress the memories brought for his friend even over twenty years later, Starsky contemplated whether or not itīd be wiser to stop now, but found that Hutchīs reaction was too unnerving to let it go by. So instead of leaving it there, he slid closer, tightened his grip on Hutchīs shoulder and told him in a clear, calm, soothing voice, "Iīm right here with you. No oneīs going to hurt you again. Iīll protect you."
 
From down where the blond head hang, an affirmating sniff could be heard.
 
"Iīm right here," Starsky repeated. "And I wonīt leave." He paused. "What did your father do, when he found you?"
 
"I-I donīt remember," a tiny voice answered.
 
"Yes, you do. Something he did. Or said." Again, Starsky paused. "Didnīt
he?"
 
"Please, Starsk. I donīt remember. Please."
 
It took all Starsky had to not give in to the pathetic begging, but somehow he managed. His voice, though, held a slight quiver, when he spoke again.
"Nothing bad will happen if you tell me about it, okay? Itīs just words. They canīt hurt you." He waited, listening with his heart wrenching to yet another small sniff. "Was it something he said?"
 
A nod.
 
Holding his breath, Starsky waited, but no more came. Feeling like crossing a waterfall on a trunk step by step, he carefully continued on his way into Hutchīs memory. "He called an ambulance. Right?"
 
"Yeah," Hutch replied shyly.
 
"Okay. Where were you?"
 
"Bathroom."
 
"I thought you found them in your motherīs bedroom?"
 
"Yeah, but got sick," Hutch reminded him with a child-like waggle of his
head. "So..."
 
"Oh. Right. I see. So you were in the bathroo-"
 
"Upstairs," Hutch clearified. "Bathroom upstairs. B-because... my parents seldomly went there."
 
Slipping out of his coaxing routine for just a second, Starsky asked, "You had two bathrooms at home?"
 
"No, three."
 
"Oh," Starsky made, dumbfounded, but quickly kicked himself back into action. "How did he find you then?"
 
Hutch shivered, causing his friend to gently start stroking his back in slow circles. "He was angry, because no one was there, when he returned from his trip. So he went searching the rooms for us kids."
 
'Thatīs the only thing this bastard ever did Iīm grateful for,' Starsky thought, but kept his silence, as Hutch continued.
 
"At first he thought Iīd just been sick, I think. I think I recall him yelling at me to get up." His tone saddened. "And then he found the bottle. And he got really mad." He paused. "Started yelling."
 
Starsky frowned, completely indrawn by the tale, images changing in his mind in a confusing speed. "He got mad? Not scared?"
 
"No," Hutch shook his head. "No. He kept yelling that Mom should have known better than to let me run around the house freely, since I was obviously too stupid to be trusted on my own."
 
The picture fell into place. "He thought it was an accident?" Starsky asked incredulously.
 
His friend didnīt listen, but the answer was clear, anyway. "I think I was kinda fading in and out, itīs all pretty blurry." He was actually trying to remember now, Starsky noticed. "I donīt remember how I got into my room, but somehow I ended up there, and he was still yelling. He was really furious." A shaky sigh. "Hit me too."
 
That was close to more than Starsky could take. "He hit you?! You were dying, and he hit you?!"
 
"Uh... he hadnīt quite figured that by then," Hutch revealed shyly. "He thought I was faking to avoid the punishment for, uh... well, whatever. Being in their bedroom, taking stuff, I donīt know." A bitter snort. "Being sick probably."
 
"Aw Gawd," Starsky mumbled, truly appalled. "God Hutch... When did he notice?"
 
"I told him." Pause, a sigh. "I told him... well, I guess I kinda tried... to just leave me the fuck alone, and then he wouldnīt have to deal with me anymore, anyway. That," he added in bitter sarcasm, "as miraculously as it seems, he understood."
 
"And then he called an ambulance?" Starsky asked.
 
Hutch shrugged. "Iīd passed out by then, but I guess so, yeah." Silence followed, until he broke it with a humorless smile he flashed his friend. "End of story."
 
The half hug turned into a full one now, as Starsky squeezed Hutchīs arm comfortingly and placed his chin on the back of his shoulder. "Aw babe, Iīm so sorry." He remained where he was for a moment, listening to
Hutchīs occasional sniffs. "What happened then? Did they get you help?"
 
The tension that grabbed the blond came so sudden it made Starsky flinch. "Hutch?"
 
"I-I..." Hutch started, hushed himself and tried again. He was clearly becoming agitated after having calmed down over revealing his memories.
"I’ve had enough deep buried shit well up and blutter out for one day, okay? I really - and I mean that, I really donīt want to get into this now."
 
Starsky didnīt move. Stayed as still as he could, like afraid of moving thatīd scare a hardly tamed animal.
 
"Letīs just say yes, they did get me help," Hutch added in a tone as bitter as Starsky thought heīd never heard him use before.
 
He knew he shouldnīt... "And getting helpīs deep buried shit?" ... but he couldnīt help it.
 
"What did I just say?!" Hutch snapped, truly angry, and moved away, pressing himself as far into the corner of the couch as he could to break any physical contact.
 
"Iīm sorry," Starsky said worriedly. "But youīre scaring me. What did they do to you that couldīve been so horrible?"
 
"Which part," Hutch replied and stood, when his friend reached out for him carefully, "of 'I donīt want to get into this now' didnīt you understand?!"
 
Concerned, Starsky looked up at him.
 
The eye contact lasted for about a split second, before Hutch had to bow his head. "Okay," he muttered. "Okay, Iīm gonna tell you, and then we wonīt talk about it ever again. Thatīs the deal, take it or leave it."
 
Starsky nodded.
 
Arms folded in front of his chest, Hutch drew in a deep breath and closed his eyes. "They sent me to the 'Fatherīs Gift of Hope' in Boston."
 
Since heīd been ready to hear they had cast voodoo spells to his friend, Starsky needed some time to process the information. When he had, though, a furrow dig into his forehead. "Uh... that sounds... uhm... Hutch, whatīs that, a sort of church camp or..." Lifting his brows expectantly, he trailed off.
 
Having opened his eyes, Hutch nervously wiped over a side of his face.
 
"No. Itīs a hospital."
 
"Oh."
 
"Yes," Hutch nodded, avoiding his partnerīs gaze. "Oh. Itīs an 'oh'-hospital."
 
"What, you mean... You donīt mean... ?"
 
"Oh, for crying out loud, Starsk, yes! Itīs a God damn looney bin, okay? Happy? They sent me to an institution for the mentally unstable. For a month."
 
Starsky stared at him, swallowed, continued to stare, knowing his reaction would mean everything. His reaction could break the deal. "Hm. Isnīt that a pretty weird name for a looney bin?"
 
Hutchīs gaze snapped to him, caught his - and he started laughing.
 
"Yeah," he nodded finally and sat down next to Starsky on the couch again. "Yeah, I guess it is."
 
"Why do those places always have to have so dumb names?" Starsky continued in relieved light humor. "And whose fatherīs gift was it, anyway?"
 
"Not mine," Hutch replied, and like air getting sucked out of a room, the humor was gone.
 
"Did they at least help you there?" Starsky asked after a moment.
 
"Iīm here, arenīt I?"
 
"You know what I mean."
 
"Yeah," Hutch said and bowed his head. "No, they didnīt."
 
A long pause followed, than, almost fearfully, Starsky asked, "Did they hurt you?"
 
Hesitantly, Hutch nodded. "I donīt..." he started, hushed himself and with clear effort lifted his head to directly look at his friend. "We donīt need to talk about this too, do we?"
 
The tiny, pathetic plea was too much to bear after all, and Starsky settled for a nod and an assuring smile, lifting one hand to softly squeeze the back of Hutchīs neck.
 
They sat in silence for a while, shoulders touching, Starskyīs hand gently stroking Hutchīs neck as if heīd just forgotten to draw it back again. "Is that the place your father wanted to send you to? This 'Gift'-thing?"
 
Hutch sighed, regretting the loss of comfortable silence. He was so tired of talking. So tired of remembering. If they could just remain sitting here for the next hundred years or so, heīd be completely satisfied. Yet, knowing Starsky would probably not agree to that, he nodded. "Yep. Heīd some college friends there. They... took care of me."
 
The sound of that made Starsky shudder, but, recalling his promise, he didnīt ask. "And I take it they didnīt file you, huh?"
 
"No, course not. I was supposed to study medicine later. And he couldnīt have a suicidal whacko in the family. No, thereīre no files," he shook his head. "Iīve never been there. Never would have been."
 
Again, silence settled, the sun setting outside, and they still sat, unmoving, watching the shadows fall.
 
"Your fatherīs an asshole."
 
The child-like, convinced force with which the statement was uttered didnīt fail to again have Hutch laugh slightly, and he cast his friend an appreciating look. "Yup."
 
They exchanged a quick glance, settled back, and finally Starsky drew his hand away. "Can I ask you something?"
 
Another sigh was suppressed, though Hutch nodded okay. Yet he couldnīt help beginning to wonder if this would go on forever now...
 
"Are you okay?" Starsky asked, the tone making it clear the question implied more than just Hutchīs momentary condition.
 
"Sure," Hutch replied way too quickly and smiled assuringly. "Iīm alright. You? I mean, what with the case and-"
 
"Weīre not talking about me," Starsky cut him off gently.
 
"Uhm..." Hutch made and frowned, looked away. "Uh, no, but... We could, couldnīt we? For a change." Again he smiled to underline the humor.
 
Something was going on, but Starsky couldnīt quite figure out what, so he continued to go with his gut feeling. "Iīm fine, Hutch. Itīs you, who..."
 
Suddenly realizing how heīd intended the statement to end, he hushed himself.
 
"Who what?"
 
"Uhm..."
 
At last letting go of a sigh audibly, Hutch bent forward to rest his elbows on his knees, head in hands. "Is this how itīs gonna be from now on, yeah? Every time we meet itīs gonna be Hutchinson Anonymous and psycho coach?"
 
Taken aback, Starsky grabbed his arm. "Wh... No, of course not. Cīmon, look at me."
 
Visibly resigning, Hutch gave in. The emptiness in his eyes unnerved Starsky.
 
"Itīs not gonna be like that. But..." Searching for the right words, he trailed off, then started anew. "Itīs an awful lot of stuff you have been and are still carrying." He paused, waiting for a reaction. "Right?"
 
Hutch shrugged. "So?"
 
"So," Starsky started, puzzled at his friendīs lack of enthusiasm, "there is a lot to deal with. Eventually, youīll need to start doing that."
 
"What, you saying I havenīt before?" Hutch asked angrily.
 
Carefully, knowing he was moving onto very thin ice, Starsky replied, "Repressing is not processing."
 
"Ah," Hutch made and nodded. "Hm-mm. Dīyou read that in one of those books youīre so keen on recently?"
 
"No," Starsky replied gravely. "That I learnt myself."
 
Shooting him an apologetic look, Hutch feebly touched his shoulder. "Listen, Starsk, I appreciate your concern, I really do. But I donīt want it. Okay? I donīt want you to worry about me, and I certainly donīt want you to look at me as something that has to be dealt with. I just want back to normal. Donīt you think we can do that?" he added pleadingly.
 
Starsky didnīt answer, and, unable to do anything else, Hutch chose to interpret the silence as the answer he wanted to hear. "Hey?" he finally asked, when it seemed his partner had lost himself in a knot of thoughts that left signs on his expression, "could you give me a lift home?"
 
"What?" Starsky shook his head as he climbed his way back into reality.
 
"What? Home?"
 
"Yeah, you know... plants, large area, my place? After all, itīs your fault Iīve no car here, so..."
 
Incredulously, Starsky started at his friend. "You want to go home? Now?"
 
"Itīs getting dark, weīve to work tomorrow."
 
"But I could, like, uh, dunno, order somethinī," Starsky rambled, the idea of Hutch leaving suddenly unnerving him. "We could..." ... talk some more... "... have `nother beer? Why donīt you just stay here, anyway, and Iīll drive you to your garbage can tomorrow morning before work?"
 
"Because I want to go home now," Hutch answered. "Thatīs why." Tilting his head to one side slightly, he searchingly looked into Starskyīs eyes. "Weīre okay, arenīt we?"
 
"Yes, but... Hutch, look I..." Trailing off, Starsky clenched his lifted hands resignedly and sighed.
 
"Drive me home, buddy."
 
Another glance was exchanged, and with a frustrated nod, Starsky stood to get his keys.
 
"Thanks," Hutch called after him.
 
'Donīt thank me,' Starsky thought grimly as he opened the door, waiting for his partner to catch up. 'I donīt think Iīm doing you a favor.'
 
****
 
The whole drive back to his apartment, Starsky saw the images  planted in his mind by his friend’s voice playing in front of his inner eyes over and over and over again. A tall, blond eleven-year-old, who had chosen, by his own free will, to leave a life unworthy of his presence behind him, lying on a cold, tiled bathroom floor, dying. Starsky had never seen pictures of Hutch as a child, but what with how baby-faced the adult man was, it was easy to imagine, anyway.
 
And how could you possibly find that little boy and hit him?! Yell at him?! What did you have to be thinking to do such a thing?!
How incredibly did it have to hurt to know you were dying, and the last youīd hear would be your father telling you you were stupid?  And then being sent away... "We donīt need to talk about this too, do we?" Well, eventually, they would have to. Eventually, Hutch would have to reveal those last secrets to his friend as well.
 
The prospect scared Starsky, and that it scared him irritated him. How much more was there to find out? How much more could you do to a person and still not break him? What had they been thinking? What the hell had Gregory Hutchinson been thinking, not only that awful Sunday afternoon, but the whole time of having his son living with him?! How stupid could you be to want to raise your son to carry on family traditions, to become a doctor - and do everything in your might to destroy his sanity beforehand?! What had the man thought would spring from his methods? A son who respected him? A son who feared him?
 
Why a father would want to be feared was beyond Starsky. As well as why
anyone would want to purposely hurt Ken Hutchinson. Hutch was the most gentle, tender, lovable person Starsky had ever come to know, and that alone, he suddenly figured, was a miracle. Another thing he didnīt get - how a man like that could spring from so much violence, so much hate and despise. There was something about Hutch that was naturally, irrationally good, and more than anything else it angered Starsky that anyone would want to destroy that.
 
When he pulled over at his apartment, he had decided with all
determination fury could provide him with, that he would not let them destroy what to him was most precious in his life. He hadnīt been damaged - he could fight.
 
The front door falling shut behind him with a loud bang, he headed for the telephone in a bee-line. "Operator? I need a number in Duluth. Hutchinson. Gregory. I’ll hold."
 
The thought that maybe he was just screwing up majorly didnīt occur to him. Actually, thinking wasnīt what he primarily occupied himself with at the moment, anyway.
 
"Hutchinson."
 
The voice was strange. Starsky had never heard it before, and he needed a second to adjust to it. It was like listening to Hutch, only that even if putting in everything he had, Hutch couldnīt sound that cold.
 
"Whoīs this?" the voice asked unfriendly, and that tone snapped Starsky out of his initial surprise instantly.
 
"Mr. Hutchinson, you donīt know me. I work with your son."
 
"Kenneth?"
 
"Ah... yes, that son," Starsky countered. "Since heīs your only one..." Irritated, he shook his head. Before Gregory Hutchinson could even answer, though, he continued, "You see, your son and I are pretty close. Actually, heīs my best friend."
 
"Oh, so youīre-"
 
"And I just thought Iīd call you, because Iīm worried about him," Starsky cut the older man off.
 
The pause on the other end was tensed. "What seems to be the problem?"
 
"His back."
 
The next pause was even longer. "I donīt think I understand."
 
"I think you do."
 
"Well, he has been having some problems since-"
 
"No, I meant the scars."
 
Silence, but Starsky waited patiently, until the cold voice - having heated up a tad - returned. "Mr., uh, Starsky is it , right?"
 
"Hm-mm."
 
"Yes. Is there a particular reason for your calling?"
 
'Okay. Letīs kick ass.' "You bet there is, you old bastard."
 
"I must-"
 
"You must," Starsky cut the indignant reply off coldly, "watch your back, for if you lay hands on my partner one more time, youīll wish Duluth was on the moon, do you understand?"
 
"Your 'partner', that would be Kenneth?" Gregory asked, unimpressed.
 
"Hutch," Starsky snapped. "His name is Hutch! And, yes, he is my partner. Contrary to you, I care about him, and who messes with him, messes with me."
 
"Uhm... I see," the older man replied, audibly amused. "Is that what people of your kind call a police speech?"
 
"No," Starsky replied, "this is: I may never get you for what you did to him, when he was a child, even though it was a crime back then too, but today heīs not living in your home anymore, heīs an adult just like any stranger, and what you committed, sir, is what we call bodily injury and probably attempted kidnapping. Thatīs a total of five to ten years at least."
 
"Are you saying you are going to press charges against me?"
 
"No. Iīm saying I could."
 
A pause. Stretching. "What do you want, Detective?"
 
Starsky snorted. "What I want is that youīve never driven a child to attempting suicide. I want that youīve never beaten him. I want that you have for once treated him with the respect he deserved. I want that you have been a father instead of a tormentor, and I want that you have never made him believe he wasnīt worth of any better."
 
"I canīt give you that," the answer came. Rational, simple and true.
 
"Yeah, isnīt that a shame?"
 
Gregory sighed. "Listen, Detective, we could continue with this all day, I guess, but-"
 
"Right, letīs do that," Starsky cut him off, the fury more bubbling than boiling now, as his words seemed to crash against the wall of Gregoryīs self-righteousness like birds against a window glass. "I wanted to discuss a few more things with you, anyway. Like, for example, I heard he told you about what he had to live through recently... I mean, before he had to deal with you," he added sarcastically.
 
"You mean the - How shall I put it? - drug issue?"
 
At that Starsky actually had to laugh incredulously. "Drug iss... Okay, thatīs it. I thought I was gonna talk to ya like, you know, man to man, I know youīre an asshole, you know youīre an asshole, just two guys checking their knowledge, but this, this just pissed me off."
 
"Sorry to hear that," Gregory muttered, but was being talked over, anyway.
 
"Let me ask you, Mr. Hutchinson, are you really a human being? For I find that hard to believe. Last I checked, humans donīt try to kill their brood. Actually, it says they tend to feel for their children, you know, like love them - just assuming you ever heard that word before. They donīt half cripple their kids for life, they donīt send them to Brainwashing Center when theyīre not feeling well, and they donīt beat the living shit outta them at no occasion, but especially not, when theyīve learnt something horrible has happened! So everything considered - no, you cannot be human."
 
Gregory Hutchinson sighed. "Are you through?"
 
"No," Starsky snapped, the distinctive feeling he was just making a huge, huge mistake starting to nag at the edge of his mind. Yet he couldnīt seem to stop. "Iīm not through. I never will be. There is not enough time ever to say everything that should be said to you."
 
"Then why donīt we just stop this right here, while youīre still feeling youīre having a right to do this?"
 
"I-I donīt believe you!" Starsky yelled. "Have you listened to a word Iīve said?! Your son is hurting! Because of you!"
 
"I donīt see how that is your business," Gregory said.
 
"Am I talking to a wall here?! I care about Hutch, whatever concerns him is my business more than it is yours. Are you this fucking calm when you beat helpless people too?!"
 
"I think I want to end this conversation now," Gregory decided. "As nice as it was."
 
Starsky was speechless.
 
"Good day, Detective. Oh, and my sonīs name is Kenneth." And with that, he hang up, not hearing the furiously yelled, "Itīs Hutch!"
 
The echo was fading into the soft dialing tone filling the otherwise silent room. Starsky stood, receiver in hand and experienced the sudden, crushing realization that indeed he had just made a huge, huge mistake.
 
Snapping into action, he hung up in a flash, as if by that, the conversation would never have taken place. Taking a step back, he stood staring at the phone, eyes wide with disbelief.
 
'Oh shit.'
 
As if suddenly haunted, his gaze started to jump to places, whereas he himself did not move.
 
'Oh shit! Whatīd you do?!'
 
Motion crept back into his body, and he lifted a nervous hand to wipe over his face.
 
'What did you do?! If Hutch finds out about this, heīs going to-'
 
The phone rang.
 
Starsky jumped as high as the ceiling.
 
A second ringing. A third.
 
"Uhm... `Lo?" he finally answered, fully expecting it to be the Almighty himself to let him have his opinion on recent incidents.
 
But it was worse than that. "Hey Starsk, `sme."
 
Starskyīs answer came high-pitched. "Hutch! Hi!"
 
A startled pause. "Are you alright?"
 
"Yes!" Starsky shot back instantly. "Fine. Marvy. `Triffic. Everythingīs peachy."
 
"Are you drunk?"
 
"No! Just so... happy to... hear your voi... What dīyou want? You want something?"
 
"Ah... No," Hutch replied unsurely. "Itīs just that Alan Rodgers just called me."
 
Thanking every God in existance that it hadnīt been someone else whoīd called his friend, Starsky asked, puzzled, "Who?"
 
"Alan. The antique-store owner, remember? William Summersī ... friend," the blond finished as if it was a sarcastic lie.
 
"Oh. Right. Whatīd he want?"
 
"He knows whoīs responsible for Willsī death. Who beat him, I mean. He said he was just too scared to tell us right away, but heīs come to his senses now. Starsk, itīs not Treat. It was his brother."
 
Starskyīs head seemed to swirl with names and information he knew were important, but that he just couldnīt seem to focus on right now. All he was aware of was that he had let his partner down. Majorly down. "Uh... Sorry, Hutch. Whose brother was what?"
 
Hutch sighed patiently. "Willsī uncleīs the one who used to beat him up. He confied in Alan, but obviously the old bastard had better things to do than to help a scared little boy, and..." Another audible sigh. "Itīs the same story every time. Hey, you need to apologize to Treat Summers, partner."
 
'I need to apologize to some folks...' "Yes, Iīll do that," Starsky answered nervously. "First thing in the morning. Uhm, listen, Hutch, thereīs something I should probably... tell you."
 
"Sensed that," Hutch replied casually. "`Kay, shoot."
 
"Uh..." 'What are you doing?! He wonīt find out, will he? He wonīt ever know. He doesnīt need to know. He mustnīt know, for Christīs sake! What do you think heīll do when he hears this, buy you a 'thank you'-present?!'
 
"Starsk? Buddy, come on, spill it."
 
"I... uh... If you ever do something really, really, really stupid, you know Iīll always forgive you, right?"
 
"Why do I have the feeling Iīm expected to say 'me too' now?"
 
"`Cause it would be appropriate, Blintz."
 
"`Kaaay," Hutch said, stretching the word suspiciously. "Me too."
 
"Great," Starsky grinned. "Hey, I mean, thatīs what friends do, right? Forgive stupid, stupid things. Thatīs why there are such things as friends. To forgive."
 
"Right," Hutch replied, once more stretching the word. "Sure. Starsk?"
 
"Yes?"
 
"Go to bed."
 
"Hm?"
 
"Youīre not feeling well. Go get some sleep. See you in the morning."
 
"Yeah," Starsky nodded. "`Kay. Will do that. Nite, Hutch."
 
"Gīnight Starsk."
 
"Oh, hey! Hutch!"
 
"Yes? What?"
 
"Love ya."
 
"Go to bed, Starsky." And with that Hutch hang up.
 
Funny, but even with the absolution, Starsky still didnīt feel better...
 
*****
 
Indeed the first thing Starsky did in the morning, way before driving off to work, was to drop by Treat Summersī house to apologize for his behavior, but it was futile, since the house was deserted. Deciding that the grieving man had probably left the city, and actually not really caring at the moment, Starsky didnīt waste too much thought on that and headed on to Metro, stopping at a health food store on his way to get Hutch a box of eelgrass bagels he had put in an extra large plastic bag to avoid any contact with them.
 
As he entered the building, though, the thought hit him that stopping and buying something as gross as eelgrass bagels for his friend must seem rather suspicious, and he seriously contemplated dumping them again. But then... couldnīt he just be nice to Hutch for no special reason sometimes?
The moment he entered the squad room, it became obvious his idea had in fact not been stupid, but forseeing.
 
He didnīt even make it fully inside, since Hutch had been sitting on his chair facing the door since heīd arrived, and practically stormed towards his friend the second he saw him.
 
"We need to talk," was all he said as he passed him, briskly walking off to the next interrogation room that at this early hour was empty.
 
Imagining he maybe did hear the Almightyīs laughter after all, Starsky followed, a knot quickly forming in his throat.
 
The carefulness with which Hutch closed the door behind himself stood absolutely contrary to his next move - whirling around to his friend with so much force it sent Starsky stumbling back a step.
 
"I take it back," Hutch said, his tone of voice reminding Starsky of yet another Hutchinson. "If this really, really, really stupid thing was stupid enough, I could maybe find it hard to forgive you after all."
 
Starsky met his gaze, looked away, bit his lip and lifted the plastic bag. "Eelgrass bagles?"
 
Whatever humor lay in that child-like gesture, it was lost on Hutch. "How? How could you do that to me? Whatīve I done to you?"
 
"Nothing!" Starsky quickly answered, dismayed by the question. "Nothing, Hutch, it wasnīt... I didnīt plan to do it. It just... happened."
 
"Phone calls donīt just happen, Starsky!" Hutch yelled. "Accidents happen, phone calls donīt! Phone calls can be ended, once one party realized itīs screwing up!"
 
"I did realize that," Starsky feebly tried to defend himself.
 
"Before or after you called my father an asshole and threatened to arrest him on the charge of kidnapping?!"
 
"Hey, wait a second, I didnīt do that," Starsky shot back.
 
"He says you did," Hutch informed him cooly.
 
"So heīs lying."
 
"Why would he lie to me?"
 
"Out of the same reason he beats you?!"
 
"At least he doesnīt pretend to care about me and then at the very first chance-"
 
"Hey!" Starsky cut his friend off, irritated himself by that. "Cool off, will ya?"
 
Obviously, that had been the wrong thing to say, since Hutch took a threatening step closer, sending Starsky stumbling against the nearest wall. "Stuff it! Iīm not a street punk you can talk to like that, okay? Iīm the guy you owe an apology as huge as Mexico!"
 
"Iīm truly sorry, Hutch. Believe me, I am. If I could turn back time and not call, I would."
 
"But you did!!!" Hutch yelled at him loud enough to have him flinch. "You did call!"
 
He had screwed up, okay, he had really screwed up, but even in his most fear-filled dreams had Starsky not imagined to be met with so much openly displayed wrath. "Hutch," he said calmingly, feeling his friendīs reaction to be - quite frankly - absurd. "Calm down."
 
To emphasize his words, he reached out to touch Hutchīs arm and flinched, when his hand was fiercely knocked away. "Donīt touch me," the blond hissed, his eyes sparkling with anger. "I donīt believe you. There you are, making me reveal the most painful thing of all, and an hour later you pull a stunt like that?! What the hell were you thinking?!"
 
"I didnīt-"
 
"Right!" Hutch interrupted him. "You didnīt think! Because you never do! Because you just canīt imagine that your actions have consequences! For others! For me!"
 
"Hutch-" Starsky tried desperately, but he wasnīt going to be heard and, come to think of it, he figured it was just as fair to have Hutch work it out on him, since, after all, he had screwed up.
 
"Why did you do that?! My family is none of your business!"
 
Starsky stood, silent, and took it.
 
"Why do you always have to ride out your guilt trips on my account?!"
 
That made his head snap up, the thought that maybe he was taking more than he had to crossing his mind, but he forced himself to keep his silence, while his partner ranted on, furiously pacing in front of him.
 
"I understand that itīs hard to stay back and watch and listen to all this shit," Hutch said, working himself into an idea he just knew would hurt his friend immensely, but couldnīt seem to stop himself, "but I never invited you in, anyway! I never wanted you to know. You did! You keep on looking and asking, and if you canīt take what you hear, then stop digging, but for Christīs sake, leave me out there! Iīm holding my own for all my life now, Iīve neither the strength nor the will to help you deal with my problems."
 
About somewhere in the middle of the speech, Starskyīs silent watching had turned into staring, and he blinked in disbelief, while Hutch had to pause to draw in air.
 
"More?" Starsky finally dared to ask, and, glaring at him for that mocking tone, Hutch nodded. "Yes. One more thing: if you ever - ever - call my family again, weīre done. Is that clear?"
 
As the full meaning of those words hit him, Starsky felt his jaw travel south.
 
Hutch, on the other hand, stood, panting with anger, and suddenly couldnīt stand Starskyīs look anymore, his gaze wandering down with jumpy, haunted moves. He was visibly shaking by now, and sweaty, trembling fingers came up to wipe his eyes.
 
"Whatīre you so scared of?" Starsky finally asked into the silence filled with Hutchīs ragged breathing.
 
"Iīm not scared," Hutch shot back. "Iīm pissed off. Havenīt you listened?!"
 
"Yes, I have," Starsky replied. "And yes, youīre scared. I made a mistake, I admit that."
 
"Oh thank you, pal," Hutch snorted. "I can only begin to earn your graciousness."
 
Ignoring that, Starsky continued, "And I know I deserved that."
 
"Youīre damn right you did!"
 
"Yes," Starsky nodded patiently, "okay. Donīt get agitated again."
 
"You know what, I think Iīm gonna punch you now."
 
"Okay, Hutch, okay," Starsky said calmingly, raising his hands as if he was dealing with a wild animal. "If you want, you do that. What did your father say?"
 
"He.. I..." Hutch stammered and covered his eyes with a hand that was shaking so hard it wouldnīt stay in place. "I donīt wanna talk about this."
 
"Okay," Starsky soothed, dismayed at his friendīs distress. "Itīs okay, babe. Itīs alright. We wonīt talk about anything you donīt want."
 
"I... Itīs just..." Hutch started, but couldnīt speak on. Instead, he suddenly let himself fall back against the wall, next to Starsky, and as if all energy had suddenly left him, slid down to the ground, where he hugged his legs, forehead resting on his knees. "Why did you have to do that?" It was barely more than a whimper, and if Starsky felt guilty before, now he was crushed.
 
"Hutch," he said in utter dismay and crouched down in front of him. "I didnīt mean anything by it. Please. Buddy. It was just a mistake, I didnīt mean for him to call you. I didnīt know heīd do that."
 
Hutch didnīt listen. And he didnīt look up, not even when Starskyīs hand came to rest on his head, softly stroking through his hair. "Whyīd you have to do that?! Why canīt we just go back to normal? Why dīyou have to dig everything up?"
 
Feeling, once more, like he was getting more than his share of accusations that morning, Starsky closed his eyes briefly and let his hand come down to gently grab Hutchīs shoulder. "Hutch, why are you so afraid? What did he say? Did he threaten you?"
 
At that, at least, Hutch looked at him, if with a hint of despise. "Heīs my father, Starsk. He doesnīt have to threaten me."
 
Dismayed, Starsky blinked. "Youīre scared of his voice?"
 
Hutch laughed bitterly. "You donīt get it, do you? You canīt call my Dad and say those things. You just canīt do that. You canīt talk to my Dad like that."
 
How Starsky hated the fear in his friendīs voice, how he hated to see him that weak. "Babe, I understand youīre upset, because he called you, but you donīt have to be this afraid. Your father wonīt touch you again, Iīll see to that."
 
"I donīt care!" Hutch snapped, sending Starsky falling onto his butt from surprise. "I donīt care if he hits me, but I donīt want to listen to him!"
 
"Uh... Hutch..." Starsky stammered, not sure heīd heard right, but his partner sniffed and in a tiny voice stated, "If you want to protect me, donīt make him talk to me."
 
"Iīm sorry," Starsky said after a moment of shock. "Iīm so sorry. I didnīt... I didnīt know, buddy. I didnīt know." Taking a good look at the man before him, huddled against the wall, close to crying, he shook his head sadly.
"Seems I donīt know much, anyway."
 
At that, Hutch shot him a glance. When he spoke, his voice was affectionate despite the words. "Honest, you donīt know shit, Starsk."
 
Into the helpless silence that followed, the door opened. Both detectives jumped, Starsky whirling around to stare at a young female colleague. It was the one who had come to question Hutchīs stability the day before, and the look he shot the man huddled on the ground definitely matched that experience.
 
"Uh, sorry," she muttered uneasily, as she took in the situation sheīd burst into.
 
Starsky smiled slightly, giving the tiniest of winks to show there was no offense taken. A gesture that wasnīt backed up by Hutch, though.
 
Obviously fully expecting the woman to turn and leave again, he stayed where he was, glaring up at her with unreasonable anger.
 
Instead of respecting anyoneīs privacy, though, she pointed over her shoulder with her thumb. "Thereīs a guy out there, wants to speak with you."
 
"Us?" Starsky asked. "Dīyou know him?"
 
"Ah..." she started, finding it hard to avoid staring down at Hutch. "No. And he only wants to talk to Hutch, actually."
 
"Well, Iīm occupied," Hutch snapped, his tone so fierce even Starsky shot him a frown.
 
"He said itīs urgent," their colleague replied, taken aback by Hutchīs uncharacteristic harshness.
 
"Oh hell," the blond swore angrily and jumped to his feet to storm past her out of the room. "Isnīt there anyone competent in this nuthole?!"
 
Flashing the speechless girl an apologetic smile, Starsky gently shoved the bag of bagels into her hands and started to follow after his friend. "Never mind him," he felt obliged to say as he half-turned in the doorway. "Heīs having a bad day."
 
"Heīs having a bad LIFE, you want my opinion," she called after him, unaware of the flinch her comment caused.
 
On entering the squad room, Starsky found the urgent visitor to be Alan Rodgers. At seeing him, he took a step back as if to hide behind Hutch, who turned to catch his partnerīs gaze.
 
"Seems youīre not the only one big on making mistakes today," he pointed out dryly. "Alan here just upped the score."
 
Deciding to ignore the bitter remark, Starsky approached Hutch to come to stand next to him, crossing his arms in front of him. "Whatīd he do?" he asked, looking down at Alan.
 
"Tell him, Alan," Hutch ordered, leaning back against his desk. The old man couldnīt even open his mouth to answer, though, before Hutch did it himself. "He told Treat what he told us. He thought - quote - 'it was his duty'." Emphasizing the quotation with following Starskyīs example of folding his arms, he sent his partner a silent message to take over from there.
 
Instinctively, Starsky did. No matter how huge an argument there had been beforehand , when it came to work, they clicked. So slipping into his given role in their interrogation routine, Starsky took an almost threatening step towards Alan, effectively caging him in between his desk and the door to Dobeyīs office.
 
"Did he really say 'duty'?" he asked, looking at his squirming victim, though it was clear he was talking to Hutch, who shrugged casually.
 
"Sounded like he did, yeah."
 
"Hm," Starsky made with a grave nod, like a disappointed parent. His next question was accompanied by an inquiring frown. "Dīyou look that word up today? I donīt think you knew it while William Summers was still alive. - Do you, Hutch?"
 
Again, Hutch shrugged. "Iīm not sure, Starsk. If he knew it, heīd have told Treat before the kid had the chance to kill himself over it, wouldnīt he?"
 
"Officers, please..." Alan started, but trailed off, obviously having expected to be interrupted.
 
Starsky sighed sadly and glanced at his partner. "Dīyou want to go on playing games?"
 
"Itīs up to you," Hutch offered graciously.
 
"Why thank you," Starsky replied dryly and after a momentīs thought took another step towards Alan, his expression as cold as stone. "Iīm not going to waste my time with you. You wonīt get it, even if we try to beat it into you. So just spill what exactly happened and then get the hell outta here."
 
Throwing Hutch a nervous glance as if seeking reassurance that he truly would be spared physical danger, Alan hesitantly replied, "I never met Mr. Summers before, I had promised Wills Iīd never tell anyone what heīd told me. See, his fatherīs running some business down in Diego, and heīs away a lot. Thatīs why heīd asked his brother to stay with them and look after Wills in the first place. Heīd just returned from `Nam and couldnīt get a job and-"
 
"Watch my heart fly out to him," Starsky commented dryly.
 
"I promised Wills!" Alan defended himself.
 
Repressed anger starting to boil, Starsky momentarily lost control of his volume switch. "And you kept your promise, arenīt you proud of yoursel-"
 
"Starsk," Hutch quietly chided, effectively silencing his ever hot-tempered friend, and motioned for Rodgers to continue.
 
Alan sighed, a trembling hand reaching up to wipe over strained old features. "I cleaned out the loft yesterday and I found something Will had written... I just thought..." Another deep sigh interrupted the tale. "I drove by his house to give it to his father. I donīt know how I ended up telling him. It just happened," he said helplessly. "I hadnīt intended... Anyway, he went crazy. I mean that. Something snapped inside him. His eyes... I donīt think Iīll ever forget that look."
 
Visibly clenching his jaws, Starsky drew in a deep breath to keep his self-control. Hutch, on the other hand, blinked in sudden understanding. "Thatīs why you called me last night, isnīt it? You thought weīd arrest the man, before his brother could do something stupid."
 
Resignedly, Alan nodded.
 
"`Terrific," Starsky quipped. "Just great. Marvin Summers has vanished as from yesterday morning on, right after we informed the family." He paused, mostly for emphasis, then added as if he was actually interested in the answer, "Are you really that dumb or is it getting senile?"
 
"I didnīt know what I was doing," Alan replied excitedly. "I-I was in shock. I felt guilty, I-"
 
"Hey," Starsky cut him off. "If you think weīre going to give you absolution now, you have another thought coming. Are you even aware of the fact that refusal of life-saving measures is a crime?" As the information visibly fell into place behind the stunned manīs eyes, Starsky added in a tone almost innocent, "Youīre going to be charged, Alan. And youīre going to go down too."
 
"No," Alan muttered, obviously overwhelmed with the truth hitting him.
"No... I... H-he made me promise."
 
But Starsky had already turned for the door and didnīt bother to look back. Desperate eyes flew over to meet Hutchīs, who pushed himself away from his desk with a shake of his head. Following his partner, he stopped short, as if a thought had hit him, and looked at Alan Rodgers one last time. "He was just a scared kid, Alan."
 
It seemed he wanted to add something, but in the end thought different and finally left.
 
Outside, he quickly caught up with his partner. "Hey. Whereīre we going to start now?"
 
"Summersī house," Starsky replied curtly. Unseen by his friend, he was having a violent inner quarrel whether or not he should just pull the plug on the whole matter, transfer the case and once more drag Hutch away from reality for some serious amateur psycho-treatment...
 
"`Kay," Hutchīs light tone tore him out of thoughts, as they continued on their way to the Torino. "By the way, whereīre my bagels?"
 
Shooting him a surprised look, Starsky opened his mouth to reply, thought different and closed it along with the driverīs door.
 
"What?" Hutch asked in a child-like version of his usual Hutchinson indignancy, when heīd taken his seat on the passenger side. "I donīt get them anymore now?"
 
"Close the door, and maybe Iīll treat you to a water," Starsky heard himself counter, though he didnīt feel at all like bantering.
 
Something else about Hutch, he figured, dismayed that the realization saddened him.
 
*****
 
"Do you think William knew his father would react that way?"
 
At Hutchīs soft voice breaking through the silence filling the Summersī living room, Starsky turned from where heīd been going through a small pile of mail on a book shelf. The blond stood across the room, studying a framed picture of the small Summers family during its better days, when all three members had looked like actors in a morning cereal commercial. Treat and his young wife smiled happily into the camera, and little Will made a funny face, sticking out his tongue at the photographer.
 
It was an innocent, childish insult, nothing more than a boyish gesture - but for someone, who only knew William Summersī face in the state of decay, it bore a scary, cruel resemblance to the dead boyīs picture. Tilting his head to one side slightly, Hutch studied the photo closer as if looking for something you couldnīt possibly find in the kidīs eyes. Something that had yet to be placed inside there.
 
"Dunno."
 
Jumping at Starskyīs answer to his question, Hutch half whirled around to look at his friend, whoīd stepped next to him to also look at the picture.
"If heīd thought Treat would protect him, why didnīt he tell him?"
 
Casting him a side glance, Hutch bit his lip as if keeping back an unfitting reply, and looked at the family portrait again.
 
Starsky, though, had felt the glance, felt it still. How much he hated this case! Talking in riddles easy to solve wasnīt his style, but no matter what either of them said, they both always instantly assumed to be more behind the words, and they knew it. It seemed you couldnīt talk about William Summers without talking about Kenneth Hutchinson too. Work had faded into privacy, when merely stating facts could mean to hurt Hutch.
 
"He wanted to protect his father," Hutch said after a while, not looking at Starsky.
 
"His father could have helped him," Starsky replied as carefully as he could, feeling like he was walking on thin ice.
 
Hutch tensed, just a bit, just for Starsky to notice. "Do you think he thought his father... loved him that much? Maybe he couldnīt imagine Treat to do anything about it."
 
A frown appearing on his forehead, Starsky turned to directly look at his friend, puzzled. "Weīre talking about Wills now, right?"
 
"We were talking about Wills before too," Hutch replied, irritated. "What dīyou think?"
 
"Uhm..."
 
"Not everything I say has a greater meaning, you know."
 
"Okay," Starsky hurried to nod calmingly. "Iīm sorry, my mistake. Donīt
get mad again."
 
"Then stop saying stupid things, for Christīs sake!" Hutch snapped. "I KNOW youīd have helped me, itīs a completely different situation."
 
Thinking that it wasnīt THAT much different, really, since he had at times fought the urge to fly to Duluth and do something stupid too, like Treat Summers, Starsky gave another nod. "I know. Calm down."
 
Obviously about to shoot back another remark, Hutch stopped himself before uttering a sound, waved irritably and turned to leave the room.
Starsky sighed and exhaustedly rubbed his eyes. You just shouldnīt walk on thin ice if it couldnīt hold you...
 
Unwillingly, he started to follow after Hutch, but at the sounds of angry steps in the kitchen down the hall, decided it was probably better to have his partner run it off before facing him again, and entered the next room, to which the door stood widely ajar. It was a small, dimly lit room that hardly bore more space than what a bed and a drawer occupied. Yet even with the limited possibilities, chaos managed to make itself be seen; piles of shredded clothing covered the bed and floor, along with a few torn pieces of paper that looked like letters. Pictures too.
 
A still-life of wrath.
 
Cop-modus at full level, Starsky stepped inside, careful as to not disturb the layer of chaos covering the carpet.
 
As trained eyes scanned the several piles, he found himself suddenly focusing on a picture that stood out against a torn shoe box. Crouching down, he picked it up, studying it with narrowed eyes. It showed Marvin and Treat Summers on the eve of growing up, laughing, Treatīs arm around Marvinīs shoulders, the smaller bother trying to waggle free of the half-hug, but frozen in motion by the camera. Behind them the half of a small cottage could be seen, trees surrounding it, the very edge of a flag tugged at by the wind in the corner of the picture.
 
Instinctively, Starsky turned it, and indeed a neat, feminine looking hand-writing on the back informed him that heīd just witnessed a moment of '1955, Summers Sun, Lake Tay'.
 
Turning the picture again, Starsky looked at it closely once more, then stood to leave the room, taking it with him. "Hutch?" he asked, but received no answer.
 
He found him in the kitchen, sitting at the table, staring at a sheet of paper.
 
"Hey."
 
Slowly, Hutch lifted his head, any sign of anger that had been glittering in his eyes before gone.
 
Frowning in concern at the almost blank look, Starsky stepped closer, pointing at the paper with his chin. "Whatīs that?"
 
"A letter."
 
Instantly understanding, Starsky grimaced slightly and sat down too.
 
"From William?"
 
Hutch nodded.
 
Silence followed. Starsky placed the picture heīd brought on the table too, but Hutch didnīt look.His gaze was glued to unsteady letters forming unsteady words.
 
"What," Starsky finally asked quietly, "does it say?"
 
"'Iīm sorry'," Hutch answered, not looking at him.
 
His partner waited, but no more came. "Just 'Iīm sorry'?"
 
Swallowing dryly, Hutch nodded. His voice was scratchy, like raw silk, when he added in a whisper, "One hundred times."
 
Starskyīs face fell, and, motions sped up by shock, he nearly snatched the paper out of Hutchīs trembling hands. It only took him a split second, though, to lower the letter again. He placed his elbows on the table and let his head fall into his hands.
 
Hutch watched, feeling eerily disconnected and caged in at the same time. He wanted to scream and cry, curl up on himself, like he did at nights, when everything crashed down on him mercilessly, but he couldnīt.
 
Starskyīs mere presence restrained every emotion that needed to break free, there was nothing he could do about it.
 
"Whatīs this?" he asked, a hopeful gaze falling upon the picture on the table he picked up busily. Jumping onto every opportunity at shortening the scene.
 
Starsky didnīt look up, knowing his partner would reach the same conclusion as he himself by studying the photograph, anyway. "You know something?" he mumbled  instead. "I donīt want to save Marvin Summers."
 
Turning the picture for the second time to look at the two laughing boys again, Hutch quietly stated, "Itīs not about saving Marvin." When Starsky finally looked up at that, he placed the picture on the table in front of him again, casting him an inquiring look.
 
Starsky sighed in understanding and with a nod stood up slowly, grabbing the photo. "If you want my opinion," he said on his way to the door and turned before leaving down the hallway outside to add, "Thereīs no one left to save."
 
Hutch vīed his brows in an almost consolingly looking expression at the crushingly sad tone of Starskyīs voice, but words didnīt come. After the briefest of moments, Starsky turned, the sound of the front door being opened occuring a second later.
 
With a bracing sigh, Hutch finally stood too, pushing himself up at the table - and hesitated, when he looked around involuntarily.
 
A cosy kitchen it was, in a cosy house. Red-checkered curtains, a breakfast counter, one of the kind youīd sit on in the mornings, watching your father preparing breakfast, chit-chatting. Blue cups in the sink. Boxes of choco cereals on the shelves. Rays of sunshine glimmering on the huge dark blue fridge.
 
A childhood kitchen. Like the ones Hutch had seen himself on tv when heīd been a kid. It hit him, suddenly, that the kitchen in the Hutchinson home had looked the same. Light, wide. A cookies&lemonade-place.
But in his memory, there was no light. The Hutchinson kitchen had not been a safe place, like no room in the house. There had been danger lurking everywhere. Everywhere you could be caught. The cage hadnīt been restricted to one single area, he remembered staring at equally checkered cutains while counting - loud - the strikes of his fatherīs belt. Everything you could look at in the house could within seconds turn into what you saw while it hurt so much you just wanted to die. The house that looked so neat and normal and lovely for others had been a torture chamber, each item belonging to nothing but pain.
 
A big dark blue fridge could be something to stare at while you felt your skin crack.
 
Blue, comfy looking cups in the sink could be something to focus on, while you were thinking...
 
Hutch was out of the room like a shot. He only slowed down, when he had practically smashed the front door shut behind him.
 
Startled, Starsky turned to shoot him a concerned look from where he leaned against the Torino, mike in hand. At his inquiring glance, before he could ask anything, Hutch gave a weak wink to indicate questions werenīt appreciated.
 
Visibly unwillingly, Starsky accepted that and turned back. A half minute later, he put the mike back and fully opened the driverīs door. "Lake Tayīs about an hour east of here. Got the description, letīs go."
 
Hutch nodded and got into the car. They were only just on the road, when he quietly asked, "Think theyīre really there?"
 
Starsky shrugged. "Itīs the only lead we have so far, anyway, right? Itīs the only picture he left un-torn, so itīs gotta mean something. Besides," he added with a sigh, "weīre probably too late no matter what."
 
A worried furrow working into his forehead, Hutch watched him silently, until he, unnerved, turned his head, ready to snap, but didnīt make it before the blondīs quietly stated "Maybe not."
 
Even though it was obvious Hutch expected a reply, Starsky just clenched his jaws and looked ahead again. With a suppressed sigh, Hutch eventually followed his example.
 
*****
 
Starsky drove in a silence filled with questions, his own voice so loud in his head he wasnīt sure if he could have understood his partner, anyway. But Hutch didnīt seem to be actually present, either. Whenever Starsky shot him a quick glance from out of the corner of his eyes, he found him staring outside his window, almost vacantly, his expression not revealing his thoughts.
 
It didnīt happen often that Starsky was at a loss of knowing what went on inside his friendīs head, and whenever it happened, it left him feeling uneasy, lost. Apart. He desperately wanted to talk, to ask those questions his inner self screamed at him - but it would mean trespassing, and heīd had his share of paying for that over the past time. When had it started that caring about Hutch had turned into hurting him? After Forrest? After Duluth?
 
He let go of an exhausted breath, a gesture that was ignored on Hutchīs side. The blond merely shot him the briefest of looks, before returning to staring outside.
 
Like he had so many times before, Starsky felt the sudden crushing weight of their situation grab a tight hold of his mind. No wriggling out of those claws, nowhere to hide from those thoughts. It had gone on for so long now, how much of 'them', of the 'normal' Hutch cherished so much, was actually left? For him - if he was truly honest to himself - 'they' were fading, as Hutch was.
 
Right after Forrest, when heīd been at home, recovering - or pretending to recover - Hutch had sometimes spoken of himself as 'Phantom Hutch', a facade, an imagine that was left after the ordeal, while too much of him had died to ever be feel whole again. They had talked about that, especially on the first day after Duluth, and maybe there had been some successes on Starskyīs side, but right now he couldnīt help thinking he suddenly understood what his friend had meant.
 
What they were at the moment, was a 'Phantom They', a cracked window that was just held in place by its frame. Eventually, though, it would undoubtedly shatter. And there wasnīt anything to do about it Starsky could think of. If they couldnīt communicate in silence, they needed to talk, and if that was made impossible by one party - then what? How was a cracked window supposed to repair itself?
 
As he found himself casting Hutch yet another glance, Starsky opened his mouth, the urge to relieve himself from the questions too much to endure, but at the memory of Hutchīs expression at finding Williamīs letter found he couldnīt. He couldnīt ask if Hutch had thought about leaving note. Or if he had been sorry. Or if he had been sorry afterwards. Or if he was sorry now.
 
Or if it was another kind of being sorry he felt... 'Many times,' the soft, sad voice echoed in Starskyīs ears, and again, he shot Hutch a look, almost startled, as if his friend had suddenly made an attempt to jump out of the car. But 'many times' could mean 'many times after the first time', couldnīt it? From being a teen to somewhere in his mid-twenties, when he had met Starsky, that would be enough of a time span to think about anything 'many times', right? They didnīt have to have anything to do with the present, those 'many times'.
 
One hundred times were many times, too, he suddenly thought, not knowing where it had come from. One hundred times of feeling sorry. Again, he glanced at Hutch. 'How many times were you sorry for failing?'
 
"Did you ever regret it that youīd been saved?" Starsky hadnīt even realized he had asked the question out loud, when Hutch blinked and turned his head to look at him apologetically.
 
"Iīm sorry, what? I was thinking."
 
Starsky met his gaze, thought, and finally replied, "Nothing."
 
Hutch smiled slightly and turned away again.
 
*****
 
A long, narrow road led from the main street through the forest near Lake Tay down to 'Summers Sun', the small cottage generations of Summers had obviously spent their weekends at.
 
As the Torino came to a halt in front of the house, the detectives exchanged a glance. There was only one other car.
 
Though they both knew they thought the same about what that meant, they drew their weapons, following procedure, as they sneaked up on the cottage, close enough for Hutch to have a quick look through one of the dirty windows. His eyes closed as if out of reflex, and he lowered his gun.
 
"Damn."
 
"What?" Starsky whispered from behind him, stretching his neck a bit to get a look too.
 
"We were wrong," Hutch said flatly and holstered his gun. Without looking at his friend, who was inspecting the view too, he headed for the front door and entered the cottage.
 
The smell was familiar.
 
When Starsky followed, weapon hanging limply from his fingers, Hutch looked up from where he stood next to a small kitchen table in a large corner. Treat Summerīs body lay sprawled on the floor beneath it, the chair he had sat on was half covering his legs, the impact of the shot had sent it flying backwards. The manīs face was slack, his eyes wide open, the mess his head lay on a reddish grey. Limp fingers were still half curled around an old revolver, the kind of things you inherit, not buy.
 
While his partner scanned the room for something to cover the corpse, Starskyīs gaze fell upon a folded sheet of paper on the breakfast counter.
 
"His last will," he said, when he had unfolded it, glancing at Hutch, who had dragged an old woolen blanket from the couch to spread it over Treatīs body.
 
As he read on, he paled, enough for Hutch to approach him, worried.
 
"What?"
 
Starsky looked up, swallowed hard and held the paper out for his partner to read. Puzzled, Hutch took it. Starsky turned, muttering something about calling for a coroner, as he practically fled from the house.
 
After the first two lines, Hutch understood. Treat Summers left everything he owned to his brother, Marvin. There was no explanation, just the words necessary and his signature.
 
Casting the shapeless pile that had once been Treat Summers a long, sad look, Hutch gently placed the paper back on the table. "Sorry, pal," he whispered.
 
As he had expected, he found Starsky outside, sitting on the hood of his car. When he heard Hutch approach, he glanced up tiredly, but didnīt acknowledge the sad smile the blond flashed him. He only gave the tiniest of nods at the gentle squeeze of his knee, before Hutch leaned against the Torinoīs side next to him.
 
"Coronerīs on his way."
 
Hutch nodded and drew in a deep breath, rubbing his eyes once. "Oh man."
 
Starsky glanced at him, then back at his shoes. "Is this testament legal?"
 
Surprised, Hutch shot him a puzzled look, then shrugged. "I donīt know. Usually, I think they doubt it that someoneīs 'of sound mind', when he swallows his gun five minutes later," - the glance he received for was either not registered or ignored - "but I guess Marvinīs pretty much his only relative left, anyway. If he wants to declare his heritage, though," he continued after a momentīs thought, "he has to come out, and what with him wanted for child abuse and what else we can come up with, I donīt think he will."
 
"Yeah," Starsky replied sadly. "We were real asses, huh?"
 
"Yep," Hutch nodded and once more wiped over his face as if exhausted.
 
"The man never could have hurt anyone, and here we go..." Starsky fell silent for a momentīs thought, then regretfully added, "I didnīt even get to apologioze to him."
 
Arching his brows in sympathy, Hutch squeezed his shoulder and let his hand remain there for a short while. "Donīt do that to yourself, buddy. It was routine procedure. And maybe after some things there really is no one left to save."
 
"Yeah," Starsky replied gravely. "Makes you kinda wonder, doesnīt it?"
 
"Wonder?" Hutch repeated, frowning.
 
"Why weīre doing this," Starsky explained, not looking at Hutch. "When everybody dies in the end after all. Makes you wonder if itīs worth it."
 
Ice cold dread climbing up Hutchīs throat, he struggled for a calm outer appearance, as he added with a somewhat shaky shrug," Comes with the job, thereīs good and bad sides."
 
If Starsky would have looked at him instead of tiredly rubbing his eyes, heīd have seen Hutch go deathly pale at his next words. "We havenīt seen the good sides in a long time, huh, partner? If you want my opinion, some things just shouldnīt be part of the job."
 
Hutch felt a familiar lump of panic settle in his throat and feebly tried to swallow it down, and stood very still, as if just by moving heīd reveal his fragile condition. Starsky sighed again and added something, but the words faded inse Hutchīs head as if being engulfed by thick fog.
He just nodded, and after a moment they waited in silence.
 
*****
 
Wherever they stood, Hutch thought sarcastically, when he entered Venice Place later that day, throwing the door shut behind him, it was a very quiet place. Not only waiting for the coroner had been spent in silence, but also the drive back to Metro.
 
So now that the 'case made Hutch' was over there was nothing more to say? When they couldnīt discuss him being the 'what if Will hadnīt killed himself'-adult version of the victim, they couldnīt talk anymore?
 
No, that wasnīt entirely true, he thought with a bitter laugh escaping him, while he headed for a cold beer in a bee-line. They could talk about quitting. He hadnīt allowed himself to let his partnerīs words fully reach him on their way back to town, for fear of losing it there and then, but now that he was finally, mercifully alone, he couldnīt keep the anger and dismay and pure terror they had caused at bay any longer.
 
Starsky wanted to quit. Because of him. Maybe it had been the Summers case that had nudged him into that direction, but he had turned at it long before. Comeing to think of it, Hutch suddenly realized the signs had been there for a quite some time already. All this talking about giving up the case, Hutch needing more time...
 
Frustrated, he threw the lid of his beer across the room, watching after it with grim satisfaction. What had he expected, anyway?! After everything Starsky had seen of him, how could it possibly not have changed his seeing Hutch? The withdrawal had been bad enough - he still couldnīt think of the insults he had screamed at his friend without physically flinching with shame - but then there had also been those countless times he had snapped at Starsky, refused his openly offered help, because heīd been too proud or too scared to accept it. The sudden memory of their fight that morning made him squeeze his eyes shut, and with an exhausted sigh, he simply sank down where he stood, leaning against the kitchen counter.
 
The action hadnīt been meant to get him in trouble, he knew that, it had just been a Starsky-like reaction, one that Hutch should have expected, after all. Starsky being Starsky he couldnīt understand that sometimes it was best not to fight. In some ways he truly WAS a child, he couldnīt understand that sometimes there were no bad guys, but just very, very sad things happening. Sometimes there was no divine justice, sometimes no justice at all.
 
Letting his head fall back against the counter, his eyes closed, Hutch tried his best to fight the rising panic. He should have known better than to fall apart like that in front of Starsky, and at work too. For such a long time he had always been able to keep his silence, when had that stopped? The answer came easy to him - when Starsky had found out. His partner had seen him too weak for too long, how could he even trust him anymore? In their kind of work, you couldnīt be weak.
 
But then, he thought with re-newed anger that quickly rose into fury, it hadnīt been HIM freaking out at the case in the first place, and it hadnīt been him drawing parallels on every possibly occasion, either! About him, he suddenly figured, nothing had changed. It was Starsky, who had discovered something and couldnīt deal with it. Nothing Hutch could control.
 
"Damn it!!!" The full beer bottle crashed into one of the plants on the far wall, spilling its content over one side of his bed. His head fell into his hands, as he drew his knees closer. "Damn it," he repeated in a whisper.
 
He knew the feeling. Like you were locked into a cage, no matter how far youīd run, itīd always be there - inside your head. No way out.
 
He felt his breath quickening.
 
Like you knew you were dying, you didnīt have much time left, and no matter how desperately you struggled to stay alive, to do all the things you so longed for - you were to lose in the end. Like you were doomed to wait in dim greyness for nothing but the dark.
 
His hands started shaking, he hugged his legs.
 
Like your whole self screamed for just one gentle touch, just one comforting gesture, anything that would tell you were not completely alone in this being, but you knew it would never come. You only knew of comfort by hearing.
 
When he felt the first desperate, choked sob rise in his throat, he shook his head. 'No, no more of this.'
 
Like you were the most pathetic creature on Earth, the most ridiculous thing, ever whining, ever complaining.
 
Trembling hands reached up to rub burning eyes.
 
Like all you would ever do in your whole life was to continue crying and huddling. Until you died.
 
A thought hit him, or rather an image. Like a photograph flashing on his mind and fading again, but leaving a feeling. Like a taste.
 
He licked his lips. In slow motion, his head came up, tilted to one side, as he studied his view, not seeing it, but the soothing emptiness behind it.
 
The taste spread into a smell. Then a tickling sensation on his arms.
 
There was something. You didnīt have to feel like this. No one SHOULD feel like this.
 
He slowly came to his feet. A shudder grabbed his shoulders, and he briefly rubbed his left arm.
 
When he opened his door, he was amazed. In a very distant way. He had never given up so easily. He hadnīt even struggled, hadnīt thought at all.
 
He had let the craving wash over him like a welcomed friend and he was about to let it lead him wherever it wanted him to be.
 
And with a slowly spreading, happy smile he realized it felt good. HE felt good.
 
*****
 
If there was something David Starsky hated more than profound conversations over watching tv, it were uncomfortable silences. And, boy, that had been a long one!
 
He couldnīt remember ever having experienced sitting next to Hutch for such a long time span without the blond eventually starting a conversation, no matter WHAT the circumstances. Stony silence wasnīt part of any of the Hutchinson tactics, and for his over-run partner it had meant entering a new level of concern.
 
Of course he could always have tried for a break through, start with a nonsense remark and built on it as usual, but something had clearly told him that it would have made things worse. Whatever had caused the uncharacteristic stillness, it needed to be processed in exactly that - silence. So when theyīd arrived at Metro, Starsky hadnīt been surprised at Hutchīs rather hectic leaving. Disappointed maybe, though. He couldnīt figure out what had possibly happen to kick his friend into such a behavior, it surely hadnīt been something HE had said, had it?
 
Maybe it was the case, after all. Hutch might counter as much as he wanted to, but it HAD been one roller coaster of a case, that no one would have left the same as he had went into, and especially not Hutch. For him, that was Starskyīs opinion still, it had been plain unhealthy, working it. A mistake. One his friend should have prevented him from doing?
 
'Oh damn it!'
 
Frustrated, he snatched yet another sheet of paper out of the typing machine to crumble it and throw it onto the growing pile next to his waste basket. Grumbling, he searched for a fresh one on his overcrowded desk.
 
Okay, so he had graciously declared heīd write the report, but did that really mean he had MEANT it?!
 
The ringing of his phone cut off the beginning of an inner whine.
 
"Starsky. This has better be good."
 
"Starsky, itīs Huggy."
 
The unsual seriousness coloring the bartenderīs voice perfectly matched his too plain answer, and Starsky felt himself switching to red alert instantly. "Hey, whatīs up?"
 
"You need to get over here, as in right now."
 
Starsky was already standing, fumbling to retrieve his jacket from his chair. "Is it Hutch?"
 
"Yes."
 
And without any further questions, he was out of the room like a shot, leaving the receiver bouncing off the hook and falling onto the desk.
 
*****
 
Thanks to the the Torinoīs driverīs door needing some adjustments, as it tended to fall back shut, Starsky didnīt leave his car open too, when he pulled over in front of 'Huggyīs' with squealing brakes mere minutes later. His short race inside was quickly stopped by the bar owner, who spotted him from where he had just entered through the back door. "Hey," he waved slightly, and Starsky crossed the room swiftly, briefly needing to grab onto Huggyīs arms in order to keep his balance.
 
"Where?" he panted.
 
"Outside," Huggy replied and pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.
"Listen-"
 
But listening he could later, Starsky seemed to figure and was out through the back door with two steps. At the sight of the shaking mess formally known as Hutch, propped up against the wall and a garbage can, his face buried in his drawn up legs, though, Starskyīs racing speed slowed from hundred to zero within a split second.
 
Casting Huggy, who stood in the doorway behind him, a questioning look, Starsky took a tentative step forward, then turned his attention back to his ailing friend, as he carefully crouched down in front of him. "My God, what..." Helplessly, he glanced up at Huggy and back at Hutch, who hadnīt acknowledged his presence yet. "Hutch?"
 
"I couldnīt get him to walk any further," Huggy explained gravely. He had stepped fully outside by now, to close the door behind himself. "When we arrived here, he shut down and thatīs how heīs been since." The effect of watching Hutch suffer like this - again - was clearly audible in Huggyīs strained voice, but Starsky was too overwhelmed by the situation to even acknowledge the effort.
 
"Walk... ? What the hell happened?" His gaze was flying in between Huggy and Hutch, who flinched away violently from Starskyīs gentle grip on his arm. "Hutch. Hutch, itīs me, Starsky. Itīs okay now." When no answer whatsoever came, he again looked up at Huggy. "Is he hurt?"
 
There was something Starsky couldnīt actually seem to grab settling in the other oneīs eyes, as he opened his mouth to reply, thought different, then, after a quick wipe over his face, crouched down next to him. "No," he answered, his tone indicating there was something else, though. "But... Starsk..." He sighed, knowing full well how much he was to hurt his friend. He didnīt look at him, when he finally said, "I found him down at Marpleīs. He was trying to make a buy."
 
All color drained from Starskyīs face in watchable speed. As if following the information back to its topic, his gaze fell away from Huggy and wandered over to settle on the bowed blond head again. "D-did he... Heīs not..." An almost pleading glance found Huggyīs. "Is he?" He didnīt wait long enough for an answer. "Hutch?"
 
At the soft touch on his head that accompanied the whisper, Hutch shrank back even more, a startled whimper escaping him. "N-no... just... please..."
 
Softly shushing him, Starsky gently rubbed his arms, and turned to Huggy again. "I only saw him about an hour ago. Itīs not enough time to come down like this. Are you sure he took-"
 
"No," Huggy quickly interrupted him, "Iīm trying to tell you, he didnīt even get to make it. A friend of mine called me, `cause sheīd seen him here a few times, and she said he WAS asking around, but when he was offered a deal, he... freaked out. Her words," he added apologetically.
 
As the picture fell into place, Starsky almost involuntarily lifted one hand to ever so softly stoke the back of Hutchīs neck. The blond flinched.
 
"Flashback," Starsky muttered.
 
"Yep," Huggy nodded. "I donīt even think he recognized me, yīknow. And once he saw my place..." He shook his head sadly.
 
Brows arched in heartache, Starsky bent down to try and lift Hutchīs face, but his friend wasnīt going to be coaxed out of his curled up state. If all, he hugged his legs tighter, another whimpered plea escaping him.
 
"Hutch," Starsky tried again, settling for stroking his head once more. "Babe, itīs me. Cīmon, I need you to snap out of this now. No oneīs going to hurt you, youīre safe. Weīll work it out. Hutch?"
 
Huggy watched the effectless efforts for a few moments, then announced, "Itīs no good. Listen, Iīve seen this happening before. Thereīs nothing we can do here."
 
"So whatīre you suggesting?!" Starsky snapped, but instantly lowered his voice, when his partnerīs shivering visibly increased. "What should we do, you figure? Call an ambulance?"
 
With all ernesty you could mix into a wise-crack, Huggy replied, "You could drive him."
 
Starsky stared at him in disbelief. "Are you serious?! I canīt take him to any hospital, you know that! We didnīt save his career once so that now-"
 
"Starsky, heīs having a nervous breakdown!" Huggy cut him off with more vehemency Starsky had ever before heard in his voice. For a post-fight moment, they just stared at each other, Hutchīs shaking form in between them like exactly what Starsky had called him earlier - the subject of a quarrel. "This is serious shit," Huggy added in a much lower, sad voice.
 
"Withdrawal was too," Starsky replied angrily. Even though the rightness behind the words nagged at the edge of his concern-clouded mind, he just couldnīt give up that easily. There was too much at stake. "We managed that."
 
Huggy studied him closely for a moment, for once showing what true bartenders had - wisdom. "Yeah, but do you know what weīre fightinī this time?"
 
Starsky closed his eyes. Huggy was right. This wasnīt 'me&thee' time, this was 'thee need help', and if 'Phantom They' had up until then failed to acknowledge it was time for some third party help, 'They' should be wiser.
 
"Stay with him," Starsky muttered, not meeting Huggyīs gaze, as he slowly rose to his feet. "Iīll get my car."
 
*****
 
Getting Hutch onto the passenger seat of the Torino proved to be a monumental task, as the blond wasnīt going to be coaxed into motion, and at every gentle tug or nudge, heīd curl up more, lost in his all consuming fear.
 
When they finally had him inside the car, though, Starsky was all over arguing about their driveīs destination. Even during the cold turkey, Hutch had at least been responsive or had had clear moments. But this, this was the hell of complete disconnection, and Starsky too recalled witnessing equal reactions from mostly victims during his career.
 
All the way to the hospital, with Hutchīs curled up form turned away from him, his face hidden in his hands against the window, Starsky couldnīt stop listing all the signs he had overlooked. Damn it, heīd KNOWN Hutch was suffering from depressions recently, hadnīt he? Heīd known the Summers case wasnīt something his partner was up to working, and then this horrible discovery of the attempted suicide... Hutch had never spoken to anyone about that before - anyone who had cared, anyway - what had Starsky EXPECTED would happen?
 
Frustrated, he raised his hand to hit the steering wheel, but caught himself in time, worried as to not startle Hutch. Instead, he placed the lifted hand onto his partnerīs back softly, whispering, "Iīm sorry, babe, Iīm so sorry. But weīll fix it. Trust me."
 
In his own bitterness, though, he couldnīt help thinking he didnīt trust himself. How was he to fix anything, and how much more of 'them' was left than him? Waiting had been wrong, every action heīd gone for had been wrong...
 
He couldnīt help it, he had to hit the steering wheel. Fortunately, Hutch was too busy hiding he didnīt notice, anyway.
 
Casting him a quick glance, Starsky settled for keeping one hand on his back again, the urge to comfort too strong to ignore. Hutch didnīt response in any way, but Starsky thought he heard him sniff. Carfully, he started rubbing the material underneath his fingers in small circles. "Iīm right here, Hutch. Itīs gonna be okay." He sighed, as a thought hit him and briefly interrupted his stroking motion for squeezing a still trembling shoulder.
 
'How did we get here, buddy? How did I miss it was that bad?! Bad enough to...  Donīt you know I want to help you? What help is in getting hooked again?! Is that your normal you want to get back to?! Is that where I got us? Iīm sorry. God, Iīm so sorry.'
 
He was still rambling inwardly, when he finally pulled over at the hospital. At the sight of his misreable, suddenly very still heap of a partner, though, even his guilt supply hushed as if overwhelmed by the same grief he felt.
 
"Hutch? Weīre there."
 
Hutch didnīt move. Starsky waited, unwilling to draw his hand away, but in the end hurriedly left the car to turn around it and open the passenger door, where he crouched down in front of the blond, who, now that his support was gone, sat with his head bowed, his fingers nervously twitching in his lap. Like if he really, really tried to sit still, he would become invisible.
His heart aching at the thought that he was witnessing an image a much younger Hutch could also star in, Starsky carefully reached to touch his friendīs arm, surprised at how steady his voice was, when he spoke.
 
"Hutch? Are you with me now?" He waited. Nothing. "Do you know where you are?"
 
Hutch swallowed, and Starsky thought heīd seen him glance aside, but otherwise he didnīt move. Didnīt want to know where he was. Didnīt want to be anywhere.
 
"Okay," Starsky soothed, gently starting to rub Hutchīs arm. "`Sokay, weīll fix it. Iīll be right here with you. Can you get out and walk in there with me? Hm? Think you can do that?"
 
But instead of an answer, and if silence, there was a sudden long shudder running through the tensed body. Always the same story... When you wanted to be invisible, they saw you...
 
"Hutch. Calm down, itīs okay." Appalled at the renewed shivers he could feel beneath his fingers, Starsky tightened his hold on Hutchīs arm as if wanting to somehow drag him out of his own body. "Everythingīs gonna be alright, weīll work it out. Trust me."
 
"Starsk."
 
His name was a whisper through a choked sob, and for the briefest of moments, the blond head came up, recognition but even more naked, cold fear glimmering in sky blue eyes, that snapped shut instantly as if Hutch was in pain. With violently shaking hands, he reached up to hide his face, cradle his head, vanish inside himself, while his friend watched, shocked beyond making sense, as he continued to try and calm him down.
 
"Yeah, itīs me. Itīs Starsk, babe. Try to calm down. Please. Hutch?"
 
He had seen people have panic attacks before, of course, it was part of quite a few witness consoling programs, but watching his best friend curl up on himself on his seat, shaking so hard he couldnīt breathe right, scared whimpers escaping him, as his mind shut down processing to become an easy prey for terror alone, wasnīt something Starsky recalled having been trained for.
 
It instantly reminded him of moments during the cold turkey, and he almost involuntarily slid into withdrawal comfort routine, rising off the pavement to draw Hutch closer, when a young, male voice from somewhere behind him asked, "Whatīs the problem?"
 
Turning his head more out of reflex than willingly, Starsky saw a young medic stand a few feet behind him, inquiringly taking in the scenery. "Heīs, uhm, h-heīs..." he stammered, momentarily lost in between reality and memory, but the man had already turned to sprint back to where heīd left the building, anyway. "I go get a gurney."
 
Starsky didnīt answer. He was holding onto Hutchīs arm, softly stroking his head with his free hand, while all the time soothing in an almost monotone, steady mumble. "Itīs gonna be alright, Hutch. Itīs alright. Iīm here, right here. Wonīt go anywhere. You just hold on, babe, you hear? You hold on, and weīll get you help, and weīll work it all out. Iīll be right there with you, right there. Itīs gonna be okay..."
 
*****
 
The coffee at hospitals was always horrible. You probably would supply your body with less chemical ingredients by just eating the styrofoam cup, but nevertheless people waiting in the greyish white waiting rooms all seemed to be addicted to the brownish brew they consumed non-stop. A hospital version of chain-smoking.
 
Starsky was nursing his seventh cup, when a young doctor appeared in the doorway, hands casually in his pockets, whereas all his colleagues had been carrying charts and serious expressions. This guy, though, Starsky thought, when he looked up, like they all did, hoping itīd be his turn finally, looked decidedly pissed off, as he searched the room with narrowed eyes.
 
"Anyone here for Ken Hutchins-"
 
Starsky almost stumbled over his own feet, when he jumped up, spilling coffee over the seat, but ignoring that, as he was already beside the man, before the cup had fully fallen to the ground. "Thatīd be me. How is he? Is he okay now? What happened to him? Iīve been waiting here for hours, what the hell-"
 
"Follow me."
 
Momentarily stunned by the curt reply, Starsky even missed to grab the man and demand some answers RIGHT NOW, and instead quickly obeyed, as the doctor was already a few steps ahead of him done the hall, heading for an empty examination room. "In here," he said in that same ice cold tone and held the door open for the detective, who decided to try and swallow his anger until heīd heard about Hutch.
 
As shaken up as heīd been, once his partner had been brought into an examination room, Starsky had for once been an easy prey for ER nursesī stubbornness, and it hadnīt taken them anywhere near as long as usual to finally banish him to the waiting room, while they worked on Hutch.
Consuming a gallon of coffee on top of his anxiousness, though, hadnīt helped to calm him, and the second the young doctor had discreetly closed the door behind them, Starsky whirled around to face him, his unanswered questions ready to  pour out, but at the narrow-eyed, cold look he was inspected with, he hushed himself like a intimitated child. He surely was no one to unconditionally respect authorities, but doctors just weren’t supposed to look at you like that.
 
"May I ask your name, sir?" the doctor started the conversation, arms folded in front of him, as he stood close to the door like a guard dog.
 
"Starsky," Starsky answered, puzzlement replacing anger quickly. "Iīm-"
 
"Can you ID yourself?"
 
"Uh... yeah... sure," the detective stammered, scrabbling at his pocket for his badge, which the young man actually took to inspect, before handing it back to him. Whatever the check had been for, it wasnīt enough for the suspicious, grim expression to leave his face.
 
"Iīm Dr. Linklater. Am I rightly informed Ken is your partner?"
 
Blinking in surprise at the use of Hutchīs first name, Starsky gave a nod. "Yeah, he is. Listen, Doc, I donīt understan-"
 
"First of all," Linklater cut him off, "itīs Dr. Linklater. And then..." he hesitated for a moment, seemingly just for the effect of it, as he tilted his head a bit to itensify the image of closely studying the other man. "Are you aware of the fact that your partner has been severely mistreated in the not so recent past?"
 
Starsky stared at him, not sure how to react? Was he just being... accused?
 
Taking the silence the wrong way, Linklater continued, in a tone the detective knew himself to use in interrogation rooms sometimes, "There is not only evidence of some very damaging beatings having taken place Iīd say only a couple of weeks ago, but it also looks as though heīs been forcefully drugged." He paused, watching Starsky slowly regaining his speech. When the first word-like noises escaped the confused detective, he lifted his brows as if mockingly.
 
"Wh... Of course I know that! What, dīyou think I did all that to him?!"
 
Linklater raised his shoulders in a half shrug. "Well... did you?"
 
"Are you nuts?! Why would Iīve brought him here, anyway, if-"
 
"Youīd be surprised, Detective," Linklater interrupted the angry reply calmly, "what weird things I see people do every day."
 
Starsky looked at him, not believing his ears, but forced himself to fight down rising fury and ever so quietly state," I did not harm my partner in any way. Okay? I can explain everything, but first Iīd highly appreciate it, if you could tell me how he is ." Looking as though he was about to add a threat, he swallowed it back down and settled for a very poor version of a sarcastic smile.
 
Linklater frowned slightly, visibly working on figuring him out. "Heīs fine," he finally answered, slipping into doctor tone that didnīt match his expression. "We had to sedate him, but that is more or less usual procedure when dealing with panic attacks like that."
 
Neither convinced nor calmed at all, Starsky furrowed his brows. "And that took two hours?"
 
"I had a, uh, little conversation with him once heīd calmed down enough for that," the doctor replied, for some reason seeming uneasy to reveal this piece of information.
 
The frown smoothed into a blank look. "And he said I-"
 
"No," Linklater once more interrupted the detective, obviously becoming more and more convinced of the manīs sincerity. "Not directly. Actually," he admitted with a sigh, "it was pretty hard to make at least some sense of everything." A somewhat sheepish smile crossed his lips. "Once I got him to talk, he couldnīt seem to stop, you know." Studying Starsky with a much more friendly look, he added, "Can I ask you a few questions, Detective?"
 
Impatiently, Starsky rubbed his eyes, but nodded. He wanted out there now and see Hutch. "Yeah, sure, what?"
 
"These forced injections," Linklater started, "was that done in a hospital?"
 
About to answer negatively, Starsky suddenly hesitated, a horrible idea growning. "Did he say that?" he asked, dreading the answer.
 
"Yes," the young doctor replied, but added instantly, "well, sort of. He mentioned a hospital where it seems that sort of thing was done to him. I didnīt quite get everything of that, though. But, let me tell you, if there is some truth in that, that would be a severe violation of every ethical rules medical personal should respect, and I just want to make it clear I wonīt let that go by without taking measures into my own hands."
 
Starsky tried his very best to flash him at least a tiny appreciating smile, but it just wouldnīt come. The choking fog of appall was keeping gratefulness at bay for the moment. "Itīs a bit late for that, kid," he muttered, and at Linklaterīs inquiring glance explained, "The marks youīve seen, that happened... in the line of duty, but... By the way," he interrupted himself, furrowing his brows, "how come youīre so convinced they were forced injections?"
 
With his arms still crossed before his chest, Linklaterīs small shrug gave a strangely sad impression. "Iīm a student of human nature," he wise-cracked. "When youīve been here for some time, you can tell a junkie from... someone else. And junkies, they donīt apologize a hundred times for having wanted to make a buy. Besides," he added after a brief pause, "he told me."
 
At the tone of voice the doctor had used, as if it was the most understood thing in the world to trust everything a patient with needle marks on his arms uttered, Starsky smiled humorlessly. "Thanks for believing him."
 
Linklater shrugged once more in a 'sure'-kind of gesture, then settled for his questioning look again. "What did you mean about the hospital? That I was too late for that?"
 
Starsky glanced away. '"Did they hurt you?" -  "I donīt... We donīt need to talk about this too, do we?"'
 
"Detective?" Linklaterīs voice tore him out of his memory, and he blinked twice as if working his way back to reality.
 
"Ahm... he was sent to a place, where they might have... provided that sort of treatment," he said bitterly, catching the young manīs wince at his choice of words. "But that was a long time ago. He was just a kid. Did he, uhm... did he tell you anything else about that?"
 
Linklater studied him for a while, obviously not sure whether he should reveal more. In the end his simple statement was answer enough. "Heīs afraid of being send back there."
 
Taken aback, especially since the term "send" stirred unpleasant memories within him, Starsky was about to snap an irritated question, but was kept from it by a suddenly very soft, offering glance the young man cast him. "Listen, Detective," he said, his tone matching his expression, the absolute opposite to how their conversation had started. "Iīm sorry if I misinterpreted things. I guess you and your partner are very close after all?"
 
Not sure where that was leading, but somehow instinctively trusting this man, who with so much vehemence had proved his will to protect Hutch, Starsky nodded silently.
 
Imitating his nod as if thinking, Linklater finally gave up his guard dog appearance and waved over to the examination table behind Starsky. "Why donīt you have a seat?"
 
Starsky followed the gesture, but frowned.
 
Catching the reaction, Linklater raised his hands, his expression open, innocent. "You donīt have to listen to me. I wonīt keep you from getting your friend out of here right now, if you think thatīs best for him. I understand you both find it... well, hard to trust doctors," he smiled grimly. "But you brought him here for a reason in the first place, right? And if it was just that you couldnīt deal with the momentary situation alone, thatīs still a reason. I guess Iīm beginning to understand you took quite a risk bringing him here, but maybe you had the slightest tinge of hope thereīd be someone whoīd understand enough to help you here." He made the shortest pause, as he visibly tried to look as convincingly as he could possibly muster, his sincerity shimmering in his eyes like a color of its own. "Well, I want to help. I may have only listened to one hour of, uhm... mostly nonsense rambling, but I think I caught enough of the picture to know whatīs going on, and I surely heard enough to figure heīs a nice guy. He deserves to be helped."
 
When the pause after that last statement stretched itself into several seconds, Starsky lifted his brows in a mocking questioning manner. At some point during the speech, heīd surrendered to jumping up on the examintion table, from where heīd played an attentive audience, hands on the table at his sides, slightly bend forward. Now that there was silence at last, he couldnīt help but cast the young man an amused, yet somewhat grateful look. "Are you always like that, kid?"
 
Linklater smiled nervously. "Usually Iīm more dramatic," he wise-cracked.
 
Starsky smiled wryly, and Linklater returned it, before growing serious again. He was now leaning against the door, almost casually, hands now folded behind his back, giving the perfect doctor picture. "Uhm... I know I may be trespassing here, but... before you found out, Ken didnīt talk to anyone about his... childhood, right?"
 
The smile instantly vanishing, Starsky swallowed dryly, before he could answer, in a grave voice, not able to meet the other oneīs eyes. "No. He didnīt. And I only found out by... coincidence." He waited for a moment, then glanced up at Linklater. "His name is Hutch, by the way."
 
Nodding, not asking, Linklater acknowledged it.
 
"Did he tell you how he got the... ?" Trailing off, Starsky vaguely motioned at his back, and Linklater shook his head softly.
 
"No. But..." he added, seemingly thinking of how to put it. "Now that Iīve talked to you, some things are starting to make sense."
 
"If he told you about his... past, though, why did you assume I was responsible for-"
 
"Experience," Linklater cut him off sadly. "Sometimes victims stay victims."
 
There was so much unexpected grief shimmering through the statement, like a door that had been burst open, only for a split second, and then thrown shut again, that Starsky found himself wondering if maybe for Dr. Linklater Hutch was William Summers.
 
With the one important difference that he wasnīt too late. Yet.
 
"But I guess with Hutch it was different?" Linklater asked, earning even more of Starskyīs trust by his instant, effort-less taking over of his partnerīs nick name.
 
"It started after this... incident," Starsky replied hesitantly, somehow sure Linklater would understand what heīd mean. "I mean, I always knew he wasnīt very fond of his folks, and theyīve always treated him like shit, but... that..." Sadly, he shook his bowed head. "If I had known..."
 
Into the following silence, Linklater sighed, pushed himself off the door and crossed the room to sit down next to Starsky, both of them looking ahead, like friends on a bench in a park.
 
"Detective-"
 
"Dave," Starsky corrected him. "Call me Dave."
 
Again, Linklater wordlessly and instantly accepted the offer. "Dave, Iīm no shrink, but Iīve some experience in that area, and if you want my opinion-"
 
Taken by total surprise, Starsky stared at him incredulously. "Youīre not?!"
 
"Course not," Linklater answered plainly. "Iīm an intern. How old dīyou
think I am?!" At the detectiveīs continuous disbelieving gaze, he flashed him a dry smile. "You didnīt think theyīd send a psychiatrist for an every day panic attack at the beginning of the night shift, when only the Emergency God is dozing in his office upstairs, did you?"
 
"Uhm..."
 
"I can call him, if you want me to," Linklater offered. "But I know whoīs shift it is tonight, and being your palīs physician, I feel it to be my duty to advise you-"
 
"Okay, okay," Starsky interrupted him with a waving gesture. "I get it. So," he asked after a moment, is tone finally the one of a full trust, "where do we go from here?"
 
"Ah, yes," Linklater replied, lifting his index finger, as if heīd just thought of something, "funny youīd put it that way. Uhm... see, I originally sort of... accused you, because Hutch said you want to go somewhere? Or at least quit your job, and heīs convinced heīll be send to... well, 'back there' then."
 
Starsky stared at him, speechless, and like in fast forward speed the last eight hours displayed themselves in front of his inner eye, starting from when they had found Treat Summerīs body. "Oh shit," he whispered and was off the table in a heartbeat. "I gotta see him now."
 
"Hey, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait," Linklater called after him, but in the end had to jump off the table too to stop the detective at the door. "Youīre not quitting?"
 
"Of course not, you idiot!" Starsky snapped, jerking his arm free. "We had a rough case, and I was rambling some crap about quitting, but we always do that after stuff like that, Hutch knows that! He knows itīs all talk, where does he get off believing any of-"
 
"Maybe he knows it," Linklater cut him off gently, while Starsky had already half opened the door, "but he doesnīt feel it."
 
There was a dead silence, then the banging of the door being dragged shut again. "For not being a shrink, you sure sound like one, anyone ever tell you that?!"
 
"All the time," Linklater nodded.
 
Unnerved, but instinctively knowing he was doing the right thing, Starsky walked back to the table to jump back on, restraining himself from working out his temper somewhere, and instead cast Linklater an expectant, wide-eyed glance.
 
"My finacée was an abused child," Linklater said, without any warning heīd enter a story now. He was not looking at Starsky, but gazing seemingly vacantly at the wall behind the detective, once more positioned in front of the door. "She never told anyone. Repression, you know. You never would have guessed it. She was the funniest, happiest, most caring girl Iīd ever met. Medical student, like me. Great one too. All on her way to the top. And then one night, she was mugged. She wasnīt even hurt very very badly, slight concussion, some minor bruises, stuff like that. But from that day on," he paused, his voice lowering as if against his will, as he made a small 'finito'-gesture, "everything changed. You could practically see her totally withdraw from me, our friends, her whole life, but when I tried to talk to her, sheīd deny it." He shrugged as if at no one. "I didnīt know what to do. I suggested sheīd go see someone, but she didnīt want to, said she just needed some time and she didnīt want us to talk about any of it any longer, itīd make it harder for her. Just 'back to before', that was her motto."
 
Unseen, Starsky shrunk on the table, feeling as if heīd just been slapped right in the face.
 
"One day, she left to work the night shift, and an hour later I got a call. They had found her in the rest room at the hospital. Overdose."
 
If Starsky had wanted to see his partner before, now he could barely keep himself from simply pushing the man aside to get the hell out of that room and check on Hutch.
 
For the first time since heīd started, Linklater cast him a direct look and smirked dryly. "I know what youīre thinking now, Dave. 'That was such a comforting story.'"
 
Starsky couldnīt help but return the smile at that.
 
"But, see, I only found out after her death, because I found her diaries. You know."
 
It took Starsky so much effort to say the following words, that they came out almost scared, whispered. "But... I donīt know what to do."
 
"Thatīs why Iīm here to tell you," Linklater replied and grinned, earning a mixture of relief and nervousness in a low chuckle. Scrabbling for his note book and a pen in his coat pocket, he continued, "Iīve a friend who runs a program for victimized adults. Itīs a sort of meeting place, actually, where you can learn about other peopleīs experiences, and youīll get sort of prepared for how a therapy will be like. We have created a network of therapist for individual problems, and you can get adresses there too. I donīt want to sound cocky, but itīs a great thing actually. And it makes professional help look a hell of a lot less scary."
 
Starsky smiled unsurely, accepting the note, but studying it uneasily. "What if he doesnīt want to go there?"
 
"Make him," Linklater replied plainly. "Go with him. Go without him and tell him how great the food there is. I donīt know. But donīt believe him, when he says he doesnīt need it."
 
"What if heīs too afraid to go?"
 
Watching him closely, the young man all of a sudden seemed to reveal his true self that appeared to be at least twice Starskyīs age, as he quietly and wisely stated, "I think there is something he fears more." He didnīt wait for any reaction from the other man, but curtly stepped away from the door, looking like  a principal after an exhausting lecture. "And now for Godīs sake go tell you partner youīre not quitting the force, will you?!"
 
Starsky didnīt need to be told twice. With two strides, he was off the table and at the door, where he stopped so suddenly he almost crashed into it.
 
"Uhm... what about..."
 
Understanding, Linklater opened the door for him with an assuring look.
"Donīt worry, Detective," he said in a very doctor-like tone, waving his pen in the absence of any chart, "head injuries, theyīre kinda tricky what with their symptoms, but your partner will be as good as new in a day or two, Iīd say. Iīll have your division informed about his accident and have him on sick leave for letīs say three days, okay?"
 
Starsky stared at him with utter gratefulness kicking the disbelief off his face.
 
"Thereīs one condition, though," Linklater added, lowering his voice. "Iīll personally check if heīs following doctorīs orders. And if I find out, heīs not, Iīll see myself forced to have a meeting with your squad counselor. Is that clear?"
 
"Thank you," Starsky just muttered and finally left, visibly keeping himself from sprinting down the hallway.
 
"Oh," Linklater called after him, "in case you donīt have a regular ER doctor yet..."
 
But Starsky was already around a corner.
 
With a sigh, the young doctor closed the door behind himself, putting his
pen back into his coat pocket. "Iīll never get a clientele..."
 
*****
 
The thoughts were running in circles in his head, when Starsky came to a halt in front of Hutchīs room. Linklaterīs words had left him feeling assured and optimistic, yet now that he was about to face his partner, the images threatened to push through the wall of conviction. Hutch had looked so lost, so desperate... so alone.
 
Various scenarios displayed themselves in front of his inner eye. What if he walked into there now, and Hutch was all pretending again? Saying itīd just been the case? Or severe cravings? Theyīd both always known that sort of thing could happen, and Starsky had promised him to help him through it. But their sense of helping would not include 'making' him enter a therapy program.
 
If he was to enter that room now, and thereīd be a calm, if annoyed 'what the hell took you so long?!'-Hutch facing him,  how could he possibly tell him everything heīd learned from Linklater? What if Hutch didnīt even remember talking to the guy? The knowledge that someone else, and a doctor at that, had found about every one of his secrets would absolutely freak him out.
 
What if this latest episode hadnīt cleared his senses, as it had Starskyīs?
But then - what was there to do, anyway? He had to go in there no matter how many what ifīs his mind was providing him with.
 
So with a deep breath, bracing himself for whatever scenery heīd walk into, Starsky entered the room.
 
The pretending scenario he could scratch. Even a stranger would have instantly realized that the blond man slowly rocking back and forth on the examination table was anything but fine. They had given him white scrubs to wear, since they had had to check him for physical injuries, and he hadnīt been responsive. His head was slightly lowered, arms loosely hugging his knees, his bare feet wiping on the sheets of the table with his rocking motion.
 
He wasnīt trembling anymore, but surely not calmed down, either. When he heard the door close, his head all but snapped up, and wide, fear-filled eyes met Starskyīs, who tried an assuring smile.
 
"Hey," he said softly and had already crossed the short distance to sit on the edge of the table, before Hutch replied an ashamed sounding, "Hey."
 
"How are you feeling?" Starsky asked, and out of pure reflex touched
Hutchīs arm. "You had me scared, Blintz."
 
Hutch flinched slightly at the touch, but instantly reached out to briefly squeeze Starskyīs hand as if apologizing. "Iīm sorry," he said. "Iīm edgy. And I didnīt mean to scare you. And Iīm sorry I went... you know. I donīt know why I did that. It kinda just... happened. I donīt know. But Iīm sorry."
 
Blinking, overwhelmed by the rush of words, Starsky gently lifted his hands calmingly. "Woah, easy, Hutch, easy. Thereīs no stop-watch ticking, okay? Iīll listen to everything youīve to say. Slow down."
 
"Iīm sorry," Hutch instantly replied, his gaze darting away then back. "Iīm just so nervous, I donīt know why. Youīd think when they say they give you something to calm you down, itīd CALM you down and not make you feel like crawling out of your skin, right? Right." At Starskyīs helpless expression, he lowered his gaze, clenched his hands. "Iīm rambling again. Okay. Iīm sorry. Iīll try. I promise. Iīll be calm."
 
Thinking he now understood what Linklater had meant about not being able to stop the patient once heīd started talking, Starsky placed a comforting hand on the lower leg he sat next to. "Maybe this is better than being too calm after all, you know?"
 
A nervous look met him, followed by an equally nervous smile. "That was just talk back there, wasnīt it? At Lake Tay? You donīt want to quit, right? That was just post-case 'Sometimes I feel like quitting, donīt you?'-talk, huh?"
 
His heart reaching out for his friend, who looked so teenager-like embarrassed at his earlier assumption, Starsky playfully nudged his arm.
 
"Of course it was, dummy. Iīd never give up my job."
 
"I know," Hutch muttered, not meeting Starskyīs eyes. "I-I donīt know wh-why I thought..." He trailed off.
 
"Hutch?"
 
Almost instantly, as if against his will, Hutchīs head came up, but his gaze darted away a split second later, leaving Starsk wondering if maybe trembling had, after all, been a healthier reaction that was now surppressed at another cost.
 
Gently, he tipped one finger against the blondīs chin, to have him look
back at him. "This has nothing to do with us being cops, has it?"
 
For once, Hutch remained silent. He tried to bow his head again, but was restrained, if carefully.
 
"You thought Iīd quit being your friend," Starsky continued, miraciously managing to keep any hurt out of his voice, and instead smile wryly, as he added, "And you should know better."
 
When Hutch didnīt reply, Starky drew back his hand, and the blond head bent so much Hutchīs nose almost touched his knees. "I-I donīt feel like I know anything anymore," he muttered and unconsciously started rocking again, which heīd given up at seeing his partner. "I know I wanted to talk to you a-at Huggyīs, but..." He shook his head fiercely. "I donīt know."
 
His brows arched in heartache, Starsky soothingly rubbed the spot on his leg where his hand still rested. "Easy, Hutch, itīs okay."
 
"No, itīs not okay," Hutch replied sadly and lowered his head more, as if, again, trying to vanish. "I wanted to talk to you the whole time, b-but I couldnīt. Like... if... if I talked, Iīd really be there. And itīd all be really happening. A-and then I saw where youīd brought me..." It was stated in merely a whisper, but it acted like a yell on Starsky, who couldnīt help close his eyes briefly, needing to draw strength from some hidden well inside himself.
 
"Hutch, I never intented to leave you here. Or anywhere else for that matter."
 
In the pause Starsky made to search for the right next words, Hutch nodded nervously, glanced up, away, down, up again. "I know that now, I truly do. But, uh, I might have sorta led that, uh, doctor to, uhm false assumptions, I think."
 
"Dr. Linklater," Starsky corrected with a calming smile. "Yeah, we already met. Donīt worry, Blintz, I straightened things out."
 
Cringing, Hutch dragged one corner of his mouth down apologetically.
"Sorry, buddy. I knew he was getting it wrong, but... Oh, hell," he sighed, wiping over his features in a high-speed-version of his usual typical gesture. "That poor kid. I havenīt been this annoying since our vodka-contest at the academy."
 
That earned him a warm smile, as Starsky affectionately ruffled his hair. "Trust me, babe, annoyed is the one thing heīs not."
 
Hutch cast him a shy smile, but as it threatened to give way to suddenly crushing despair, hid his face in his hands that he placed on his knees.
 
"Whatīs happening to me, Starsk?" he asked in a fear-filled whimper that wasnīt meant for answers. "Why canīt I just feel normal again and be me again? Why does everything have to hurt so much all the time?"
 
At a loss of words, overwhelmed by his own emotions, Starsky settled for softly stroking the back of Hutchīs neck, each sniff that interrupted his friendīs words seemingly deepening the concerned frown carved into his forehead. Whether it was still that mysterious sedative Hutch had been given or his body finally reacting to weeks of mental restraints, Starsky couldnīt tell, but he was wise enough to let Hutch continue his high speed talking, his suddenly very childlike voice muffled first against his hands, then, when he drew them away to hug his legs closer, against the material of his scrubs pants.
 
"Why do I have those... thoughts? I know you won’t desert me in... that place, l-like he did. Hell, I mean, you couldnīt, right? Iīm not anyoneīs son anymore. I-I mean, sure I am, but... you know what I mean." There was the briefest glance up, as if he was unnerved at himself for not putting it right, but Starsky just nodded mutely. "No one can do anything to me I donīt want... legally, I mean. Not that I havenīt been proved wrong VARIOUS times now, b-but... I shouldnīt think that you... God, what am I doing here? Wonīt you tell me to stop rambling?"
 
Unseen, Starsky shook his head, but as if for an answer gently stroke the blond head once. To his surprise, though, Hutch looked up at that, his eyes bright with unshed tears and a very familiar fear that tore at Starskyīs heart. He was pretty sure heīd never, not even during withdrawal or after Duluth, seen his friend appear so vulnerable.
 
"It wonīt ever be like before again, right?" he asked and sniffed. "I mean... look at me. Iīm fucked. Iīm sitting in an ER room. They had to sedate me. Iīll lose my job, a-and..." His gaze wandered off again, missing the pain and shock his words had placed in his partnerīs eyes. "How can you ever trust me again? Iīm a fucking junkie, I went for a buy. M-maybe Iīll do that again, who knows?! A-and... and anyway... how can we ever go back after... after everything youīve seen a-and..."
 
Swallowing back protests inwardly screaming at him, Starsky sensed the half breakdown reaching its conclusion, when a single tear slid out from the bars of self-control and slowly rolled down Hutchīs cheek. It was feebly wiped away, but as fast followed by another.
 
Ashamed, Hutch settled for hiding his face again, but couldnīt help the sobs from breaking free, his shoulders starting to shake slightly, while he once more tightly hugged his legs. "I donīt want to feel like this, Starsk," he whimpered through tiny sniffs. "I donīt want to feel so... fragile. Why canīt I just be me again?"
 
With a sigh of relief and sadness, Starsky finally reached out to drag his by now softly crying friend into a comforting hug, soothing, while he gently rubbed his hair, his back. "You know," he said after a few moments, when Hutch seemed to have calmed down, but didnīt make any attempts to move away from the contact, "youīre right, Blintz, it wonīt be like before, because now when you feel like this, Iīll personally kick you into talking to me. I wonīt let this kind of thing ever happen again, got that?"
 
There was a tiny affirmating sniff, and Starsky praisingly patted his back. "Good. And you wonīt lose your job, youīre not a junkie, and Iīll always trust you, no matter what. Do we have that settled now?"
 
With a tired little laugh, Hutch hesitantly lifted his head and rubbed his eyes, Starsky sliding away just a tad to give him some room. "I went for a buy, Starsk," Hutch finally said sadly, his gaze meeting his partnerīs for a split second. "Thatīs pretty much what junkies do."
 
As if teasing him, Starsky tilted his head to one side. "And look how great you managed. The second you got there, you lost it. Seems like an effective way to play it safe to me." He shrugged casually at the surprised look Hutch cast him. "A bit drastic maybe."
 
"I actually worked myself into a craving," Hutch said, his voice tired, drained, though his eyes were still bright. "I didnīt know that was possible."
 
"Well," Starsky replied, arching his brows like a nearly desperate teacher and lightly squeezed the back of Hutchīs neck, "the next time you feel like that, call me, okay?"
 
The ghost of a smile crossing his lips, Hutch gave a small nod.
 
"`Kay. And that goes for other things too. If you canīt work a case, you canīt work it. Thatīs okay. Nothing youīll do will ever change the way I think about you. Youīll never seem fragile to me."
 
Hutch sniffed. "For someone who always says he hates soapy scenes, youīre pretty good at them, yīknow that?"
 
"I can hardly yell these things at you, while youīre crying, can I?!" Starsky replied gruffly in faked uneasiness, and Hutch nodded with a weary chuckle.
 
"Truth." He once more wiped his eyes, drawing in a shaky breath. When he looked up at Starsky again, much of his characteristic calmness had returned into his expression, as well as into his voice. "I didnīt mean what I said this morning, you know that, donīt you? I never knew what home was, until-"
 
"Okay, okay," Starsky cut him off in faked hastiness, raising his hands, "Iīm sorry I gave away your eelgrass bagles, now stop that."
 
Smiling gratefully in understanding, Hutch gave a small nod, and patted Starskyīs arm as if wanting to assure him any threat of more soapiness was under control now.
 
"Hutch," Starsky broke the short silence afterwards, serious again, "Iīve talked to your doctor, you know, the kid. He really cares."
 
Hutch squeezed his eyes shut.
 
"And he does NOT think you made an ass outta yourself, okay?" Starsky stated exasperately. "Actually youīre oughta be lucky, you... met him. He has a friend, who runs this therapy program." At Hutchīs expression, he bent his head a bit, somehow itensifying his look by that. "I know you donīt like it, buddy, but-"
 
"No, no," Hutch waved. "Youīre right. I need to do this. I donīt want to end up..." He sighed. "I donīt want to do that, but I wonīt say I donīt want to do it, and just do it instead."
 
Casting him an amused smile, Starsly playfully patted his head. "Atta boy."
 
"Yep," Hutch nodded like a five-year-old, but aged again with a frown. "What about today?"
 
Assuringly, Starsky slid off the table, reaching for Hutchīs shoes to hand them out to you. "Donīt worry about that."
 
Hutch blinked, hesitantly accepting his shoes. "What, Iīm free to go?"
 
"Sure. And if youīll hurry, Iīll buy you a burger on our way home."
 
A wave of relief washing through him, Hutch quickly scrambled into his shoes and slid off the table, only to sway ever so slightly, though. Gently grabbing his arm, Starsky studied him worriedly. "You okay?"
 
"Just still woozy from speed-sedatives," Hutch assured him, but gratefully accepted the support, while he carefully reached out for his jeans and shirt lying in a neat heap on a chair. "Good to go," he finally commented and flashed his friend a smile.
 
"`Kay then, letīs-"
 
"Uhm, Starsk?" Hutch asked shyly, weakly planting his feet, before Starsky could open the door.
 
His partner stopped, rising his brows questioningly.
 
"I..." the blond started, hushed himself, closed his eyes and tried again. "I donīt want to be alone... today."
 
Knowing as well as having witnessed what a tremendous effort it had been to verbalize that simple request, Starsky settled for a real Starsky Special Grin, as he opened the door. "Great. Me neither. Take-away and Creature Feature?"
 
Actually laughing wearily from relief, Hutch nodded, the door falling shut behind them.
 
*****
 
As Starskyīs eyes gave way to him re-entering reality, he noticed with confusion that the irritating noise existed there too, and not only in dreamland, where it had started to bother him. No, it obviously was a link between dimensions, a wire for him to follow in order to get back, an emergency rope, a...
 
Phone. His phone was ringing.
 
Eyes still sticky with sleep, he groaned, as he rolled over to look at the digital letters on his clock. Half past three in the morning. Who in the name of...
 
And then it hit him. Woke him up immediately. It was happening. This was it, the call. The first call.
 
He nearly knocked the phone off his nightand, when he hastily reached for the receiver. "Yes, `m awake."
 
"Starsk?"
 
The voice was soft, sniffy, didnīt sound like Hutch at all.
 
"Yeah, Hutch, itīs me. Are you alright?"
 
Another sniff, a hesitant pause, then, shakily, "No."
 
"Dīyou want me to come over?"
 
This time, the pause was even longer, but Starsky patiently waited for the inevitable, "Yes. Please."
 
He let go off a breath he hadnīt know heīd been holding, while already reaching for his jeans. "Okay, babe, Iīll be over in a minute. Try to stay calm, yeah? Iīll be right there."
 
"Th-thanks."
 
"Hey, whatīre friends for?" With that, he hang up, hastily grabbing a t-shirt, shoes, his car keys, and he only stopped for the briefest of moments in the doorway as the sudden realization fully reached him that Hutch had called him for help.
 
After over two months in Dr. Linklaterīs friendīs therapy group and about to enter an individual therapy specialized for his needs, while their every day life had more or less returned to his long longed for 'normal', Hutch had, for the very first time, managed to pick up the phone and call him in the middle of the night, because he didnīt want to feel alone, scared and helpless anymore.
 
There had been so many mornings Starsky had known his friendīs night had been a hard one, and, yes, sometimes he could talk about it afterwards, but heīd never before found the strength to actually accomplish what heīd done that night and accept most willingly offered help.
 
As he let his door fall shut behind himself, already halfway down the stairs to the Torino, Starsky couldnīt help but thinking, even with a small smile, that this was the beginning of fighting battles, while the war was won.
 
THE END

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