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Wuemsel's Fanfic Corner

Drawback


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Special Thanks to Cindy E. for her support, beta work and the title! :)

"What mood´re you in today?"

Blinking in puzzlement, Hutch lifted his head and practically had to cover his eyes at the absolutely beaming grin he saw.

"Report-mood," he finally replied dryly. "Thanks for showing an interest."

"Oh." His smile faltering a bit as a half-covered paper caught his eyes, Starsky jumped onto the edge of Hutch’s desk and bent in closer. "Hey, didn’t I take that granny’s statement?"

Drumming his fingers on the wooden surface, Hutch silently counted to ten, then on to twenty.

Starsky didn’t notice. "And those are my notes, right? Hm. Shouldn’t I be writing this rep-"

"Starsk," Hutch cut him off, breathed in and out, and flashed him a sweet smile. "Remember this new stupid glow-in-the-dark shows-the-temperature-in-thirty-five-different-countries-watch you bought last week?"

"Uh... yeah. But it's not stupid."

"Hm-mm. Look at it."

Starsky frowned. "Why, wha... Oh. Yeah. Okay, okay, I’m late. I know, but I have an excuse."

"Mixed up Greenland's temp and time again?"

"No," Starsky insisted in the kind of tone an eager little boy would slip into when his really, really important news was not only ignored, but he would be bothered with boring grown up stuff, too. "I had to make... arrangements." As he smiled mischievously, the grin was back, emphasized by an equally boyish- looking 'listen' gesture.

But after two hours of holding Starsky’s notes pinned to his nose to at least try to identify some of the marks as letters, Hutch was beyond listening. "Arrangements? Chose a nice casket?"

"Huuuutch," the over-excited detective whined, "can you save ‘The Principal’ tone for later, please? I´m-"

"'The Principal'?!"

"Just listen!" Waiting a moment for Hutch to finally take an 'I´m all ears' position, Starsky slid off the desk again. "Okay. Let´s give it another try. What mood are you in today, Hutch?"

Hutch waited and, when Starsky pleadingly lifted his eyebrows at him, sighed. "Bad. And getting worse."

"Great!"

'Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three...'

"Because I´m here to cheer you up, buddy."

Sarcasm practically sticking to his eyelashes, Hutch blinked sweetly at his partner, replying in much too cheery a voice, "Why do I doubt that?"

"Because you´re grumpy," Starsky informed him forbearingly. "But what I´m going to tell you now will change that in a split second."  He snapped his fingers to emphasize the point.

Folding his arms in front of him, Hutch leaned back expectantly. "You got yourself a decent car at last?"

"Don´t be greedy, Blondie. Too much happiness is bad for the skin."

"So, how´re you gonna enlighten my clouded heart if not by presenting me with a wish come true?"

"See, that´s where you´re wrong!" Starsky exclaimed, pointing at his friend as if he´d caught him red-handed. "I did make a wish come true. Since I know you and all, and since I kinda have a soft spot for you."

"Love you too, partner," Hutch stated dryly.

"Yeah, well, since I care so much about you and your mood, I´m going to make as huge a sacrifice as a friend can possibly make, and accompany you on a vacation you´re going on next weekend-- the long one we got off."

"I didn´t plan any vacation," Hutch said suspiciously, slightly tilting his head to one side, eyes narrowing.

"Hey," Starsky grinned brightly, "isn´t that great? Because, you know, I did."

Under Hutch´s increasingly doubtful stare, the corners of his mouth seemed to have been invited by his ears...

"What kind of vacation?" Hutch asked tonelessly.

"You´re gonna like it."

As if he´d just heard he would be doing freestyle-climbing of the Empire State Building, Hutch resignfully lifted one hand to rub his face. "Did I say 'clouded heart'? I think it´s starting to rain."

Making a face, as his good-natured, well-meant surprise was taken so utterly wrong, Starsky nudged Hutch´s shoulder. "No, honest, you will like this! It´s a camping trip."

It took some time for the information to crawl between Hutch´s hiding hands and into his ears, but once he´d processed it, he blinked against his palm, then let his gaze wander up to meet a once more brightly-grinning, eagerly-nodding David Starsky.

Slowly, he drew his hand away and leaned back with an inspecting frown, as if Starsky was some sort of painting you needed to study closely before it´d reveal its hidden meaning to you.

"The drawback?" he finally asked suspiciously, and Starsky´s face fell.

"I do something nice for you, and you instantly assume there´s a drawback?"

"Yep."

Hurt, Starsky arched his brows. "I´d never assume there´d be a drawback if you told me you wanted a real-food lunch break for a change."

Smiling sweetly at that, Hutch nodded slowly. "You would if I told you grinning like a Cheshire cat.  Now, spill it. What´s in it for you? Oh, wait, I got it... No, I haven´t."

Watching his friend with a mixture of disgust and indignation, Starsky slid off the desk and shuffled over to his own chair. "There´s nothing, I keep
telling ya! It´s a perfectly normal tent-and-sleeping bag trip up to, uh Dean´s Corner, I think..." Trailing off, he patted his jacket pockets looking for something.

Hutch frowned. "What´s Dean´s Corner?"

"A town, brains," Starsky replied, rolling his eyes at his partner´s lack of local education. Finally, he found a folded piece of paper, a ripped-out newspaper article. Unfolding it, he cast Hutch a lecturing glance. "Few miles west of Rocky Beach, up in the hills."

His gaze settling on the paper in Starsky´s hands, Hutch nodded in slow motion. "Ah, I see. Rocky Beach, yeah? Hm. Sounds nice. Sleeping on rocks under the stars... Is there a particular reason you want to spend your first self-chosen camping trip in an area that has to borrow trees from LA for parades?"

Tensing for a moment, Starsky shot him a suspicious look, then shrugged nonchalantly. "You know I don´t like camping in the woods."

"Right. I didn´t know you like camping on naked rocks, either," Hutch added innocently, typing two letters, before glancing back at his friend again.

Meeting the gaze, Starsky smiled, the embodiment of innocence himself now. It was almost absurd to watch--a dance of looks and words around a piece of information so brightly glowing, it was covering all their actions in neon-white light.

"Montgomery Clift Classic Night was on today," Starsky joked.

"Hmm," Unconvinced, Hutch stood, supporting himself on the desk and grabbed a new sheet of paper from Starsky´s pile. Puzzled, Starsky watched the movement, not knowing how he suddenly lost possession of the newspaper article.

"Hey!"

Using his advantage of size, Hutch held the piece of crumbled paper too high for Starsky to grab, raising his brows in an 'ah, ah, ah' look. When his partner sat down in his chair grumbling, Hutch nodded approvingly and read the short article.

After the first three lines, he sank back into his own chair, his expression an eerie mixture of helpless resignation and clear amusement.

"Starsk-"

"Before you say anything, Hutch," Starsky quickly cut him off, "I want you to think two words: camping trip."

Hutch cast him an unbelieving look, then glanced back at the article. "'Tourists on the trail of golden ancestors,'" he read the headline out loud.

With one last meaningful look, he shook his head at the paper and handed it back to Starsky, who practically snatched it out of his hand.

"Buddy, you´re crazy."

"And why would you say that? Haven´t you read it? Those guys found gold there, Hutch! Real gold! Like in 'hey ho to the west'-gold!"

Resting his chin in his palms, elbows on his desk, Hutch nodded like an adult listening to an over-excited five-year-old. "I read it."

"And?"

"And," Hutch said through a chuckle, "I think you´re crazy." Another chuckle broke free, and finally, he was helplessly giggling, his face once more hidden behind one hand.

Unnerved, Starsky watched. "You still coming along, though, aren´t ya?"

Unable to talk, Hutch just nodded. Seconds passed.

"It´s not THAT funny, Blintz."

"No, you´re right," Hutch admitted, half panting, half giggling the words out. "The hilarious part´ll probably start when we get there."

"So, you´re coming?" Starsky asked enthusiastically.

"What, would I dare miss watching you dig through stone for gold?!"

"That´s a yes, right?"

"Yes, Starsk," the blond sighed, rolling his eyes, though his performance took serious damage by the remains of some hiccup-like giggles. "I´m coming."

"Great!" Never mind his friend´s unqualified amusement.  The grin was back in full force now, and a suddenly very busy detective started going through the pile of papers on his desk, looking for something to do since Hutch wrote his report.

"Hey, Starsk?"

"Hm?" Starsky said enthusiastically, his gaze snapping up at Hutch.

"Looking for work?"

"Uhm," Starsky instinctively started to protest, but was stopped short by the expression he saw forming on the other one´s face. "Sure."

With a 'thought so' nod, Hutch snatched the sheet of paper out of his typewriter and, together with a bunch of tiny, crumbled papers, handed it over to his friend.

"Enjoy your notes."

*****

"You know what I´m wondering about, Starsky?"

"Where you´ll find the strength to walk back to the car with only that stuff in your stomach?" Starsky replied, eyeing Hutch´s lunch as if just looking at it would actually bring him physical pain.

They were sitting outside a new café that had turned out to be an acceptable lunch compromise for both of them in the past.

"No," Hutch replied with a smile and picked up a piece of raw carrot from his plate.

"Funny, I thought everyone would marvel about that."

Ignoring his friend´s comment, Hutch said, "No, what amazes me is you and these get-rich-quick schemes. Remember the time when you read this ad about selling pens?"

"Hey, unfair! You promised me you'd never mention that again!"

"Sorry," Hutch grinned. "Forgot."

Grumbling something into his coke to make it clear he didn´t believe that for a second, Starsky shot him a scowl.

"But honest, Starsky… gold?!"

"What?" Starsky replied in high-pitched defense. "Don´t you get the adventurous kick of it already? Marching off to the west just like our ancestors, Lady Luck faithfully on our trail, the future unclear, but shimmering against the horizon of time just like the sun setting at... What?" he interrupted himself at the look of increasing nausea digging into Hutch´s expression.

Swallowing heavily as if he really was about to lose his veggie lunch any second, Hutch held out the piece of raw cucumber he´d picked up before his friend´s speech. "Here, I just lost my appetite."

Disgusted, Starsky shoved Hutch´s hand away. "And now you have to spoil mine, too? Keep the plants outta my face, will ya?"

Without even countering, Hutch let the vegetable fall onto his plate, then lifted a warning finger at his partner. "Hey, when we´re up there in the hills all alone, with no place for me to escape to, you will quit the country pop-poetry, won't you?    '...against the horizon of time...'" he repeated with an
unbelieving shake of his head, and shoved his plate fully away from him to come to his feet. "Where the hell d´you hear THAT?"

Grabbing his half-empty coke, Starsky followed him back to the parked LTD, stating with a casual shrug, "You´re just missing a sense of romance, Blintz."

"No," Hutch replied, throwing the driver´s door shut, "I´m missing ancestors who marched off to the west."

"They sent you, didn´t they?" Starsky shot back, lifting his brows innocently.

Casting him yet another very dry-humored look for that, Hutch started the engine and drove off. "Yeah," he replied after a moment´s thought, "maybe I should call them. After all, I´m turning into a real Hutchinson now --digging for gold."

Starsky frowned. "You think we´ll have to dig? I thought the stuff was just lying around there."

Drawing in a deep breath, Hutch muttered "Camping trip, Hutch. Camping trip" to himself and ignored the comment, seemingly concentrating on the street.

"What was that?" Starsky asked innocently.

"Just reminding myself why I´m doing this," Hutch told him.

Starsky flashed him a huge grin. "Why, `cause it´s gonna be great, of course!" Instantly, his eyes glazed over with a nostalgic fog again as he rambled on, "Roasted beans in a pan over campfire, the sun-"

"Hey!" Hutch cut him off in a half yell. "No more sunset songs, Chaplin! And did you just say you´ll make me eat roasted beans?!"

"We can bring some carrots for you to roast too," Starsky replied, unimpressed.

Hutch shot him a nearly helpless glance. "Why am I doing this again, buddy?"

Returning his gaze absolutely seriously, Starsky answered, "For the sake of adventure, my friend."

Hutch sighed.

"Here," Starsky offered, holding his coke out for him, "have some sugar. You´re turning awfully pale."

*****

"I still don´t get it why you want to take the tomato," Hutch pointed out for the fifth time that early Saturday morning when he and Starsky were finally heading west to Dean´s Corner.

It had taken four maps and at least a thousand "Starsk, why don´t you let ME try and look for it for a change?!" to find the small town on a fifteen-year-old map Starsky found in a tiny antiques store. Secretly, Hutch had his own personal bet running if Dean´s Corner still existed. But then,
what did he care, anyway? 'Camping trip, Hutch. Camping trip...'

"All the other times we've gone camping, you made it clear you didn´t want any nature to touch it," Hutch continued. He was rummaging through the huge, formless piles of sleeping bags and knapsacks Starsky  dumped more or carelessly into the back of the Torino.

"I figured there´s not much nature in the hills," Starsky replied. "And I don´t want to have to rely on your garbage can when it comes to transporting our
fortune outta there."

A snorted laugh could be heard from where Hutch had scrambled almost all the way onto the back seat. "I hope you´re talking digging for checks here, buddy, `cause there´s no place left for anything bigger back
here."

"Seems to me we can get home at least one Blintz-sized nugget," Starsky replied, shooting his friend an irritated look in the rearview mirror. "What the hell´re you doing back there?!"

"Practicing for the digging, Gordo," Hutch countered, rolling his eyes.

"Well, settle for mental practice; you´re getting on my nerves."

With audible effort, Hutch made his way back onto his seat. "Edgy, Mr. Sunset?"

Suddenly frowning, he reached up and retrieved his sunglasses he had been looking for in the back from the top of Starsky´s head.

Ducking slightly under his friend´s scowl, Starsky flashed him an innocent smile.

"Hey," he broke the silence a few seconds later, earning an unnerved sigh, but he figured most of what he planned on saying would be met with that sort of reaction, so whatever...

"What?"

"What´re you gonna do with your half of the gold?"

"Starsky, we´re not going to find any gold."

"You do know what they say about pessimistic Blintzes being good luck on a gold-searching mission, don´t you?"

Hutch very slowly turned his head to cast him a doubtful look.

"They also say that-"

"Okay, okay," Hutch quickly stopped any other 'hey ho to the west' wisdom he was bound to hear, waving his hands in surrender. "I´ll... uh... buy myself a house. Satisfied?"

But, quite the contrary, a frown instantly appeared on Starsky´s face at that. "We HAD a house, until you forced me to sell it again."

As the memory flooded his mind, Hutch rolled his eyes, more annoyed at himself for having picked so obviously wrong an answer, though.

"I changed my mind," he replied flatly. "And the house I´ll buy will be one
with style, anyway. Not like... ours," he finished, exaggeratedly trying to put it politely.

The frown, though, had only deepened on his partner´s forehead. "You don´t think our house had style?!"

"Starsk," Hutch said quietly after a moment of counting to ten, "you don´t want to start our cozy, little campfire-adventure with a fight, do you?"

"You started it," Starsky defended himself grumpily.

"Okay, so I'm ending it now. What´re you going to do with the tons of gold we´re about to carry out of there?"

"I thought we wouldn´t find gold," Starsky quipped.

Hutch sighed like a parent on the very edge of his patience. "Stop sulking, or I won´t ask again; and then you can´t tell me your great investment
plans."

"I don´t have any," Starsky replied indignantly. "If you´re that lucky, you gotta save money, y´know? For the wedding fund or college fund or old-and-gray-fund. That sorta thing."

"C´mon," Hutch said around a snorted laugh, "you´ve been getting on my nerves with all these get-rich-quick schemes for years now, because you
think you can´t afford the artificial stomach they´ll have to put into you when you´re sixty? You´re putting me on, right? I bet it´s a car," he added after a moment´s thought, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "A blue Torino with white stars, so when you have them parked next to each other, they´ll look like the flag."

When the expected counter didn´t come, he turned to catch his partner gazing dreamily ahead.

"Starsky, that was a joke."

Starsky flashed him a grin. "Good one."

Covering his eyes with one hand, Hutch sighed. "Oh God, don´t let us find any money, please."

Assuringly, Starsky patted his shoulder. "Don´t bother, Blintz. Remember the saying."

Fingers wandering down to squeeze his eyes shut, Hutch lowly started muttering, "Camping trip, Hutch. Camping trip."

*****

"Do you HAVE to peel that thing in my car?!"

Casting his unnerved friend a playfully innocent look, Hutch stopped his task of preparing a carrot. "I´m hungry."

"Of COURSE you are," Starsky shot back, not a bad imitation of an annoyed parent himself. "All you´ve eaten for over a week is carrots and fruits. I understand you´re probably constantly hungry, but that still doesn´t mean you´re allowed to spread carrot skin all over my seats. Don´t you know that´ll attract ants, Nature Boy?!"

Pursing his lips like a reprimanded kid, Hutch looked at the slightly orange covering around his feet, then back at his friend. "I´ll clean it up later."

Starsky snorted. "That´ll be the day."

Hutch being Hutch, he couldn´t stay in the kid´s role for long, though.  He returned to peeling his lunch, while informing Starsky that "if you hadn´t had to stop at MY place to use the bathroom, we would´ve been out of town before traffic starts to get hairy and maybe already be at some 'halfway-there diner'."

"And you couldn´t possibly peel your damn carrot WHILE we were at your place?!" Starsky countered, not willing to give up so easily, though; of course, his partner wasn´t going to be stopped from redecorating the car´s floor, anyway.

Hutch shrugged. "I wasn´t hungry then. And they lose vitamins, when you peel them hours before eating them."

Starsky opened his mouth to reply something, but stopped himself, thinking. With a small frown, he finally asked, "That´s not true, is it?"

"No. But they lose their taste."

"What taste?!"

Blinking in faked surprise, Hutch cut off a piece of the already peeled part of his carrot and held it out for his partner, who instantly lifted one hand off the steering wheel as if to protect himself.

"No vegetable attacks while I´m driving."

Chuckling, Hutch flipped the piece into the air with his thumb and index finger and caught it with his mouth, chewing proudly.

Starsky sighed. "Hutch, that´s disgusting. You´ve no respect whatsoever for our western world´s eating culture."

"What d´you mean?" Hutch asked muffledly around his mouthful of carrot.

"You don´t do that with raw food. You do it with popcorn."

Unimpressed, Hutch cast him an expressionless glance. "Party Pooper."

"I´ll applaud when you peel one so that the skin´s one unbroken coil."

Rolling his eyes at the dry comment, Hutch continued his task. "You can´t do that with carrots, Gordo."

"You don´t say!"

"Grumpy, aren´t we? Sure you don´t want..." But at the look-to-kill expression his offer was met with, he quickly lifted his free hand calmingly. "Ooookay. But let me tell you something, partner. This not eating vegetables of yours is plain unhealthy. How d´you want to grow big and strong living off grease only?"

Throwing his friend´s half-peeled snack a doubting glance, Starsky snorted. "Yeah, you just go on with your diet, and soon I’ll be bigger than you."

"It´s not a diet," Hutch countered. "It´s a cleansing measure I read about. Some native tribe believed in it."

"Native tribes had carrots?"

Hutch rolled his eyes. "Forget it."

"No, honest, Blintz, that´s very interesting. A cleansing measure. Hm-mm. Still, you kinda lose fat living only off water and whatever the birds carry to
your window each morning, right?"

"But it´s not ABOUT losing fat," Hutch said, unnerved. "It´s about cleansing the body from the inside."

"Yeah, okay, but it COULD be a diet too, right?"

"But it's not."

Flashing him a mean grin, Starsky waggled his brows. "You´re on a diet."

"I´m not!"

"Yes, you are."

"Am not. I don´t need a diet.  I don´t have any fat to lose, anyway."

"Then why are you on a diet?"

"Will you pull over so I can hurt you?"

"Okay, okay," Starsky surrendered, briefly lifting both hands off the steering wheel. "You´re on a mission to cleanse your body. That´s great."

There was the shortest of pauses, before the next question seemingly just blurted out against Starsky´s will. "This native tribe--was that Weight Watchers?"

Having expected the Hutchinson Warning Finger to pop up, he instantly shrank away a bit. "That was the last one, I promise."

Grumbling, Hutch drew his hand back and finally threw the last strip of carrot skin to the floor, uncaring. "It better be."

All amusement vanishing from his face as he glanced at the floor of the passenger side, Starsky gave a very low growl, but decided against making another wasted comment. Instead he asked, "So, cleansing measure, huh?"

"Yep," Hutch replied curtly and happily started munching his carrot. Once more talking with a full mouth, he added, "I forgot the name, but the elders of that tribe believed in the healing powers of nature, of things that have grown from the earth, like fruits. So when one of their tribe had in the past been severely..."

When he trailed off, Starsky, who had secretly rolled his eyes at his friend´s teacher tone, let his eyes wander over to him slowly. Their gazes met, and Hutch smiled shyly, lips firmly pressed together as if he wanted to keep the word from accidentally slipping out.

'.... ill...'

There was a brief, uncomfortable silence. Starsky looked ahead again, while Hutch, suddenly extremely fascinated by it, studied his half-eaten carrot.

"If you see a tree, yell," Starsky finally broke the stillness with dry humor. "I´ll climb up and get you an apple for dessert."

Smiling, Hutch gave a small nod, and the fog of unspoken worries cleared sensibly.

"And how much longer d´you plan on playing veggie cop?"

Dragging one corner of his mouth down as if thinking, Hutch shrugged. "Dunno. I kinda started to like it."

Starsky's head all but snapped to him. "You´re kidding."

"No," Hutch replied innocently. "It feels nice, you know... not living off the dead," he added with a faked grave expression.

"And here you just skinned a helpless vegetable," Starsky quipped, but Hutch´s hunting instinct had already been nudged into action by a quick shadow having crossed his partner´s face.

"You don´t like thinking about that, do you?" he asked, the corners of his mouth forming a grin like a Cheshire cat.

"About what?"

"That what you eat every day was once a happy, carefree creature that big people with huge knives slaughtered mercilessly."

Visibly taken aback at the description, Starsky swallowed dryly and shot his smirking friend a disgusted look. "You ever considered writing commercials for the Veggie Party?"

"No, but maybe I´ll go see if they can use me in kids´ TV."

"Oh yeah," Starsky nodded with dry humor. "Good idea. 'And now, boys and girls, let´s hear a big cheer, when the Blond Blintz shows you how to make Big Bird Burgers.'"

Laughing, Hutch playfully bowed his head as if he´d just entered Sesame Street Stage, thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers as an idea hit him, and started to sing Melanie´s 'I Don´t Eat Animals.'

"Huuuuutch," Starsky cut him off after the first few lines. "Please."

"What? I thought you liked my singing."

"But I hate that song! It makes me feel guilty," Starsky whined.

"That´s the point, mushbrain."

But Starsky wasn´t going to be convinced. "Can´t you sing something that fits our adventurous mission?"

Amused, Hutch stared at him, then nodded as if understanding. "Oh. Like a marching tune, you mean? Something we can cling to in the darkest hours of searching, when it looks as though only a couple of fools would hike up into the mountains looking for gold?"

"Exactly," Starsky nodded enthusiastically.

"Sure," Hutch smiled and started singing 'Can´t Buy Me Love.'

Sighing resignfully, Starsky let his shoulders slump forward. "So glad you´re enjoying yourself," he grumpily mumbled to himself. He was rewarded with a friendly pat on his head, while Hutch happily continued singing their 'marching tune'.

*****

"Okay," Starsky announced about two hours later, when the Torino had worked its way up the highest hill in the area. "Now I know why it´s called 'corner'."

Downhill, a handful of houses could be seen with a forlorn-looking, ugly shopping mall seemingly being the center of it.

From the passenger seat, a low whistle came, and Starsky turned his head to follow Hutch´s gaze.

"And I found out about the... other thing," the blond stated, pointing at a ridiculously huge sign that had a picture of Dean Martin on it, elegantly waving a cocktail glass, and a beautifully painted "corner" beneath him.

It took Starsky two attempts to drag his chin back up. "They gotta be kidding."

"Ain´t that a kick in the hea-" Hutch started singing, but was effectively shut up by an exasperated look.

"Sorry," he mumbled in a small voice, as if just having recalled the singing prohibition Starsky had imposed on him a good twenty miles before. Turning on his seat like an excited kid entering Disney World, he tried to catch a last glance of giant Dean as the Torino slowly rolled by.

"D´you believe that?!" Starsky asked. "They named a TOWN after him. Where are we, Little Vegas?! What did they call it before the Rat Pack, 'Donald and Sullivan´s corner'?!"

"That´s 'Gilbert and Sullivan'," Hutch corrected, as he let himself fall back on his seat. "And I think it´s great, he´s one of my fav-"

Before he could even add another sound, Starsky´s warning finger shot up.

"I know, I know," Hutch hastily assured him, lifting his hands in front of him. "No singing."

Accompanied by a satisfied nod, the hand was placed onto the steering wheel again.

"Still, you must admit the choice could be much worse," Hutch continued, earning a doubtful frown that he could only answer with a 'what if'-shrug. "The Platters?!"

Starsky laughed. "Ooooooonly yooooooouuuuu..." he started singing, but didn´t get very far, as he was drowned out by his friend´s personal version of 'Volare'.

Lifting both hands off the steering wheel in a defensive gesture, he loudly announced "Peace!" and an agreeing silence filled the car.

"This latest discovery doesn´t improve my feelings about leaving the car in town, I tell ya," Starsky said when they rolled down the hill, coming closer to the bunch of houses.

Hutch shrugged casually. "Nothing to do about it, buddy. Your treasure map says it´s up the hill on the other side, and there´s no street. Besides, Dino never stole any cars--no style in that."

Starsky smirked. "I was more worried about the kind of freaks who name their town after a singer."

"Bay City Rollers?"

At the innocently put remark, Starsky rolled his eyes. "I hate it when you´re in a good mood.  Did I ever tell you that?"

Laughing, Hutch patted his shoulder. "Don´t take me on idiotic camping trips then, partner."

"I´ll try to remember that next time."

"Aw, that´s nice," Hutch grinned. " That mean you´ll still go camping with me when you´re a trillionaire?"

"No, I'll have someone paid for that," Starsky countered.

"Can I choose?"

Starsky snorted. "You wish."

In a matter of minutes, they were slowly driving on the main street into Dean´s Corner and had actually crossed it just as fast. Spotting an old, rusty sign next to a small hiking way through a wood and then further up a hill, Hutch nudged Starsky´s arm. "Hey. Think that´s it."

Slowing down the car, Starsky followed Hutch´s gaze. "You sure?"

The blond rolled his eyes. They had spent an entire evening studying  their "treasure map" and using whatever information the newspaper article had provided them with; but while Hutch had actually memorized it, his partner had found the "making a plan" part a whole lot more fascinating than actually using the thing.

"Considering that we´re a hundred yards away from a 'Thanks For Dropping By, Ciao' sign, I´m pretty sure, yeah."

Having spotted a shadowy place under a bunch of trees at the side of the road, Starsky pulled over there and stopped the engine, then turned to flash his friend a wide happy grin. "Our adventure starts as of now."

"Yeah," Hutch nodded and pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. "Right there's where the action is."

"Oh no." Starsky shook his head, opening the door. "You unpack the trunk."

"What?!"

Already waiting at the opened trunk, Starsky stopped his partner, who raced after him, with a piece of luggage Hutch caught reflexively when it came flying towards him.

"No fair!" he announced, casting Starsky an unnerved look. "It´s your mess!"

"But it´s your stuff, mostly," Starsky countered. "`Sides, I have to get some supplies.  We want to be comfy in our tent before it gets dark, don´t we?" Without even waiting for a reply, he turned back toward the small mall.

"You could´ve brought supplies for you, too, you know?!" Hutch called after him.

Starsky waved. "Marshmallows lose their taste when you don´t buy `em fresh."

Grumbling, Hutch surrendered, and a minute later he was happily humming ‘Summer Holiday’ to himself while he cleared the Torino´s trunk.

*****

It might look like a normal mall from the outside, but when he entered it, Starsky found himself experiencing the unnerving sensation of being a new face in a small town. There wasn´t a head in the building that didn´t turn to send him a curious glance that, in most cases, changed into suspicion.  Many pairs of eyes wandered up and down him. Thinking he now knew how John Wayne must have felt in most of his movies, Starsky switched on his most charming smile and waved a small 'hi', before hastily starting his task, feeling a few grim looks following him.

The first truly friendly face he met belonged to an elderly lady, who nodded at him approvingly, when he chuckled as he grabbed a bottle of carrot-orange-apple juice from a shelf.

"It´s nice to see young people take care of their health," she said.

Smiling, he returned the nod and added a bag of marshmallows to his groceries.

The granny walked away.

"You don´t want to eat that," the sudden female voice sent Starsky turning around to face what appeared to be Dean´s Corner´s personal supermodel. She was young, long-legged, with long blond hair, and the way the cashier´s uniform fit her left little room for imagination.

Dragging his chin up in a sheepish grin, Starsky greeted her with his most appreciating "hi".

She pointed at the plastic bag in his hands. "That´s pure sugar, d´you know that? The stuff will kill you. Here." Meeting uncharacteristically little resistance, she took the marshmallows away from him, then reached onto another shelf to produce a grayish paper bag that she shoved into his hands. "Try these."

A drop-dead gorgeous lady was a nice surprise at the place, but food was food, and the detective´s grin gave way to a suspicious frown when his gaze wandered down to inspect the cashier´s recommendation.

"What´s this?" he asked, puzzled, and gave the answer himself a split second later. His eyes widened in dismay at the cheap looking label. "Goat´s milk foam-balls with wheat flour and honey flavor in a natural base?!"

Either not getting the disgusted awe displayed in his tone or not caring about it, she gave a curt nod and pointed a long, gorgeous finger at an added piece of information on the bag. "There you have vitamins E, D-"

"Ecological marshmallows?!" he cut her off.

"No," she corrected, unimpressed. "It´s a delicious substitute for common marshmallows.  That, in itself, is a healthy addition to your every day nourishment. Besides," she added with a friendly smile like she´d probably flash a five-year-old if she were to sell him the same stuff, "you can roast them over a fire just like common marshmallows, and it'll be just as much
fun."

Bag still in his hands, he stared at her dumbfounded. Catching her name on the tag on her uniform, he furrowed his brows. "Listen, Sheila Dougal, d´you by any chance have relatives by the name of Hutchinson?"

"No," she answered plainly, not the least puzzled by the question. Noticing the juice he still carried, she checked it with a curt, professional glance and contentedly announced, "That one´s okay. Is there anything else you need?"

Something about her piercing look kept him from uttering his true wish - common, unhealthy marshmallows - and instead he heard himself stammer, "Uh... no. Thanks. That´ll be... all."

With a satisfied smile, she turned to lead him to the cashier, but stopped midway, casting him a look that suspiciously reminded him of a mother´s before sending her child off to summer camp. "Are you going to hike up the hills at Dean´s Woods?"

Cringing at the name of the little forest where they´d parked, he nodded.

"You shouldn´t go without some supplies for the way, then," she advised, already about to fill a plastic bag with apples from a table next to her.  He quickly stopped her.

"Uh, thanks, but... fruit’s the one thing I have plenty of."

"Are you sure?" she asked, almost sternly, as if suspecting him of lying. "One can never pack enough fresh supplies for a trip like that. Did you know that a considerable percent of the pioneers who traveled through California in the last century died of insufficient vitamin supply?"

"Ah... no, Miss."

"It´s true. The man who founded our town in 1873 died of meat poisoning. Are you living off dead animals?"

He blinked once, then again. "I think I´ll have an apple or two after all."

Ten minutes, three apples, two bags of dried carrot strips ("It´s a natural substitute for pemmican," she´d told him when she´d loaded the green paper bags with his growing pile of unwanted groceries. "It doesn´t consist of meat, yet it works the same way. Try it. Delicious."), and a bottle of murky green "breakfast yogurt" later, Starsky was not only convinced he´d run into the woman of Hutch´s dreams, but also relieved beyond belief that he hadn´t brought his partner along.

He was just about to leave the store, his horrid supplies already inconsiderately stuffed into a paper bag, when a thought hit him.  He turned to Sheila Dougal one last time. "Excuse me, I was just wondering... could you tell me why your town´s named after Dean Martin?"

She didn´t even bother to answer, just glanced at the elderly man who stood in line behind Starsky. The man, seemingly out of thin air, quickly produced a slim booklet that he held out for the detective.

The title read 'Dean´s Corner and Dean Martin: The Story of Our Town'. On the cover was the town´s sign with Martin's picture on it.

"It´s free," Sheila informed Starsky, who hesitantly accepted the booklet, casting the strange man an unsure glance.

"Uh... thanks," he muttered and forced a slight smile on his face. "That´s very..."

The man walked past him, not looking at him once, and left the store. He hadn´t bought anything.

"... nice," Starsky finished lamely, staring after him, "of you. Uh," he turned to Sheila again, stashing the booklet into his grocery bag, "who was that?"

"Dean," she answered. "Have a nice hike."

With that, she vanished into the depths of the store again, eager to help her customers to healthier lives, Starsky assumed.  For a moment, he stared after her, shook his head as if to snap out of the trance, and turned for the exit.

"So you´re going to hike up Dean´s Hills, stranger?" Again, a voice behind him made him turn around, brows risen in surprise at the downright hostile tone.

What he saw were three men who gave the clear appearance of three generations of the same family. They were all taller than Starsky, with muscular arms crossed over their broad chests. The oldest looking one seemed to be in his mid-sixties, but still in good shape and wearing the distinctive expression of a man with whom everybody knew you didn´t mess around. Behind him, his son and grandson hovered over his gray-haired head like guard dogs.

To make it clear he wasn´t looking for any trouble, Starsky settled for a friendly smile. "If that´s the hills behind Dean´s Woods, yep."

"Why?" the family head asked sternly.

His normal patience working overtime on keeping his temper under control, Starsky shrugged casually. "Because Frankie´s Valleys don´t have the view," he quipped.

"D´you think you´re funny?" the older man asked. Neither he nor his relatives had yet moved an inch. Like blocks of wood they stood with their feet planted.

"Usually," Starsky replied.

The old man tilted his head to one side in one curt motion, studied the detective through briefly narrowed eyes, then waved his hands in a half shrug. "Okay," was all he said before he turned to walk away, his family on his trail.

Starsky stared after them, his mouth opening, but no comment would come. He closed it again and all but fled out of the mall.

Even before he´d turned the corner and actually saw Hutch, he could hear him. He was happily singing an improvised version of 'Sam´s Song' with two strangers, who turned out to be mechanics from a garage at the
other side of the street.

Catching his approaching partner´s expression, Hutch stopped in the middle of the chorus and, at the mechanic´s puzzled glances, discreetly pointed at Starsky marching down the road. His name and recent attitude towards music must have come up at some point during the short jam session, because the two young men almost instantly slid off the Torino´s hood where they sat, and with quick farewell winks at Hutch, stormed off to their working place.

"They started it," Hutch greeted Starsky in a faked small voice when his partner dumped the grocery bag onto the hood next to where the blond still sat Indian style.

"Don´t sit on my car," Starsky countered grumpily.

Ignoring him, Hutch rumaged through the bag, a frown deepening on his forehead at each new discovery. "Did you get a flash of a guilty conscience in there? It wasn´t really that much work unpacking, y´know?"

Starsky rolled his eyes. "Speaking of which, can we go now?"

But his partner still didn´t move. His eyes widening, he inspected the marshmallow substitutes. "Wow. I heard of those, but-"

"Hutch," Starsky pushed, grabbing his knapsack. "Can we go?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, sure," Hutch nodded absently and let the small bag fall back, when a sudden realization hit him and he once more searched through the groceries. "Hey, what d´you get for yourself?"

"Literature," Starsky grumbled and snatched the bag out of his friend´s hands. "Will you move your butt now, please?"

An amused grin hiding in the corners of his mouth, Hutch obeyed and finally slid off the hood. Under his partner´s unnerved glare, he slowly advanced his pile of luggage still waiting on the ground. "What happened? Did they make you buy the stuff? Threaten you?"

"Let´s just say," Starsky started and picked up the bag containing the tent to hold it out for Hutch, "I hate small towns. Here."

Having shouldered his own knapsack and sleeping bag, the blond frowned. "Why do I have to carry the tent?"

"Because you unpacked it," Starsky replied curtly and shoved the bag into Hutch´s hands. Not bothering to look back, he then turned and marched off up the small road leading into Dean´s Woods.

"But you bought it!" Hutch called after him, slow to follow, since he first had to adjust the weight in his arms.

"See?"

"Gee, great mood you´re in," Hutch replied, rolling his eyes. He finally caught up with Starsky and was now walking only a few steps behind him. "I think the people here are really nice. A bit weird maybe," he added in a rambling tone. "They liked your car. But then," a shrug, "nobody´s perfect."

"Maybe we shouldn´t have left the Torino after all," Starsky said, finally glancing back at Hutch, who winked.

"Don´t worry. Jerry promised to keep an eye on it."

"T'riffic," Starsky replied dryly. "Now I feel much better."

The next fifteen minutes they walked in silence, Hutch softly humming some unrecognizable tune to himself, while Starsky stoically ignored it.

Then it started to rain.

His shoulders slumping, Starsky stopped in mid-step to cast the sky an accusing glance. "I don´t believe this. There wasn´t a cloud up there ten seconds ago!"

Hutch didn´t answer. He was just glad to pause for a moment and re-adjust the tent´s weight.

"I bet they cast a spell on us to make it rain exactly when we´re too far away from the car to turn back," Starsky continued ranting.

Hutch leaned against the tent he´d propped against a tree and wiped over his face, watching his irritated partner quietly. After half a minute, he lowly started to sing 'Come Rain or Come Shine'.

Starsky instantly fell silent, shot him a look to kill, and continued on down the trail.

"... come rain or come-"

"Shut up, Hutch."

Settling for very low humming, Hutch heaved up the tent again and followed his friend.

*****

"I´m singing in the rain... just siiinging in the rain... what a glorious feeeeeling, I´m-"

"Hutch!"

"What?!" Hutch cut off his cheerful version of the Gene Kelly classic and turned to cast his exasperated friend an innocent glance, steadying himself on the center pole of the tent he had been busy pitching for the last ten minutes.

It hadn´t stopped raining yet, and though he couldn´t hide an amused smile at Starsky´s dripping appearance, he doubted he looked any better. They
were both soaked to the skin, but fortunately, it was warm enough so they wouldn't freeze.

"You said I was allowed to sing when we got here," Hutch continued defending his singing, while Starsky planted his feet next to him, glaring at the semi-pitched tent as if the weather was its fault.

With dark curls plastered to his forehead and his shoulders drawn up as much as possible, he looked utterly, grumpily miserable.

"I said you could sing at the campfire," Starsky retorted grimly. "See any campfire here?"

"Ah, no," Hutch quipped, making a show out of briefly scanning their rainy surroundings. "But then it´d be 'I´m singing at the fire'."

"'Funny Hutch' is on the loose again."

Turning his attention back to the task at hand, Hutch chuckled. "Aw come on, cheer up, Starsk, will ya? Maybe the rain will wash up the gold from out of the rocks. Why don´t you go back over there and check, while I finish pitching the tent here?"

"Checked already," Starsky grumbled, not moving an inch. "Nothing but water `round here." He sneezed and sniffed. "I hate rain."

"Gesundheit. You know," Hutch said dreamily, "I kinda like rain in the woods. Reminds me of the camping trips when I was a kid."

Smiling, he held out one end of the tent´s pole for his friend to hold, and when Starsky didn´t make any attempt to even unfold his arms, patiently
advanced toward him and untangled one hand and shoved the plastic into it. Wisely ignoring the look he received for that, he drew in a deep breath as he bent down to pick up the other end. "Aaaah, d´you smell that?"

"Yeah," Starsky muttered unenthusiastically, the pole hanging limply in his unwilling grasp, "newborn plastic. Always smells funny."

"I meant the freshness of wet grass," Hutch chided.

"Smells funny too."

Hutch rolled his eyes. "You know somethin', Starsk? You have no right for this kind of attitude this time. It´s your trip."

"Feel free to hate it, too," Starsky graciously announced while he followed his friend´s moves suspiciously. "You sure you know what you´re doing? Doesn´t this have to be, like, the floor of it?"

Hutch sighed as if disappointed. "Starsk, Starsk," he mumbled, shaking his head. "I´ve been pitching tents before you were even allowed to cross the street alone, okay? Give me that," he took the end of the panel out of Starsky´s hands and gently shoved him aside a bit, "Now sit down somewhere over there where you can watch and learn."

Grumbling something unintelligible that, Hutch assumed, most patient teachers hear a lot, Starsky strolled off to a nearby rock where he sank down heavily, placing his chin in his hands.

"Hutch?"

"Yep?" Hutch´s muffled voice came from under the section he was trying to fasten.

"Can you make a campfire in the pouring rain?"

"Ah... no. But when you get hungry, I can show you how to peel a carrot."

The gracious offer was answered with a most resignful snort. "Oh, joy. You know what? My camping trips are even worse than yours."

Crawling out of the fully-pitched tent, Hutch threw him a glance. "Sorry, what d´you say?"

"I asked if you're gonna be done there anytime soon," Starsky replied, shuddering violently for emphasis. "I'm freezin´."

Casting him a chiding look, Hutch brushed a damp stray of blond hair back out of his eyes. "If the rain was any warmer, it'd be boiling, Gordo." Glancing up into the grayish-golden sky, he added, "Looks like a storm is brew-"

He hadn't finished the sentence before a jolt rattled the sturdy build of the tent, sending his partner flying inside like a bird in attack mode. Turning his head, Hutch smirked amusedly at the sight of Starsky huddled in the far corner, knees drawn up, chin resting on them.

"Care to help me get our stuff inside?" he asked teasingly.

"No thanks," Starsky quipped, bending his head a tad to suspiciously inspect what he could see of the sky outside. "And when it starts while you're outside, do me a favor and clean up right beside the tent, okay?"

Hutch sighed, smoothing the panels on the ground with his flat hand. "Sometimes you're really just like a little kid, d´you know that? There's a lake right outside there, and we're in between two hills."

"Don't talk science; get our stuff in here before it starts."

Chuckling, Hutch shook his head and crawled outside to collect their knapsacks and sleeping bags. A fresh breeze blew thin threads of rain into his face, and he happily drew in a deep breath of the damp air. "Don't know whyyyyy there's no sun up in the sky... stormy weath-"

"Not funny!" Starsky's muffled voice from inside the tent cut through his singing, and he stopped with an exaggerated sigh, then returned inside their small dwelling.

*****

The storm didn't come, but the rain didn't stop, either. At least, though, they were dry by the time dusk sent pink streaks through the fascinating shades of yellow colors in which the sky was dressed. Hutch  insisted on leaving the tent's door half open so they could watch the spectacle of the nature-painting changing, and it did indeed take him twice the usual
time to peel his dinner as his eyes were glued to the beautiful outside world.

Starsky, wrapped up in his sleeping bag over old academy sweats, had occupied himself with seemingly learning the story of Dean's Corner by heart and reading it out loud to his partner, and then again when he noticed Hutch hadn't been listening at all. Somewhere in the middle of the boring tale he'd given up, though.

A while ago he'd actually tried to eat one of the marshmallows, but he hadn't come any farther than sniffing at the thing and letting it plop back into the bag with disgust.

Hutch had eaten four, then ordered Starsky to put them away, since he'd feel guilty later for breaking up his healing measure.

"Want a carrot, too?"

Looking up from the booklet in surprise at hearing his partner's voice before it was completely dark outside, Starsky rolled his eyes at the sight of Hutch holding out a peeled carrot for him without looking.

"No."

"Apple?" the blond asked, putting the carrot back on the small pile of dinner he'd gathered together in front of him, and picking up an apple instead.

When there was no answer, he tore his eyes away from the capturing view to finally look at Starsky.  The sulking expression with which he was met softened his voice to a half-teasing coax. "C'mon, Starsk, hm? You gotta
eat something, and I bet tomorrow the weather´ll be better so we can... uh, roast your marshmall..."

At the darkening shadow on his friend's face, he wisely trailed off.  He then flashed a big smile, lifting the apple he'd picked and waved it slightly like a puppet. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

His partner didn't make any attempt to grab the fruit, and Hutch assumed he wouldn't catch it if it was thrown at him; he'd probably just shift out of the way.

"You know," Starsky stated grumpily, "that saying is just plain dumb. You can say it with everything. It's not the apple making the rhyme, but the day. A steak a day would keep the doctor away as well."

Hutch cast him a blank look. "You don't want an apple?"

With a deep sigh, Starsky lifted his left hand and caught the apple flying towards him. For a moment he studied it as if it was pressed oatmeal, then squeezed his eyes shut and took the first bite.

Hutch watched with amused awe, shaking his head. "I bet you were your mother's utter joy at dinner time," he said dryly and picked up the carrot again. "By the way, a steak a day would be a doctor's hooray." Grinning to himself, he happily started munching his vegetable.

"Mine too," Starsky grumbled and wrinkled his nose at the apple as if he couldn't decide from where it'd be less painful to take the next bite.

"Just wondering," Hutch said sarcastically, still studying his friend's eating with the same fascination he'd watched the sky before, "is this fixation on
crap-made food of yours a direct result of not having been allowed to eat it when you were a kid, or are you just naturally self-destructive?"

"Funny," Starsky replied, unimpressed. "I've been thinking the same thing `bout you."

Hutch rolled his eyes and returned to enjoying the view, though his quiet peace was disturbed every once in a while by his partner's demands for more food.

"Hutch?"

"One carrot left for today," Hutch replied without looking at his friend, "and that's mine. Eat your marshmallows, greedy gut."

When no annoyed reply came, he glanced over his shoulder, startled at the poorly suppressed worry his friend's frown displayed.

"Starsk?" he asked, all teasing vanished from his voice, and turned more to fully look at his partner.

"Do you really," Starsky started quietly, serious all of a sudden, "believe in this healing measure?"

Understanding, Hutch smiled warmly and broke the carrot he still held in two pieces, handing Starsky the smaller one. "Do you really believe there's any gold to find here?"

Returning the smile, Starsky accepted the piece of carrot and plopped it into his mouth, shrugged and answered around chewing, "Sure." He swallowed and pointed at the tent's door. "Close up when nature TV is over, will ya? It's getting cold." And with that, he closed the booklet and snuggled down into his sleeping bag, rolling over so that his back was facing Hutch, whose smile softened.

"Good night, buddy."

Snoring answered him.

*****

Hutch startled awake, a choked yelp of surprise dying in his throat.

"Oops," a soft whisper next to him broke through the pitch dark. "Sorry."

After a moment of frantically trying to ascertain where he was, Hutch let go of a relieved sigh which was quickly followed by a frustrated groan, when he realized what had awakened him. Rolling from where he'd been none too softly shoved over, he untangled his hands from out of his sleeping bag and reached out to give his partner's back an equally determined push.

"Hey!"

"What, hey?!" Hutch shot back, sitting up slightly so he could shove Starsky back to his side of the tent. "Did I forget to say don't get cuddly or what? Roll over!"

He couldn't be sure, but from how much more difficult it became to move Starsky's body he assumed his friend was clinging to the floor panel.

"Starsky!"

"There's a hole in the panel on my side," Starsky whined, not letting go. "And it's raining again."

Rolling his eyes, Hutch stopped his efforts for a moment, looking down at the vague silhouette of his friend. "Get under a blanket or into your sleeping bag or whatever, but let me sleep, will you?"

Since no more pulling or shoving hands were on him, Starsky carefully turned around to look at Hutch in the darkness. "I'll suffocate under the blanket."

"Well, it's either that or drowning," Hutch said, seizing the opportunity and fully rolled his unclinging partner over to his side. "Your choice."

He hadn't fully laid back down, when he felt Starsky's weight rest against him again. "Starsk, so help me-"

"It's raining on my face!" Starsky defended himself and, at feeling Hutch ready to struggle again, grabbed the back of his sleeping bag to keep him from turning around. "I can't sleep like that. Have mercy."

"I can't sleep like THIS," Hutch snapped. "Roll over, or you'll NEED mercy."

"Huuuutch, plea... OW!"

The rest of the unnerving begging was cut off, as Hutch quickly rolled onto his back, trapping Starsky's hands under it for a split second.

"Ouch!" Starsky announced accusingly, rubbing his sore wrists. He was sitting up now, glaring down at his partner. "That wasn't called for, Blintz," he added sulkingly, trying to make the nickname sound like an insult.

Ignoring it, Hutch rolled onto his side, dragging his blanket up to his chin. "Don't make me really hurt you, pal. Go back to sleep."

"Aw, buddy... please," Starsky whined, tugging at Hutch's blanket. His friend, though, only drew it up higher.

"No! It's your tent. Buy yourself an undamaged one with your share of our fortune. Now go back to sleep!"

There was a moment of unintelligible mumbling, then rough shuffling when Starsky made a show out of crawling back onto his side and dragging his sleeping bag and blanket back up, then a clearly stated "You're SO mean!" Then, he could hear the distinctive sound of raindrops connecting with human skin.

Since he'd been asleep before he hadn't heard it, but now that it broke through the woodsy silence so clearly, Hutch couldn't help but grin at it.

"Starsk," he muttered with a faked scowl.

"What?!" came the high-pitched reply.

"I'm trying to get some sleep here. Stop dripping; it's annoying."

There was a dangerous silence, then the shuffled noise of a body rolling onto its side and a growled, "If my feet weren't trapped in this thing, I'd kick you."

Hutch giggled.

"SO glad my suffering amuses you."

"Hey, it's not my fault you think ten bucks is too much for a proper tent. Maybe you should've listened to me when I told you we'd have to sleep in this thing."

"It was fine when I bought it," Starsky shot back. In the dim moonlight filtered through the panel, Hutch could see him feebly lift one hand to wipe away moisture from his forehead. It was of little use, though, of course.

"The only logical assumption is that you ripped it when pitching it, and therefore, it should be you having to sleep on this side."

At that, Hutch rolled over too. "Without me you'd be sleeping on the ground with rain EVERYWHERE, buddy boy. If I were you, I'd shut up, be grateful, and try to avoid lying directly under the damn hole."

"Without you I wouldn't even BE he..." Starsky started to snap back, but trailed off when realizing his usual line didn't carry any truth this time, since it was, after all, his trip. "Oh damn it," he mumbled, defeated and, sending yet another jolt through the whole dwelling, rolled over again, ducking his head in a vain attempt at hiding inside his sleeping bag.

It didn't take ten seconds for soft, barely suppressed giggles to carry over the constant dripping sound.

"Hutch!"

"Just thought of something funny," Hutch quickly explained through a chuckle and half turned his head as if to cast his friend an assuring glance. "I'll be quiet now."

"Hm," Starsky grumbled.

Silence settled. Well, not completely...

"Are you humming 'Raindrops keep falling on my head' over there?!"

"Who, me?"

The innocent answer had not yet faded into the darkness, when violent shuffles could be heard, indicating Starsky's struggles against his sleeping
bag. "Okay, that's it..." he panted through the effort of crawling out of his warm wrapping.  "I'm gonna kick your ass into next week-"

"Starsk, Starsk, Starsk, Starsk, Starsk," Hutch hurried to say calmingly, years of practice enabling him to not stumble over the words. "I think it
stopped. Go back to sleep."

Since it WAS quite an effort to move in the sleeping bag, Starsky surrendered and scrambled back down, a flow of mumbled descriptions of Hutch's character sound-tracking his way, while he tried his best to
stoically ignore the sensation of KNOWING his partner was still grinning smugly behind his back.

The second he was fully and contentedly wrapped into layers of warm covers again, ready to close his eyes, Hutch's voice sent his eyes snapping open.

"Actually, I was humming 'Raindrops keep falling on Starsky's head', because it sounds funny when you sing it."

Starsky exploded. Well, as much as he possibly could without moving and too tired to really care. "Will you tell me, once and for all, who declared this to be the Starsky and Hutch Camping Musical?! You've been getting on my nerves ever since this morning!"

Hutch was not impressed. "You just be glad there's no 'Gold Rush' title song."

"It couldn't be more annoying than the weather," Starsky countered. "What're you, anyway?  Our songbook log?!"

"Just being creative," Hutch stated in a relaxed tone, as if he couldn't care less. "Must be the adventurous spirits catching up with me."

"Yeah, well," Starsky scowled, drawing his blanket up, "for the rest of the adventure, do what's best for you and switch to silent creativity. Can you do that?"

Silence answered him, and with a triumphant sigh he finally closed his eyes.

*****

When Hutch woke up the next time, Dean's Woods´ winged inhabitants were giving an early concert and, for the brief moment he needed to figure out what had awakened him, he couldn't help but smile amusedly at the image of what the birds in the stylishly named forest might look like. But through his strained efforts to make out 'Gotta Have Style' in the birds´ singing, the final sensation dawned that it had been the camping disease that had snapped him out of his dreams.

Frustrated, he sighed, throwing the shadowy sight of his peacefully slumbering friend a jealous look.

Experience having taught him better than to seriously contemplate just lying back down and trying to ignore it, he quietly looked around for his shoes and jacket, causing a few stirs and sleepy mumbles next to him.

Hutch finally noticed Starsky had, at some point in the night, snatched his jacket from the pile of clothes stashed somewhere in the back to use it as an extra pillow.   Realizing he couldn't possibly get to it without waking his friend, he felt very tempted to have his partner listen to the birds´ early concert as well. But then, he'd have to deal with the notorious Starsky morning-mood later on, anyway. Why push it?

So instead he grabbed some old sweater to pull over his t-shirt, contentedly thinking that 'be prepared' had once more proven to be a wise lecture.  Hutch zipped open the tent's door, with every effort to be as quiet as possible, crawled outside, and zipped it closed.

Nature was showing off again. While he lazily stretched his arms, Hutch watched the rivulets of color seemingly dripping down the sky. With every
satisfied happiness, the spectacle was meant to set free humans´ hearts. Yet, other things needed to be set free too, so, wrapping his arms around himself for warmth, he strolled off in no particular direction, just over
another small hill to get away from the tent. Actually, though he was still tired, he wouldn't have minded a little morning walk anyway. The air was fresh and damp, the rainy night having washed away the heat of the day before, and the leaves on the trees glittered playfully in the newborn sun.

He walked farther than he had intended, indeed over the whole hill and then into some runner of Dean's Woods, where he took care of business.  Then he turned to head back, the cold seeping through his sweater convincing him to cancel the walk after all, and then froze.

He heard words. Unintelligible words, but surely not having been muttered by a bird, unless it was the brightest bulb in the basement.

As he instinctively ducked a bit, cop-mode kicking in, Hutch figured it wasn't Starsky he heard, either.  The voice was much too deep, and, besides, how could his partner possibly have gone farther into the hills
without passing him?

No, there was someone else up there, and now that he strained to listen, Hutch thought he could make out even more voices. Someone laughed, not as far away from his present position as he had thought, either. The small hill went in what looked like a wave of stone up and down, with a light carpet of well placed bunches of trees and bushes covering it. And just beyond the next rise, where the flora of what he had promoted from plain nature to men's room, the voices had their center.

A part of him constantly whispered at him that it probably wasn't wise to advance the scenery of strangers, but curiosity took over. After all, it was
a beautiful landscape, bound to attract camping tourists. And then, even though he rolled his eyes at himself for that thought, maybe he had just discovered their competitors in the gold-digging business.

He hadn't quite left the damp bushes behind him, when he could already get a glimpse of the four men gathered together in an untidy circle on a plant-less spot on the hill, near a small slope. The forest continued on the other side, with a tiny lake, that had its quell on the other side, falling down into it. All in all, it looked like a baby-version of a waterfall, too tiny to make much noise.

There was neither tent nor any other shelter to be seen anywhere, and the small group didn't exactly give the appearance of happy, sunrise worshippers. Though they were chatting casually and smoking too, as if waiting for someone, they all looked slightly pissed in the way people do when they've missed a night of sleep. They all wore gray suits, which more or less looked alike, complete with ties; and they were too dry to have been out in the woods for very long.

Hutch wondered if they had used a way suitable for cars he and Starsky had missed on their map--maybe somewhere on the other side of Dean's Hills. But he couldn't make out any vehicles nearby. What he did see, though, was a sport bag of average size and a common black suitcase, standing on the ground next to the men. They were the only pieces of luggage around.

It wouldn't have taken a cop to get the true picture by the clues; but being one, Hutch got it probably a little quicker than others would have, and he
reflexively reached for where his gun would have been.

When his fingers only flapped against damp sweater material, he groaned inwardly, mind running to figure out his next move.

It wasn't a tough decision. He was unarmed, and he was alone against four, maybe more.

Holding his breath, he took the most careful step backwards to hurry away, and jumped, fully losing his balance, when a shrill squeak echoed through the peaceful morning air. His foot slipped off something soft and damp, and he only caught the briefest glimpse of a small squirrel dashing up a tree, while he still tried to figure out how he'd ended up flat on his back in the dirt.

He must have hit his head on something hard, for his vision blurred for a second, and he squeezed his eyes shut briefly, while feebly trying to push himself up into a sitting position again. An all too familiar clicking noise stopped him.

The stabbing pain in his skull instantly forgotten, he blinked his eyes open and flinched involuntarily, when he stared directly into the barrel of a gun.

"Good morning," a deep voice announced, almost friendly, and Hutch slowly let his eyes wander up to meet the gun owner's questioning gaze. He was a dark-haired man, probably in his early forties, smoothly shaved and obviously taking care of his outer appearance to be pleasant, but not striking. If you asked Hutch, the guy looked the cliché of a mob killer--a comparison that wasn't meant to ease the trapped detective's mind.

"Hi," Hutch croaked out and flashed a wide, nervous smile. "You wouldn't by any chance have any, uh, toilet paper you could lend-"

The barrel came down to roughly touch his nose and stay there. Hutch immediately closed his mouth, his throat becoming too dry to speak anyway.

"Who are you?" the man asked, sounding not the least bit angry or distressed, but rather as if he was having a normal conversation. His companions had gathered together a short distance away, watching the
scene with no visible concern.

But then, Hutch thought sarcastically, what reason would there be for concern, anyway?

He didn't think it would be wise to move his facial features with a gun firmly pressed into the middle of his face, so he glanced up to cast the man a pleading look. A moment of pure sadism went by as the pressure was increased, then the barrel was drawn away, if only an inch.

Hutch let go off a breath he hadn't known he'd held and cleared his throat. "I'm here on vacation," he then answered the question, his voice hoarse.

"What's your name?" the man asked, still sounding as if he was actually interested in the information and not on the verge of blowing the blond stranger's head off.

"Ken Hutchinson," Hutch replied, figuring that his name probably wouldn't give him away so far away from his city. The small crowd didn't belong to his usual clientele, anyway. They were probably more educated in FBI personnel.

"Mr. Hutchinson," gun-man said very friendly and took a step back, "I'm sorry to break news to you that this is not your lucky day."

Not sure whether the motion had meant he was allowed to get up now, Hutch stayed where he was, flat on his back with his knees slightly bent, feet on the ground, and head lifted uncomfortably to be able to look at his captor. A remark rose in his throat but was wisely swallowed back down.

'And I told Starsky not to drink too much before going to sleep...'

The man studied him closely for a moment, then, without looking at them, waved at his companions behind him.  Two of them quickly approached to grab Hutch's arms and drag him to his feet.

Still settling on acting wisely, he didn't struggle at all. Once they had him upright, they led him fully away from his green hiding place to where they had stood before. He stole a quick side glance at the black suitcase, then focused on gun-man again, who appeared to be the leader, as the others waited patiently for his next moves.

He suddenly backhanded Hutch with the barrel of his gun with enough force to have him drop to his hands and knees. For the second time in mere minutes, the blond detective saw stars and shook his head in a vain attempt to again clear his blurred vision.

The distinct sensation of cold steel against his neck froze him in motion. There was nothing he could do but remain still and stare at the ground between his spread hands, swallowing repeatedly against the nausea
that slowly crept up his throat. A drip of red landed on his right thumb, and with a wince he now felt he was bleeding from a gash on his cheek under his right eye.

"I'm going to ask you once more," the familiar voice said from above him. "What are you doing here?"

"I told you," Hutch replied, annoyed at how weak his voice sounded due to his humiliating position. "I'm on vacation."

"In the woods?" the man asked mockingly.

"Yes," Hutch answered. "I'm a nature loving guy."

The remark hadn't meant to tick anyone off; after all, it wasn't actually talking back or anything, yet Hutch was taught to keep any unnecessary information to himself by a rough hand painfully yanking his head up by his hair. He gasped in surprise and pain, biting his lip against a yelp.

The sudden thought hit him that a yelp would probably have woken up Starsky, yet he wasn't sure whether that would have been a good thing after all. Sleepy and puzzled, Starsky might call out for him when he didn't
find him and thereby endanger himself.

Besides, Hutch found it rather difficult to come to any useful conclusions with pain exploding inside his head and a gun pressed against his neck.

Through his racing thoughts, another question broke. "Where is your camp?"

The guys obviously weren't for talking--they hadn't even told him off for his comment, just effectively punished him and headed on. He didn't fail to make a mental note of that and plainly answered, "Behind the hill over there. It's a tent."

The 'leader' sighed as if disappointed. Or more, Hutch thought dryly, as if he was resignfully frustrated at having to deal with this unexpected problem. "And what were you doing far away from your cozy tent at dawn, Mr. Hutchinson?"

"Taking a pee."

All four of them snickered and for the first time, another man, one of the ones who'd dragged him up, spoke. "Didn't anyone ever tell you you have to watch out where you do that in the wilderness? Better think of that next time."

Yet another witty remark was physically swallowed back, but this time it wasn't the right thing to do, as the second guy delivered a quick punch to the kneeling detective's side, almost sending him doubling over.

Coughing weakly at another suppressed cry of pain, Hutch panted out, "I'll try... to... remember that," and earned a satisfied nod and a rough patting on his head that sent off new waves of exploding stars.

Through the entire incident, the gun hadn't left his neck once, but had always been adjusted to his involuntary movements.

"Are you alone?" the 'leader' asked, not the least bit impressed by his companion's behavior, and Hutch drew in a quick, discreet breath to brace himself.

Having anticipated the question, of course, he instantly replied, "Yes."

There was a short pause, then the most casual order to the two bystanders. "Go check. If there're any others, shoot them."

"No, wait!" Hutch was on his feet like a shot, even too fast for gun-man to react, and his hands were up in the air fast enough for any of the men to do something hasty. Now, of course, Hutch looked into four barrels instead of only one.

"Th-there´s another one in the tent," he quickly explained, looking directly at the 'leader', hating himself for his begging tone, but unable to help it.
"He's unarmed and he's asleep. No need to do something drastic."

The man shook his head slightly as if chiding a stubborn child and sighed. "Go," he told the two he'd waved off before. "If he's really asleep, don't shoot him."

The addition sounded almost gracious, and the uncaring casualness it carried made Hutch's stomach sag as the full impact of his situation hit him. Those guys were true businessmen--hard to impress and definitely not up this early for kidding around.

The two men sent off to collect Starsky hadn't even vanished in the green background yet, when the 'leader' waved his gun at Hutch, ordering, "Back down."

Since he'd been a bit wobbly on his knees, anyway, Hutch didn't need to be told twice and plopped down where he stood, knees bent and steadying himself with his hands on his sides. Obviously sliding into their own routine, the men exchanged a silent look, and the guy who'd punched Hutch took position behind him, undoubtedly pointing his gun at his neck again from where he stood.

"Why don't we off them right now, Doughny?" he asked, sounding a bit bored, like a child trying to talk his parent out of having to clean up his room.

Hutch was too busy processing that the cold-featured man in front of him went by a name like 'Doughny' to be irritated at the tone or the suggestion, though.

Flashing Hutch a smirk, as if rightly guessing the detective was marveling at his name, Doughny answered his companion's question with a wrinkling of his nose, "No, Ian. I don't think that'd be wise."

Frowning at the sound of that, Hutch carefully glanced from Doughny to Ian and back, realizing it wasn't a group of four he'd encountered, but two and two. But why were the others, all the others, following Doughny´s orders then? And was he just witnessing a conspiracy?

Trying to make a mental note on that, Hutch found it difficult to concentrate on even figuring a way out of this mess, what with the nagging knowledge of Starsky being in grave danger throbbing in his head like an ache.

'Starsky is a very deep sleeper, you know that. Think stakeouts. Stop worrying. Think stakeouts.'

"No luck with the weather, huh?"

Engulfed in concern, while straining to make out any noise in the distance, Hutch failed to hear the casual question Ian had directed at him with a smug grin, and he was completely taken off guard, when he once more felt his head being pushed forward roughly. His nose hit his knees hard enough to have a thin strain of blood soak into his sweat pants, and for one agonizing split second, he mistook the explosion behind his eyes for a gun shot.

"Ian," he heard Doughny chided in front of him.

"It's rude not to answer a question," Ian replied.

"But it was a rhetorical question," Doughny said through a sigh. "Of course they had no luck with the weather; it rained all night."

Hutch's vision had cleared, and he carefully tried to lift his head again, anxious to stare in the direction his hopefully unharmed partner would come from, but he found he was met by cold steel resting painfully firm on his neck again.

Lost in conversation with his superior, Ian had crouched down beside the detective, not willing to draw his gun back. In fact, it felt like he was more or less leaning on it and, thereby, on Hutch's already hurting neck.

Forced to stare at the ground again, Hutch lost track of the bored discussion taking place above his head, his own silent pleas at his partner to either be asleep or hiding overturning the words, anyway. Besides, the pain in his skull had intensified with the uncomfortable position in which he was held. It felt like some vicious tiny dwarfs were busy stuffing cotton in whatever space was left behind his forehead.

Sudden sounds started softly in the distance, then became clearer, more distinctive as they carried overwhelming relief with them.

"Stop pushing me, asshole. I can walk!"

"Then move, pig!"

Letting go of a very deep breath, Hutch absently wondered if he had really held it for so long and struggled to lift his head upon his partner's arrival, but Ian wouldn't let him. In fact, the detective's second attempt annoyed the man to the degree of grabbing his neck firmly with his free hand to push the blond head down even further. Once more, no words were necessary; the gesture was enough to immediately stop Hutch's struggles, as he gasped involuntarily at the brief wave of nausea the swift movement caused. His eyes squeezed shut as if by their own will, and when he tentatively blinked them open again, he caught a glimpse of bare, dirty feet coming to a more or less stumbled halt a few feet in front of him.

Through the knifing pain in his head, he couldn't help wincing in sympathy. Dean's Woods hadn't been created for bare human feet...

He wished he could look up at Starsky to make sure his friend was otherwise uninjured, but seeing that the result probably wouldn't justify the pain bound to follow, he wisely remained where he sat.

As if having read his friend's thoughts, Starsky announced, "Nice neighborhood, huh, Hutch?"

His voice was steady, and even more importantly, pissed off, enough to assure Hutch that he was alert, in one piece, and probably nothing more than a bit disheveled. The remark also carried the hidden question Hutch would have loved to answer with a definite 'yeah, I'm okay'.  But not only would that have been a lie, he also found it difficult to speak in his forcefully huddled position. The weakest of sarcastic snorts, that he presented his partner with, had to suffice.

"Hutch," Ian repeated with a grin, giving Hutch's neck a slight shake. "Cute."

When he drew his hand away, Hutch was finally able to wearily raise his head, first of all casting the man a despiteful glance.

"Yeah, well, I'm a cute guy," he mumbled, his gaze already wandering over to take in Starsky's appearance.

'Disheveled' didn't quite cover it. Starsky looked like he had awakened at some point on the walk over from the tent, heartbreakingly sleepy, an image that reminded Hutch of the numerous times he'd verbally kicked his partner out of a deep slumber on a stakeout.

Not only shoes, but also a jacket the detective had been denied, and Hutch could see him shiver ever so slightly in the still fresh, damp morning breeze that seeped through his sweat pants and thin t-shirt. Goose-flesh was clearly visible on bare arms.

But apart from being cold, confused, and obviously still watching the fog of sleep clear in front of his eyes, Starsky appeared to be okay. His waking up process sped up considerably, anyway, once he got a good look at the expression of pain on his partner's face.

Or rather, Hutch realized with a discreet and feeble assuring smile, his face at all. If the dwarfs´ happy dedication to their work was any indication, he must look like hell, battered and bloody.

The eye contact lasted only for the briefest of inspection on each man's side, before Hutch's head was once more shoved roughly down by Ian's firm grip that had returned on his neck. The blond could feel the barrel of the man's gun come down to rest on the back of his head above Ian's hand, and despite not wanting to give his captor the satisfaction, he couldn't help tensing up in a startled flinch when he heard the safety-catch being drawn back with its typical, frightening click.

"Talk back again, and you're a dead guy, Hutch.  Got that?" Ian sneered, spitting the nickname out like an insult.

Over the sternly uttered warning, Hutch could hear his partner's angered "Hey!" and the sounds of feet first advancing, then shuffling back over muddy ground, as Starsky was probably grabbed by the other two and held back.

Hutch could not see with his eyes squeezed shut. For a few agonizing moments, the pressure of the barrel against his skull increased, and as if out of a far distance he heard Starsky's voice, "Leave him alone! What the hell d´you want?!"

The gun was drawn away surprisingly fast, but Hutch was too busy trying to breathe than trying to imagine what had caused Ian to react. What did cross his mind, though, and with enough impact to have him swallow dryly, was the near franticness his partner's voice had carried.

Deciding he didn't want to know how close a call he'd just had after all, he tentatively opened his eyes again and found he could at least peek up at Starsky, though with great effort. His neck still in Ian's vice grip, he didn't dare struggle or talk, but remained as still as he could manage.

"Doughny," one of the two others Hutch had not yet come to be as acquainted with as Doughny and Ian, started, but stopped like he was cut off, maybe by a gesture.

It was awkward to strain and try to follow what was going on from Hutch's half-curled up position, but he tried, focusing on the one pair of bare feet in his line of vision, as he strained to listen to everything.

"What's your name?" he heard Doughny ask in the same friendly, slightly bored tone of voice he'd heard before.

Too fast for Starsky to reply, a voice new to Hutch rose, an unnerved tinge coloring it. "David Starsky. And look how we know that."

Surprised, Hutch flinched slightly, when two smallish items landed practically under his nose in the dirt. Police badges.

'Oh shit.'

He could see shoe-clad feet slowly approach him, or rather their badges, and tensed.

"Will any of you fruitcakes finally tell me what's..." Starsky started, more annoyed than anything else, as Hutch noticed with an inner grin of amusement.

Having been forced out of his warm shelter at sunrise obviously bothered the annoyed detective more than being held at gunpoint, yet his impatient demand was suddenly cut off by a half warning, half helpless "Hey!", that even more than his own gut feeling told Hutch to brace himself.

And how right that advice had been. Darkness sparkled with exploding stars danced in front of his eyes, as Doughny´s foot connected solidly with the side of his head, sending him crumbling fully to the ground, out of Ian's grasp.

Somewhere lost in the ringing in his ears, he heard Starsky swear most creatively, but the meaning of the words reached him belatedly, his mind being overloaded by his attempts at focusing on his friend through the grayish fog that claimed his vision.

He blinked repeatedly, trying to ignore the pain it caused, and frowned when he felt something warm and sticky cling to his temple. Feebly, he lifted one hand to touch the spot, but it was caught in mid-air in a vice grip.

As if only now remembering how he'd ended up on the ground with his head killing him, Hutch forced his eyes to snap open and settle on Doughny, who was crouched down next to him, his gun hanging limply from one hand; the other one firmly holding Hutch's wrist.

"So you're a COP on vacation, Mr. Hutchinson?" Doughny asked, not the least hint of anger audible. In fact his tone of friendly chitchat hadn't changed one bit.

Coughing weakly as he found speech to be not on the list of his mind's services at the moment, Hutch settled for a mute nod, but regretted it instantly, as the fog framing the scenery once more threatened to fully darken.

He was torn away from unconsciousness´ grasp, though, by Doughny roughly dragging him into a half-slumped sitting position by his wrist. "And I guess you wanted to tell me when we were better acquainted?" the man asked, sounding almost amused at his own witty remark.

Hutch blinked his eyes half open to cast his captor a despiteful glance. "You didn't ask," he managed to croak out, surprised at how weak his voice sounded, as if he'd just run a marathon.

After the initial surprise at the reply, Doughny laughed, lifted his brows appraisingly at the blond man, and without warning, hit him in the face with the barrel of his gun.

Feeling as if the air had been pressed out of his lungs, Hutch fell fully back on his side, darkness spreading before open eyes.

Starsky's voice had gone even farther into the distance, yet it was still clearly there, as well as the distinctive noises of his furious struggle against his hold.

The light returned to Hutch's sight in a matter of seconds, but it exploded into shiny white pain, when, without any warning, a single gun shot seemed to consume the air like a vacuum.

*****

Like most normal people, Starsky hated being wakened. Being the embodiment of moody in the morning, anyway, he tended to let out his grumpiness at whatever or whoever had dared tearing him from his sweet dreams, be it innocent alarm clocks or innocent partners.

What he hated even more, though, than being awakened by alarm clocks or his partner, was being roused by a pair of armed loony toons, sticking their guns in his face. Now that he had found that out, he had thought
grimly, as he had walked through the cold morning with his captors following close by, he could easily take not having that experience again.

And, he had added in his thoughts, if anyone had ever asked him if he thought he might like to march through a half-lit forest after the rain barefoot, he'd have been able to answer with a clear 'no' even without having tried it.

On that list of things, too, was watching someone drive a bullet, at the closest range, through his partner´s left hand.

When the man, who had just roughed up his already weakened partner enough to leave him in a heap on the ground, raised his gun as he rose himself to towerthreateningly over the semi-conscious Hutch, the volume of Starsky´s furious ranting increased severely.

Unable to free himself from the hands holding him back, he was forced to watch Doughny ever so slightly tip one foot against Hutch´s left hand, which lay flat on the ground; an eerie gesture, looking like Doughny was getting a struggling insect into the right position to squish it.

"Get the hell away fro-" Starsky started, but felt the words die in his throat, when he saw Doughny aiming directly at Hutch´s head, throwing the other detective a brief smirk. His finger curled around the trigger almost softly. One brow came up expectantly, gaze still focused on Starsky, whose spine was just marched up by very icy fingers. This man was not kidding
around, he could clearly sense that. On the other hand, Doughny didn´t seem to be some sort of psychopath, either. He just didn´t care, so what they needed was obviously REASON for the captor to do just that.

"What d´you want from us?" He tried his best to keep his voice steady, as if they were discussing business--ordinary business.

Yet he couldn´t help a slightly panicked quiver slipping into it. Hutch had yet to look up again; he seemed still stunned, blinking rapidly.

The next thing Starsky knew was that the echo of a shot mingled with the birds´ startled screams and commotion created by them in the trees up above.

Taken by surprise, his gaze darted from where he´d just studied his friend´s strained features to the fading smoke curling upwards from Doughny´s gun and back. Hutch was still not moving, but wide, suddenly
glazed eyes stared into nothingness, not blinking anymore.

It took Starsky the most agonizing split second to determine whether his partner had been hit fatally after all, but when he finally caught the first strain of bright red seep into the light-colored ground, he understood.

Following Starsky´s reaction, Doughny lowered his gun and once more tipped his foot against Hutch´s now severely damaged left hand.

The blond let out a startled yelp, as the initial shock gave way to almost overwhelming pain, and tried to draw his hand away from the threatening foot. Allowing himself a short moment of pure sadism, though, Doughny stepped forward just a tad, thereby pinning Hutch´s hand painfully to the ground.

This time, the scream quickly faded into choked coughing, as Hutch found using up so much air meant only torment for his hurt sides. So he settled for gritting his teeth, struggling to regain control over his breathing and ignoring the fire in his hand that steadily intensified until it felt as if it had spread through his whole arm.

Starsky, too, had overcome the first shock by Doughny´s following action, and to hold him back more and more turned into a monumental task for the two men doing it. He only stopped his furious struggle when he felt Ian´s gun come to rest firmly against his right temple.

"My boss, he´s the worst shot around; but me, I won´t miss."

Shooting the man a most despiteful glance, Starsky was about to utter what he thought Ian also was, when Hutch´s faint voice kept him from that.

"Starsk... don´t." It was just an airy whisper, forced out through still-clenched teeth, but it was enough nevertheless. Focusing on Hutch, who tried to throw him the ghost of an assuring smile, but failed miserably. Starsky also firmly closed his mouth, settling for more silent, inner ranting.

"Yes, Detective," Doughny nodded appreciatingly, as he looked back from Starsky to Hutch, "listen to your partner. He seems to be quite smart. Smart enough, anyway," he added, threateningly bending down to have the barrel of his gun once more touch Hutch´s nose, "to tell us friendly people the truth about what two cops are doing so far away from home."

Though he found it very hard not to be distracted by the gun literally resting on his face, Hutch forced himself to look straight up into Doughny´s eyes and reply firmly, if still weak, "I... told you. We´re... on... vacation."

There was a short pause, as Doughny studied his captive closely, then frowned ever so slightly, looking as if he was ALMOST willing to believe the
blond. "And what is it that´s so appealing about Dean´s Woods? Except, of course, you being..." He grinned. "...fans."

It took Hutch a few moments to sort out his thoughts that lay engulfed in foggy weariness and waves of pain washing through him in a monotone rhythm. They had nothing to hide, anyway, since they WERE just on
vacation, but then... He could visibly imagine Doughny´s reaction to hearing the true reason they´d picked this particular place.

Too exhausted and weary for anything but the truth, though, he settled for that and said, "I... I´d tell you, if I thought you’d believe me."

He couldn´t look at him, but he just KNEW Starsky was rolling his eyes. What he could see, though, was the frown on Doughny´s forehead deepening just a bit; a bit that looked to be a good sign, as it seemed to show serious doubts, but it was washed away suddenly by one of the men holding Starsky announcing through a snort, "Right."

Questioningly, Doughny half turned to look at the man, who dared to finally let go of Starsky, since Ian´s gun still rested firmly on the curly head, and produced a crumbled piece of paper from his pocket, that he held out for Doughny to see.

The detectives exchanged a look, both frowning in surprise, and the confusion on Starsky´s face got even more visible, when he recognized the item to be the newspaper article that had started it all.

"You know," he muttered, unable to hold back the wise-crack jumping to his tongue, "what with you bringing half our belongings with you, you COULD have grabbed my shoes, too, guys."

To Hutch´s relieved surprise, the grumbled joke was ignored, as even Ian was attending what looked to be a meeting of glances the group exchanged.

Catching the various looks, Starsky and Hutch had a moment of silent conversation of their own, both getting the signs of a decision having been made by their captors. One that probably didn´t include letting it be and letting everyone go where they came from.

When Doughny turned back to Hutch, the doubt had vanished completely, having left only an air of the sort of well controlled anger that always surrounded men in high positions coming across something unexpected when doing business.

"Just on vacation, yes?" he asked in an ice cold voice and before Hutch could even gather up enough air to once more answer, sent his foot down on the blond´s bloodied hand again, hard.

Hutch screamed in agony, but, again, was shortly out of breath and tried to curl up on himself out of reflex. But with his hand trapped, he couldn´t.

"Hutch!" Jerking away from Ian´s gun, as if having forgotten what the item actually was, Starsky tried for a threatening step towards Doughny, enraged. "What the hell d´you WANT?! It´s the truth, God damn it, we´re here on vaca-"

Looking directly at him, not the least impressed by his outburst, Doughny shifted his weight, visibly adding pressure to Hutch´s hand.

"Stop that!" Starsky yelled, more than a bit desperate, when he saw a single tear of pain escape tightly shut eyes. Hutch was biting his lip so hard it was a miracle he didn´t draw more blood himself.

Blinking at Starsky as if daring him to make a move, Doughny shifted some more, causing a choked whimper to escape from his victim´s throat.

Hot rage boiling by now, Starsky indeed tried to lunge forward, but he didn´t come very far, due to Ian´s excellent reflexes. Grabbing the detective by the back of his t-shirt, he nearly jerked Starsky off his feet, dragging him back a few stumbled steps.

Doughny, who´d watched amusedly, had stepped off Hutch´s hand, though his foot remained like a towering threat next to it. He was just about to address the fiercely struggling Starsky, when the second man, who by now had also let go off the curly haired detective´s arm, spoke up. Impatience clearly colored his deep voice.

"We need to catch that plane, Doughny."

There was the briefest exchange of a glance between Doughny and Ian; enough of one, though, to stir in Starsky the same suspicions Hutch had before. He couldn´t confirm whether his partner had also noticed the aggression between the teams, as Hutch still had his eyes squeezed shut firmly. Eyes arched in concern, Starsky let his gaze rest upon him and stopped struggling, giving the image of just being worried, while in fact he was ALSO listening closely.

"Well," Doughny replied friendly, "we need to settle this matter, I think. Since it involves..." He glanced at Hutch. "... colleagues of yours, Detective Smith."

Even Hutch´s head snapped up at that, and though he instantly had to lower it again with a groan, Starsky still caught the expression in his eyes.

He himself only managed to close his mouth after a couple of attempts and quickly glanced away, when he became aware of the fact that he was staring at Doughny absolutely sheepishly.

A dark shadow crossed Detective Smith´s face. "They´re from YOUR area. Agent," he added after a moment´s thought.

His features freezing in motion, not even looking at Doughny -- AGENT Doughny -- Starsky felt the eerie urge to laugh out at their predicament. Fortunately, his body wisely refused to comply to the laughing idea. Feeling Hutch´s gaze on him, he discreetly glanced over to where his partner lay and caught the same thought he´d just have in pain-filled, yet clear eyes.

'Some bad movie we pitched our tent in, partner.'

Judging from the smug grin spreading on his face, Doughny could read their thoughts, too. Yet it was a discreet expression, as if the three of them were sharing an inside joke, nothing the others would have understood. It only lasted for a split second, too, before the agent gave a gracious nod at Smith, answering, "You´re right. They are. Our problem, I
mean," he explained, meaningfully ignoring the side-glance Ian had shot him. "Still, before you can leave to us the cleaning-up part..."

Starsky flinched involuntarily, but wisely remained silent.

"... we need to finish our... discussion. See," he explained, looking down at Hutch, as if he wanted to include him in the conversation, "before you so very impolitely disturbed our meeting, the detectives and we were... let´s say having an argument about how we should determine the quality of our business´ objects. Because," he looked up at Smith, "the last cargo left
some customers quite unsatisfied."

"More like dead," Ian snorted, but fell instantly silent at his superior´s disapproving glance.

"The stuff is clean," Smith´s partner stated sternly.

Feeling strangely out of scene, as if merely observing, not held at gun-point, Starsky looked from one to the other, cop skills working on interpreting the words and facial expressions; the need to find SOMETHING that might help them get out of the mess alive a continuous throb in the back of his mind.

With the most innocent gesture, Doughny lifted his hands in front of him. "Don´t get me wrong, gentlemen. I said it before. I don´t doubt your integrity. But excuse me if I DO doubt that of your... source."

There was no questioning what THAT meant and through the beginning wobbliness of blood loss, Hutch could sense Starsky´s anger start to boil again. Few things enraged them both like cops switching sides.

Yet, at the moment, he felt too depleted to come up with anything but the desire to just let himself fall into welcomed oblivion. The initial shock about their captors’ coming out had faded away, as if the slowly spreading white fog inside his head had engulfed and swallowed it like everything else. It was becoming hard to focus on the present, as the screaming fire in his hand demanded too much attention. But he couldn´t just abandon Starsky, and so he strained to keep up a fight against the threatening unconsciousness, willing himself to ride out the waves of pain his hand sent to wash through his whole body in a rhythm way too fast for his liking.

There was a moment of tensed silence between the businessmen. Then Smith shrugged, annoyed, and with two long strides, he was next to one of the forgotten suitcases that he opened with hasty hands. Wearing the true overall air of a man being immensely pissed off, he produced a small plastic bag containing what looked like hundreds of tiny pills and tore it open. He took out two, clenched the hand around them into a fist, and walked over to where Hutch lay at Doughny´s feet. With no care at all, he grabbed the blond´s front shirt and dragged him into a sitting position.

Unimpressed, but visibly amused, Doughny stepped aside and watched. At Ian´s low chuckling, he glanced over at him and gave a shrug. "Detective," he then turned to Smith, crossing his arms in front of him in a
curious looking gesture, "what´s this going to be?"

"I´m in no mood for spending more time than necessary in this nut hole. You want a quality check? I´ll give you a quality check."

Dragging the corners of his mouth downwards in amusement, Doughny waved slightly. "Just asking."

Starsky was beside himself, and started to struggle again, though there was no escaping Ian´s grip. "Hey! Get away from him! Don´t you touch him, or I swear I´ll-"

Unnerved by his shouting, Smith lifted his own gun and pointed it directly at Hutch´s face.

Instantly, Starsky fell silent, deciding that drugged ALWAYS topped dead.

The shadow of a frown crawled over Smith´s forehead, and he let his eyes slowly wander over to Hutch again, suddenly wearing a determined expression, as an idea had just hit him. "Open up," he ordered, nudging
Hutch´s chin with his gun.

Reluctantly, Hutch obeyed and was taken by surprise, when not the pills were forced into his mouth, but the barrel of Smith´s gun. A small, miserable cough escaped him, and, thinking he really had had his share
of facial connection points with firearms that day, he involuntarily closed his eyes.

"Okay, Curly, either you take these or your buddy swallows something else. Your choice."

Eyes snapping open at that, Hutch watched Starsky crossing the short distance to Smith´s now outstretched hand. Without looking at his appalled partner, he silently took the two pills and swallowed them dryly, then cast Smith a firm, almost ordering glance.

With an eerily obedient looking nod, Smith withdrew his gun and hand, leaving Hutch coughing and grimacing, though his concern-filled eyes never left Starsky, who suddenly frowned, then licked his lips as if trying to determine a certain taste.

Behind them, Ian could be heard laughing amusedly. "You might wanna sit down, Detective," he advised.

As if on cue, Starsky´s legs gave way, so that he sat on the ground across his partner, seemingly not the least surprised by that change in position. With an innocent blinking, he tilted his head to one side as if studying Hutch, who eyed him worriedly.

"Starsk?" Hutch croaked, surprised at how weak his own voice sounded to himself. His vision was still blurring from time to time. Sitting up so abruptly hadn´t exactly helped his headache.

Neither did the mockingly friendly pat on the head he received from Doughny, who crouched down next to him, watching Starsky look around with a slight smile. "Don´t bother, Detective Hutchinson. Your friend´s in
a better place now."

All efforts of not letting the man see his fear forgotten, Hutch shot him an almost pleading look, but wasn´t going to get any answers, as Smith, who´d come to his feet again, announced, "So, do we wait now till he snaps out of it or what?"

Doughny snorted, rising to a standing position as well, and, strangely enough, exchanged a glance with Hutch, as if he had miraculously entered 'their' side. "I´d say that´d be interesting."

Smith obviously didn´t get the humor. "`Kay, how `bout we leave him here, and if he drops dead, you can call our service number?"

With that, he cast Starsky, who appeared to be busy watching the clouds travel through the sky, a parting look, seemingly daring him to die on the spot, then turned and walked over to his waiting partner, who´d already holstered his gun.

Sensing the building tension above his head, Hutch peeked up at Doughny, who was once more having a silent agreement with Ian.

What was going through their heads was easy to determine. But with his mind not working on full power due to the pain in his head, ribs and, oh God, his hand mingling with the rising concern for his partner, who seemed to have just dropped completely out of the scene, Hutch found it impossible to work on how to use his suspicion in their favor.

"Starsk," he whispered urgently once more, fortunately too quiet for any of the four men to hear, yet his friend didn´t even react. His attention had shifted to a tree nearby, which obviously held some fascination
invisible to the others, as he did not only study it with rapt concentration, but also mumbled something too low for Hutch to hear, then fell silent again.

Not caring about what was happening at his feet, Doughny stepped around Hutch, saying something the blond didn´t listen to. He was too focused on getting Starsky´s attention, thinking that maybe with their 'colleagues' distracted, they might have some chance of coming up with a plan.

But it was a feeble thought spread from a foggy mind, he found, when he ever so carefully, as to not draw attention to his actions, reached out with his good hand to turn Starsky´s chin towards him.

Unseeing, almost black eyes blinked at him, then wandered off.

Hutch sighed, winced at the pain that caused in his side, and let go off Starsky´s face. There was no use addressing him again. With a grim, humorless smirk, Hutch had to admit that Agent Doughny had probably been right. Starsky WAS in a better place.

Frustrated, he allowed himself to close his eyes, swallowing dryly against rising nausea, as he found it increasingly difficult to remain sitting without any support.

As if from a very far distance, he could hear mumbles, drowned out by birds´ singing. Was it really still just morning? How long ago had it been since he crawled out of their tent, anyway?

Following its own wishes, his mind wandered off to his warm bed at home... comforting darkness... some aspirin for the dull ache in his head...

A sudden loud bang roughly kicked him out of his dozing and into full consciousness, followed by another one that sent a violent flinch through his body, making him wince at the protests of strained muscles.

His own ragged breathing echoing loudly in his ears, he tried to adjust to the reality he´d just escaped, taking in the view before him with wide eyes.

At some point during his short absence of mind, Starsky obviously had decided to concentrate on clouds again and had let himself fall flat on his back, where he now lay sprawled, staring up at the grey sky.

Hutch didn´t even bother to try to get some reply from him again, but looked over at where Doughny stood with his smoking gun in hand, smiling happily at the confused blond, as if the whole incident had just been a plan to wake Hutch up.

Behind him, Ian, also holding his weapon, nudged the lifeless leg of Detective Smith, who now decorated the woodsy floor, along with his partner. Dark blood seeped into the ground, some small puddles nearby
carrying reddish, muddy water with them.

"Surprised?" Doughny asked through a grin, and Hutch looked up at him, trying his best to not show how weary and confused he actually felt.

"Not in the least," he replied. His voice still sounded like he´d just had a respiratory breakdown, and in fact he very much felt like that was what he´d have soon if he didn´t lay down. However, he refused to give in to his body´s demands and instead discreetly supported himself with his good hand on his right side.

Judging from Doughny´s gloating, arrogant smile, though, his attempts were easy to read. Still, Hutch wasn´t going to give the man the satisfaction of resigning. Though it felt like a earthquake inside his head, he forced himself to clear his voice and indeed sounded a bit stronger, when he asked, "I take it there were some other disagreements than just the cargo´s quality?"

"Why," Ian replied from where he was busy carrying one detective´s body over to the small slope, "is your partner still alive?" And with a most amused laugh, he let the corpse fall down. A splash could be heard, and
Ian turned to get the other one.

Hutch frowned, looked back at Doughny, who kept on studying him as if thinking. "What´s this?" the blond asked, deciding to ignore Ian´s remark, though it had caused an involuntary side-glance at Starsky lying next
to him, still breathing, still blinking, but also still unresponsive. "Do you really think the labs will be fooled by that?"

Blinking once on confusion, then with an understanding nod briefly glancing over his shoulder, Doughny shrugged casually. "No," he waved, as he turned to Hutch again, "I just don´t like having corpses around." He shuddered once. "Gives me the creeps, you know. And since I intend to stay here for just a little while longer..." With a toothy smile, he trailed off.

Hutch frowned, a dreadful thought waddling through the thick fog in his head. "Why did you shoot them?"

Giving an amused snort, Doughny tilted his head to one side, throwing Hutch an 'as if you don´t know'-kind of glance.

Behind him, Ian just dropped the second detective, wiped his hands on his trousers and crossed his arms in front of him, awaiting new orders.

After a moment´s thought, Doughny slowly crouched down in front of Hutch, who involuntarily flinched away.

"In my kind of business, trust is a necessity," the agent explained, his eyes piercing, searching for something.

"I don´t understand," Hutch replied reluctantly, thinking he had a vague idea what Doughny meant but not wanting to make matters worse by saying the wrong thing.

"I think you do," Doughny said calmly and reached into his pocket to retrieve the newspaper article the detectives had brought along with Starsky. Holding it out for Hutch to see, he lifted his brows expectantly.

Puzzled, Hutch looked from the article to Doughny and back. "What´s this all about?" he asked helplessly.

"I was hoping you could tell me," the agent said. "But I know your head must be bothering you, so I´m going to ask you once more: what are you doing up here?"

"Wha... I TOLD you," Hutch insisted. "We´re on vaca-"

The rest of the word faded into an agonized scream, when Doughny suddenly grasped Hutch´s left hand, squeezing it.

Starsky didn´t so much at furrow his brows at the commotion next to him.

"I won´t let go until you tell me the truth," Doughny stated close to Hutch´s ear, even adding pressure to the once more profusely bleeding wound.

Trying to suck in air through choking gasps, Hutch nodded fiercely, but the pressure didn´t decrease.

"Well?" Doughny asked threateningly, and before he could clench his fingers more, Hutch hastily stammered, "H-he read... `bout... gold `ere..."

Black spots danced before his eyes, closing in on the small screen that remained of his vision, and suddenly he was falling, away from the pain, into pulling darkness...

A sudden jerk at his back let his eyes snap open, only to close immediately again, when he felt the throbbing pain in his mangled hand. He felt himself being dragged over the ground by the back of his shirt,
until he was shoved against something hard and scrappy, then turned around so that he was leaning against his unknown support with his back.

Someone slapped his cheek once, hard, and he blinked his eyes open again, involuntarily flinching away to avoid another blow.

His vision was still blurry, but he could make out the stern expression on Doughny´s face before him. The agent roughly grabbed his chin to have him look directly at him, giving it a brief shake.

"Are you with me again, Detective?"

Swallowing dryly, Hutch gave a weak nod.

"Good. Do you want me to repeat what just happened?"

The blond shook his head immediately, with enough force to have its owner wince slightly.

"Good," Doughny repeated, withdrawing his hand. "I don´t like doing that, either, you know. I´m usually a very friendly person. A softy," he added mockingly.

Underneath briefly closed lids, Hutch rolled his eyes. He found it hard to concentrate on anything but the fire burning in his hand that felt as if it had
swollen to three times its usual size; but fear of another treatment like the one before sent him at least trying to follow the agent´s words.

"The only thing I can´t let go by in a person," Doughny was just saying, "is lying. Call me old-fashioned, but I think it´s bad style. Don´t you agree?"

"Abso...lutely," Hutch whispered, not sure whether he´d just mouthed the word after all.

"Thought so," Doughny nodded. "So maybe I put my question in the wrong words. If that was the case, I apologize."

For once, Hutch was glad he felt too weary to even speak up, otherwise he´d probably would have said something to regret later.

"Let´s start anew." Again, Doughny held up the article. "You said your partner read this article in the newspaper?"

Hutch gave a tiny nod.

"And because of the story in this article, he believed there was gold up here, and so you two decided to hike up into a totally unpopulated forest in order to dig for nuggets?"

Not liking the man´s tone of voice at all, Hutch nodded.

Doughny sighed, looked at the article, looked at Hutch and stood up. "And you really think I´ll believe that?"

Hutch nodded, but flinched away, when Doughny took a step closer. "I-it´s the truth, honest. I don´t know what this is all about, but you´ve got to believe me. It´s the truth," he insisted, looking directly up at the agent, hoping the sincerity in his eyes would convince the man.

Doughney met his gaze, then looked over at where Starsky still lay unmoving, captivated by the sky. "So what," he asked, when turning to Hutch again, "your partner´s an idiot?"

His features hardening at that, Hutch mildly corrected, "A bit weird," and added, "Does that mean you believe me?"

"No," Doughny waved and laughed. "Would you believe yourself? Two city cops hey-ho-ing to the west?"

Anger slowly overpowering weariness, Hutch stated, "You would believe me, if you knew my partner. Will you PLEASE tell me what the hell is going on here, so that we´re at least on the same level of informa-"

A sudden gunshot effectively shut him up, and when his gaze flew over to where it had come from, he saw Ian flashing him an mockingly chiding look, holstering his gun.

Painfully close to Starsky´s unmoving body, a large hole could be seen in the ground.

As much as he could in his current condition, Hutch exploded. Glaring at Doughny, he even tried to drag himself up the tree he was leaning against with his good hand, but failed miserably, of course.

"What the fuck do you WANT from us?!"

He was about to add some more, while the adrenaline rush allowed him to, but was kept from it by Doughny bringing one foot up and placing it in the middle of his chest, thereby pinning the detective to the trunk hard enough to have him choke out a pain-filled whimper.

"What I want, Hutch," Doughny said coldly, audibly reaching the end of his patience, spitting the nickname out like an insult, the way Ian had had
before, "is an explanation as to how it is that, of all people, two COPS jump onto a code article two OTHER cops suggested suitable for MY business plans."

The lights went on inside Hutch´s head, seemingly consuming too much of his ready energy, as his vision was once more starting to dim, he tried to draw in air through the pressure on his chest. When he didn´t answer right away, Doughny´s foot inched up even higher, the tip of his shoe nudging Hutch´s throat.

The blond gave a small, miserable cough and only managed to croak out a disbelieving "C-co...de?!"

His expression changing into an almost disgusted one, Doughny drew his foot away. His eyes never left Hutch, who greedily sucked in air, wincing at the sensation of the contraction in his chest lessening.

"Th-that... was... a... code?!" he managed to pant out eventually, brows arched in helpless confusion, as the whole impact of the mess he´d stepped into hit him. Not only was he on his own, hurt, dizzy, shocky and
with no reason to believe Starsky would be of any help in the near future. He also had absolutely no credible explanation to offer the man, who in the
short time of their acquaintance had proved he didn´t fear using excessive violence to get what he wanted.

In fact, Hutch thought grimly, he couldn´t help comparing Agent Doughny to a cat that liked to play with its prey, keep it alive awhile for its own
entertainment, before killing it in the end.

Aware that he hadn´t gotten a reply to his weary question, he summoned his strength to meet Doughny´s expectant gaze. "I swear we didn´t know that. You gotta believe me. He just read it. Who would think of it as a CODE for anything, anyway?!" he added, exasperated. "No offense, but that´s the stupidest thing I´ve ever heard."

"That´s what I said," Doughny replied, his voice sounding threatening to Hutch, who involuntarily flinched away, when the standing man shifted his
weight. "But your COLLEAGUES," he continued, stressing the word, "insisted it´d be a fail-safe thing. Just a story, but one you´d notice immediately." He paused, casting Ian an over-the-shoulder look Hutch couldn´t guess the meaning off, then turned back to the blond. "Obviously, they were right about the last part."

Understanding, Hutch felt the hairs on the back of his neck rising. "It´s a coincidence. Honest. We didn´t know they were cops, until you told us. They´re not from our area, anyway. It was just a dumb idea to..."

Suddenly, movement behind the towering Doughny caught his attention, and, with a dreadful thought hitting him, he crooked his head a bit, watching Ian advance a still prone Starsky.  "Hey, what´re you-" he asked in rising appall, but was interrupted by Doughny, who once more crouched down in front of him, grabbing his jaw to make him look at him.

"I am going to ask you again, Detective. Did you and your partner get information from a leak in my clientele?"

Hutch shook his head.

Still not letting go off his face, Doughny looked him straight in the eye for a second. "You came here only in search of gold," he finally said, making it sound like a ludicrous statement, not a question.

Still, Hutch nodded, about to speak up again, but a rough shove sent his head connecting with the trunk behind him hard enough to stun him momentarily.

He was dimly aware of Doughny rising to his feet again, brushing imaginary dust off his pants. "Maybe I can convince you to change your opinion, Detective," he said sadly. "I´d hate to waste all day with this."

Frowning at the words, Hutch slightly shook his head to clear it, but regretted that instantly. He briefly squeezed his eyes shut against the threatening darkness, and when he blinked them open again, he
caught a glimpse of Ian straightening up after obviously having bent over the edge of the slope. A tiny splash could be heard.

The frown on Hutch´s forehead deepened, an ice cold feeling crept up from the pit of his stomach like a realization his body had already made, whereas he himself still had to grasp it.

He could sense Doughny´s amused glance on him, but avoided it, instead looking over to where his partner had lain.

The spot was empty.

Panicked, he scanned the scene, ignoring his head´s protests against the swift jerks. "Oh my..." Trailing off, he finally lifted his eyes at Doughny, his mouth still open in a silent gasp.

As if for an answer to an unasked question, Ian bent over the slope once more, looking down. With a satisfied nod, he turned away and headed over to his superior, where he came to a halt; his gaze, too,
wandering down to delightfully take in Hutch´s reaction.

The blond frantically looked from one to the other, dismay mingling with overwhelming wrath he had no way of expressing. "Wh-what d´you do that for?! He didn´t DO anything!"

Whatever more he had planned to croak at them in a pathetic version of outraged yelling was cut off by Doughny grabbing him by the front of his shirt, jerking him up. In feeble attempts at struggling, Hutch´s feet scraped over the ground.

"That," the agent told him coldly, "was a lesson you better keep in mind. Lying will be punished."

With that, Hutch was thrown back down, where he landed in a crumbled heap, groaning softly, trying to curl up against more attacks, only to be rolled over with a foot.

"So what will it be now?" he heard Doughny´s voice above him and with great effort blinked his eyes open.


"Sc..rew you," Hutch whispered, and felt a cold shudder run down his spine at the determined expression working into Doughny´s eyes.

"Pity," was all the agent said, before he turned away, producing a pack of cigarettes from his pocket while walking.

Ian, though, remained where he was, casting Hutch a strangely annoyed look, as if blaming him for having ruined his day.

With the most casual gestures of suppressed anger, he shrugged out of his jacket, threw it carelessly onto the dirty ground and approached the helpless detective, giving the perfect picture of a worker starting his chores.

Not even trying to protect himself at this point, since attempting to crawl away would only mean pain and be futile in the end, anyway, Hutch could only pray for oblivion to claim him again.

His wish wasn´t granted as quickly as he would have liked.

*****

Morning grew old and faded away; noon rose along with a pale, lazy sun, whose rays broke through the cloudy sky like the insufficient light of a single candle in a room.

A faint drizzle had continuously tried to turn into real rain, but up until now it had only succeeded in covering the world in a thin layer of dampness.

As yet another longish drop hit his nose, Hutch dragged his eyelids up, blinking into grayish light. Doughny and Ian were enjoying a well earned ciggie break, having sought shelter from the starting rain under a nearby tree with Ian leaning casually against the trunk and Doughny telling him something in too low a mutter for Hutch to hear.

He still sat propped up against his own trunk, left hand hanging uselessly at his side, while his right arm was carefully draped over his battered
mid-section. He didn´t know about lying, but telling the truth surely had been punished...

The relief of unconsciousness had been a short-lived one, as Doughny had roughly revived him, only to ask the same questions Hutch had no satisfying answer to  over and over and over again.

There wasn´t a single spot on Hutch´s body that didn´t hurt, as shifting his position sent waves of protests from various bones, muscles and skin
through him. He couldn’t seem to remember the times when breathing had just been a matter of breathing. Breathing now meant straining the abused
muscles in his chest as well as his ribs, which felt as though some might be cracked, having passed the point of just being badly bruised.

What bothered him most, though, was the pain in his head, mingled with unnerving confusion that washed through him in waves, and a nearly constant nausea, that only worsened when his stomach announced
breakfast and then lunch time. In addition to the various blows to the head he had already received, there had been more rough shoves into the trunk behind him as well as a very nasty kick of Ian´s boots to his left temple, that had almost succeeded in switching off Hutch´s inner lights again, but only almost. By now, his skull felt as if it had been divided into different parts, each responsible for the production of a different sort of pain, and each taking its job very seriously. Not having his vision limited by a blurry frame was something he could vaguely recall.

What broke through the throbbing behind his forehead as well as the fierce piercing sensation in the back of his head, though, was concern for Starsky, which was as constant as the cool moisture of rain dripping down on him with enough an effect to keep him alert.

He couldn´t seem to think that his partner might be dead. The possibility seemed as ridiculous and incredible as it would have been the day before. He was worried, of course, because Starsky had taken a fall down a fairly high cliff and into what had clearly sounded like water, probably unable to break his fall, too, what with having been completely zonked out. But Hutch just plain refused to even think that that wasn´t something you survived, if damaged.

There was nagging fear, of course, that whatever it had been Detective Smith had forced Starsky to take was showing more worrisome effects by now than a fascination for clouds, or that he had landed dangerously close to the water, or that he had broken something, that he was suffering, helpless, alone, and confused. But those fears, they always centered around the dreadful thought that Starsky COULD die, as well as he himself, and that he had to keep his protesting mind working on some way out of this mess for both their sakes.

Never once did he close his eyes with the crushing acceptance of the possibility that Starsky might already be dead, and maybe had been for hours. He had always thought he´d just know when his partner had died, and he chose to stick to that explanation; though deep down, way behind the foggy clouds of pain and consciousness, he knew it was a necessary need for his own survival to cling to the conviction that Starsky was still alive. Because otherwise what was he enduring all this for?

"Hey Hutch."

For a moment startled by the casualness his nickname was being used - since he had just thought about Starsky - Hutch lowered his head from where he´d rested it against the trunk. The dazed surprise quickly gave way to grim annoyance, when his eye met Ian´s amused ones. Raising his brows in a mockingly questioning gestures, Hutch inwardly braced himself
for the next round, forcing himself to not let his gaze wander down to where he could see the agent´s gun hanging in a loose grip at his side.

Probably in the absence of any proper tools, as Hutch had sarcastically put it in his thoughts a few hours earlier, the very torture-trained seeming agents had settled for using their guns to the very limit of their range of application, so that the detective had come to fear the mere sight of them. As if for a reaction, the throbbing in his left hand intensified again. The wound wasn´t bleeding anymore, but oozed moisture; and whenever he made himself lift and inspect it, he couldn´t help noticing clear signs of a beginning infection, the burnt flesh framing the sickening injury puffy and reddish. At least they hadn´t done the same to his right, he figured grimly, though Ian had threatened to do that earlier, after he had proven his shooting skills to Hutch by managing to only graze his right shoulder and later on his collar bone. Yes, they were good at their job--that Hutch had to admit, knowing exactly what to do to their victim that wouldn´t cost him his life, yet push him closer to the point of exhaustion.

"Break´s over," Ian announced with a poorly suppressed sigh. Over the hours of their acquaintance, Hutch had learned that neither of the two agents really wanted to do this. Yet, though he couldn´t quite work on that
realization due to the pain-induced confusion fogging his mind, keeping their network of drug deals working unhindered seemed to be a goal worth all the trouble.

If Hutch had drawn the right conclusions from the tiny bits of information he´d gained, Doughny and Ian had suppliers in almost every big city on the west coast and some in the east too. (Or, well, they had HAD, he
figured with in inward smirk, his gaze wandering over to the slope...) It was quite understandable that a probable leak in the carefully built structure of
their business wasn´t something to take lightly on their side.

Unable to keep his eyes from sliding to Ian´s gun that was being lifted to aim at him once more, though, Hutch couldn´t help thinking they maybe they were overdoing the protection of their business after all.
Either that or they were the slowest processors of truth he´d ever met. But then, of course, their carefulness did act in his favor, since he had no
doubts about what they´d do the second they´d actually believe him.

"Have you thought about this attitude of yours, like I told you?" Ian asked in what could only be described as unnerved cruelty.

Hutch drew in a small breath, wincing at his ribs´ protests. It was something he´d learned quickly - you never knew if breathing would hurt worse the next time.

At the lack of response from the detective, Ian first rolled his eyes, then glanced at Doughny, who shrugged. Visibly annoyed, he checked his watch, a meaningful gesture that wasn´t missed by Hutch.

Facing his victim again, Ian let go of an almost exasperated sigh, that suspiciously sounded like that of a bored twelve-year-old at school, and made a casual show out of searching for a target on Hutch´s body,
his gun traveling through the air like a big slow insect.

"You know," he said absently, frowning slightly as if concentrating on what he was doing, "if I were you, I´d just spill it. Well, okay, if I were you, I´d have spilled it HOURS ago, but I know you cops are not exactly on the smart side, so... Never mind. Anyway, you wouldn´t believe how long this
could go on."

Hutch didn´t answer. He was focusing on the barrel of the gun aimed at him, following its movements.


"Honest, you should listen to me," Ian continued in a chit-chat sounding voice, shaking his head in awe at his own abilities. "I once interrogated this guy in... uh... wherever, and he held out for twenty-three shots. Can you imagine that? Sure, none of them were fatal, but still..." Another shake
of his head. "You´d have thought avoiding THAT experience would have been worth the little displeasure of talking to a nice guy like me, huh?"

"I´d take more if it’d shut you up, moron," Hutch muttered and instantly bit his lip.

'Uh uh.'

THAT hadn´t been meant to slip out.

And in the next second, he was reminded of why he hadn´t done that before, as scalding hot fire shot into his right foot like a lightening, dragging all his attention down  to it, as if there wasn´t room for any other feeling in the rest of his body any longer. Pain… overkill.

He more felt than heard his own choked scream of agony, and his eyes squeezed shut as if by their own means; only snapping open when sudden pressure on his throat appeared and his head was roughly shoved back.

"You know what´s even worse than this, sucker? Knee caps," Ian informed him threateningly, and when only a tiny noise escaped Hutch´s abused throat, he let go of him. Without support, the blond head fell forward, until Hutch´s chin almost touched his chest.

He was dimly aware of Doughny saying something, yet he couldn´t seem to concentrate on anything but the spreading agony in his right foot that crept up his leg, sending wave after wave of piercing sensations through him. He could feel hot sticky liquid pour out of the wound, an eerie numbness seeming to glue his foot to the ground, though on the inside it was definitely NOT numb.

'Think of something else... Don´t focus on the pain... Think of something else...'

It was a noble effort, indeed, but what else WAS there to think of?  'Knee caps...God, please... Buddy, if you´re in any shape better than me, you can climb up to the rescue any time now, man. Any time.'

He only became aware of the fact that he´d slid into a semi-conscious stupor, when he felt his shoulders being shaken and heard Doughny´s voice as if from the far distance. Blinking his unwilling eyes open, head
once more lolling back against the trunk, he could see the man crouched down in front of him, eyeing him with disgusted impatience.

"Listen, Detective." If it hadn´t been for pain flickering through his body like a whining red alert siren, Hutch would have found the agent´s stoic grip
on a polite tone of voice amusing. "I know you probably believe you´re doing your duty here and that the investigation is worth it. But let me tell you, even though I lack personal experience, I am pretty sure it´s less pleasant to die from blood loss from VARIOUS places in your body than from a clear shot in the head. Don´t you think so, too?"

Knowing full well he didn´t give the picture of a brave, determined man here, he swallowed dryly against pure fear forming itself in a lump in his
throat. Hutch remained silent, gaze never leaving Doughny´s. He didn´t doubt the agent´s sincerity for a second, and he didn´t even find the strength anymore to inwardly scorn at himself for letting the terror he felt shine through. After all - OF COURSE he was terrified. That was the point, wasn´t it?

When it became clear the detective wouldn´t respond to this, Doughny grimaced slightly, almost sympathetically. "Wouldn´t it be nice to die with your knee caps not smashed and your shoulders not dislocated and without any bullet holes in your stomach?" he asked softly, like an adult trying to talk sense into a stubborn child.

If possible, Hutch grew even paler than he already was, the fear knotting his insides already feeling pretty much like holes actually.

"Please," he heard himself say, as if it wasn´t him but his body that had
resigned to a whispered plea. "I can’t tell you something I don´t know."

The moment he heard his own words, he suddenly realized, though, that if he had known, he still wouldn´t have told, not even at this point. Each
second he´d suffer more was, after all, still a second. And even miracles needed time.

So with every bit of willpower he could muster, he forced a determined expression onto his bruised and bloodied face, inwardly marveling at the absurdity of the situation. After all those hours of trying to convince his tormentors of the truth, now he was finally doing what they had accused him of all the time--lying. Silently, sure; but lying nevertheless.

Doughny bought it.

Straightening to his full height, the agent cast Hutch a regretful look that was accompanied by a 'have it your way' kind of shrug and made a show out of taking aim at Hutch´s left knee.

Sending desperate prayers to whatever gods would listen to him that the initial shock would at least knock him out for some time, Hutch closed his eyes in trembling anticipation of the agony to come, the fingers of his good hand twitching involuntarily at his side.

'Now´d be a GREAT moment for jumping into action, Starsk. Honest. Now´d be just fine."

Yet, what happened wasn´t his partner jumping onto the scene, but a second bullet, quickly followed by a third.

His eyes being involuntarily pushed shut by a sudden stinging sensation at the side of his forehead, Hutch felt his body jerk aside, then falling towards
darkness...

... that was soon fading again like a thick fog, leaving him blinking repeatedly at the unnerving feeling of warm liquid steadily running down into his eyes. A red veil seemed to have been dragged over his eyes, covering the area before him in an eerie version of black and white light with different tones of red. He wasn´t sitting propped up against the tree any longer, but slumped over to his side, half lying on his grazed shoulder. The instinctive movement at that painful realization only earned him a stabbing sensation shooting down his arm, and with a groan and deep
wince, he settled for enduring the current, less mind-numbing, situation, while he was still trying to figure out what had happened.

As if on cue, a voice unfamiliar to him announced loudly and angrily, "You call that a warning shot, you moron?! I think those two are dead!"

As he tried to move his head a bit to get a look at the speaker, Hutch´s vision blurred dangerously, then cleared again, so that he could cast the old, rather smallish and decidedly exasperated looking man a puzzled glance.

Nearby he could make out two other figures, both taller than the one who´d spoken, but both bearing a striking resemblance to him. The younger one, a cliché of a school bully-type of guy, had a still slightly smoking gun hanging from rueful fingers, his expression that of regret--more at being yelled at than at his mistake.

"The dude was aiming at Pa!" he defended himself.

"Which one?!" the older one, who Hutch assumed to be the first generation of three, the grandfather.

As the information carried within the argument finally broke through the stunned observing-only condition he found himself in, the detective let his eyes slowly wander away from the triumvirate, until he was looking at the lifeless, broken forms of Ian and Doughny lying in short distance from one another, both still holding onto their guns with limp fingers, while the other hands lay outstretched, as if, in the wake of death, they had realized themselves to be friends more than just business partners.

For warning shots, that Hutch had to admit, the holes in their heads looked pretty precise...

Grandpa´s enraged yell drew his attention back to the family that had, most unwillingly, he was sure, come to his momentary rescue. "I thought we agreed on not wasting anyone here!"

"I told ya, the guy was-" Junior started, but was cut off by his father, who had raised his hands in a calming gesture, stepping in between his relatives. "Okay, okay, what happened happened, there´s no undoing that. Danny, you´re an idiot; Dad, you´re right. Now, can we please move on here so we´ll be outta here when it gets dark?"

His role as the voice of reason seemed to be one met with respect, as both men gave a curt nod. Watching, Hutch suddenly realized he felt strangely out of the picture, as if he was merely observing, not part of anything. The throbbing inside his head had fastened into a constant pressure he seemed to have become used to. What bothered him still, though, was his blurry vision and the wetness still sticking to his face that
he knew had some distressing reason, but he couldn´t quite grasp it...

"Okay, Harry, so what´re we gonna do now, you figure?" Grandpa asked, his tone still impatient and gruff, but ready to follow his son´s suggestions.

Seemingly sliding into a well familiar role, Harry took over, stating, "We´ll dump them down there." He pointed at the slope. "Maybe the water will carry them further away."

"And, what about the gold?" Danny asked, unaware of the effect the question had on their silent observer. When his eyes popped wide open, Hutch instantly winced and squeezed them shut again, though only briefly,
when he heard Harry´s voice advance him.

"He looks pretty alive still."

Before he had even time to focus on the approaching man, Hutch felt himself being dragged up into a sitting position again by his uninjured shoulder. Still the sudden movement sent a wave of dizziness through him, as well as a stab of pain through his skull, and he coughed weakly against the urge to retch.

"Hey, you!" Harry addressed the semi-conscious man, lightly slapping the side of his face which wasn´t smeared with blood. "Hey!"

Unable to flinch away from the contact since he was held in place by his shoulder, Hutch blinked his eyes open and coughed once more as if for
an answer. Now that he was sitting upright, pain ran freely through his head, as if it had been blocked by his earlier position, and all of a sudden he also knew where that new source came from. Doughny had missed his knee and grazed his head instead.

'Great. Just what I needed.'

Momentarily forgetting about Harry, who was continuously trying to get a coherent response from him, he feebly lifted his right hand to touch his
face. It was caught in a vice grip, as well as his jaw, when Harry forced his head around, so that he was looking directly into his eyes.

"Hello, here I am. Now…you with me?"

His mind wasn´t working at its usual speed, really; and it took Hutch a second of confusion, before he found himself able to give a weary nod as well as a mumbled "Uh huh."

"Good," Harry praised him and smiled, drawing his hand away from the injured man´s jaw, but kept the steadying one on his shoulder. "Those flakes worked you over pretty good, huh?" His gaze falling upon Hutch´s left hand, he picked it up none too gently to study it with a wrinkle of his nose. "Ouch."

'Ouch' didn´t really cover it, Hutch found, when he once more flinched. Whatever hope had risen within him that maybe, even though they had just murdered two people in seemingly cold blood, the family would get him and Starsky some help after all, vanished. He swallowed dryly, working on moving his lethargic tongue. When he listened to his own voice, so weary
and soft it didn´t sound like his at all, it suddenly dawned on him that maybe his head was hurt much worse than he had thought in the first place.

"Who... `re... y...?"

Harry furrowed his brows, as he leant in closer to hear the whispered words, then smiled friendly. "Why, we´re the ones who saved your life, I´d say."

The tone sank in faster than the content, and Hutch fell silent instantly, dread spreading inside his stomach.

Like he had expected it, Harry continued, "And I´d also say you owe us something for that, don´t ya think?"

Deciding to save his strength, Hutch didn´t speak again, but blinked questioningly. It was getting harder to drag his lids up again. Yet something, probably cop instinct, kept him from asking for help.

"Hey, Pa," Danny´s voice suddenly drew both men´s attention towards the slope, where the youngest member of the family had just dropped Ian´s bloodied corpse into the water. "Look at this." A snicker. "The Official Dean´s Woods´ Human Sanitary Landfill."

Next to him, his grandfather, who had bent over to look down into the water himself, gave a low whistle. "That river´s sure been getting it," he muttered
darkly, then frowned. "Isn´t that one there the guy we saw at the store yesterday?"

It took everything Hutch had to not blurt out a question concerning 'that one’s condition. Still, his brief tensing earned him a suspicious glance from Harry that quickly fastened into a smirk. "Some acquaintance of yours?" he quipped, once more forcing Hutch´s head aside so that he was looking at him. "Look, dude, we´re not here to mess with anyone..."

Behind him, with a loud splash, Doughny´s body vanished from the scene.

"... and I couldn´t care less about whatever happened between you and those other fruitcakes here. All we want to know is where the gold is."

His face falling, as much as it could without producing a wince, Hutch wondered whether he would have felt like laughing or crying if he had had the strength for either...

Taking the injured man´s silence for hesitation, Harry moved in on him threateningly, the hand that had held his shoulder coming up to his throat. "And don´t give me any crap, man, okay? I´m not stupid. It´s pretty obvious you and your pal down there came up here for it yesterday, and if you haven´t found it, then what were you just about to get offed for, huh?!"

As absurd as it seemed to himself, staring up into the man´s threatening gaze, Hutch found he was beyond being afraid now. He highly doubted he could hurt much more, anyway, and people´s stupidity was definitely starting to piss him off. So with much effort he forced his voice into a somewhat steady volume, as he began, "There is no gold here, and those
guys you just..."

At the sight of Harry drawing his hand away only to produce from his belt a hunting knife which he studied as if he had just felt like doing that all of a sudden, Hutch trailed off and sighed resignfully. Why the hell couldn´t people just leave him alone?!

"Threatening me is no use," he said after a moment, even to himself sounding nothing but tired and depleted. "There is no gold here. And if you want to do yourself a favor, don´t kill me." His voice fading as yet another wave of dizziness washed through his head, he weakly cleared his throat and hurried to add, "`Cause I´m a-"

Unfortunately, though, Harry wasn´t interested in what he was, except for assumingly the holder of the information the family solely was interested in, and therefore he didn´t even wait until Hutch had finished his sentence, before he, without any comment, grabbed the detective´s good hand, lifted it and held it pinned to the trunk behind it, not even bothering to further restrain his weakly struggling victim.

"You tell me now, or what they did will look like heaven to ya."

Taken off guard, Hutch´s only reaction consisted in trying to jerk his arm free, earlier experience acting strongly on his panic supply.

Harry watched for a second, shrugged and without much force rammed his knife through the detective´s hand, thereby pinning it to the trunk. Ignoring the shriek of pain he caused, he gave it a half turn, slicing Hutch´s palm open even more. With his free hand, he yanked the blond head back, giving it a rough shake, until Hutch opened teary eyes a crack.

"Your foot´s next."

Half-blind from tears mixing with blood in his eyes, Hutch desperately tried to hide from the pain, to focus on anything else - and there, out of nowhere, was the rescue thought.

"Suitcase," he managed to croak out through gritted teeth.

Frowning, Harry glanced over his shoulder at his father and son.

"What d´he say?" Grandfather asked.

"Sounded like suitcase," Harry offered and pointed at the two black items lying forgotten next to the slope. "There." Turning to cast the semi-conscious Hutch a glance, he decided it to be safe to head over to join his family at studying the closed suitcases.

"Combination lock," Danny announced, when he´d picked one up. "`S heavy enough, though," he added, weighting it in his arms. "You´re gonna... ask him for the combination?"

Rolling his eyes at his son´s smirk accompanying the suggestion, Harry picked up the second suitcase to put it into Danny´s arms, too, and walked back to Hutch, whom he nudged with one foot, earning a low groan, as the detective sagged to his side slightly.

"I don´t think it´s worth the trouble," he stated, turning to his ready-to-go group. "We should  head back, before it starts raining again." For
emphasis, he glanced up at the darkening sky through narrowed eyes. "We can break the locks in the car, anyway."

With a clearly disappointed shrug, Danny went off the way they´d come, followed by Harry, who only stopped at his father´s voice behind him. "What about him?"

Looking over his shoulder at the old man standing next to the seemingly unconscious man on the ground, Harry winked. "Look at him. D´you really want to waste a bullet for that? C´mon, Pops." Without even waiting for a reply, he sped up his steps to catch up with his son. Grumbling, his father followed.

Straining to listen to the fading sounds of the leaving family, Hutch allowed himself to let go of a relieved sigh that dragged along with it a pain-filled
whimper. He carefully shifted his position so that he could fully sit upright again. The last shove had him almost passing out, his torn right palm
screaming in protest when his weight had pulled at it. Forcing himself to concentrate on his breathing, he´d managed to stay awake, for reasons he couldn´t seem to grasp now, though.

Finally, he was alone. But not alone to get help or at last check for his friend, but alone to fight to stay conscious; alone to feel and watch his body starting to tremble helplessly as the clear symptoms of shock kicked in; alone to blink against drooping lids and the uncomfortable stickiness of cold, crusted blood on his face.

He knew he was still bleeding, not profusely but steadily, and his concussion had most likely been promoted to a severe one. He was cold, sick and, worst of all, absolutely helpless.

The fact was driven home painfully when he tried to lift his left hand to drag out the blade still pinning his right hand to the trunk. The mere sight of the
oozing, reddish injury nearly had him gag again, and lifting it also stirred some feeling in the otherwise discomfortingly numb area, sending what felt
like small needles down his whole arm. Resigning, he dropped it again and let his pounding head loll back against the tree.

'Gotta stay awake... C´mon, stay awake... Focus on... focus on... something...' Behind dropped lids, he rolled his eyes. 'Something. Brilliant, Detective.'

A violent shudder had him jerk out of a doze. Confused, he blinked his eyes open, but they fell closed again. How long had he been out? And why was he so cold all of a sudden? Out of reflex, he dragged his left arm over his abdomen, but froze with a wince. Movement of any sort seemed out of question.

Not caring about this discovery, his body shook with yet another violent tremble. Hutch groaned. He knew he had to stay awake, but as his shivering increased he started thinking that maybe he didn´t want to after
all...

"Could really... use... some help here... Starsk," he mumbled, not even aware that he´d said it out loud.

Two things happened as if for an answer to his whisper.

First of all, it started raining again.

And second, he could hear a voice call out for him from the far distance.

"Hutch? Hutch, are you up there?"

The ghost of a frown crawling over his forehead, Hutch held his breath. It couldn´t be, could it?

"HUTCH?" This time, the voice was much louder.

Gathering up all his remaining strength, Hutch answered.

*****

Starsky awoke to the Godmother of Headaches. Scratch that, he awoke to THE Headache. Mind-numbing, like an inner thunderstorm that sent lightening through his skull, before he was even fully awake. It was, in
fact, so severe, that it wasn´t the actual pain waking him, but the nausea it caused, and it took all he had not to be sick all over his own hands his head had rested on, when he pushed his upper body up just an inch.

Frozen in place, waiting for the darkness before his tightly shut eyes to stop swirling, he made a  mental note about the softness of whatever it was he lay upon. Then, while he wasn´t in shape to move, he tried to collect his thoughts. Where the hell was he?! And what had happened?

Well, if his headache was any indication, he had either died and gone to post-party hell, or he had... taken drugs... Frowning and wincing at the sudden rush of memories streaming back into his consciousness, he forced his eyes open.

What greeted him was the grayish, open-eyed, blood-smeared sight of Detective Smith´s face, inches from his own. With a startled gasp, Starsky flinched, rolling off the other detective´s body into the knee deep river, and retched, as his stomach turned. With the cold water rousing him some more, he now felt crusted, dried blood on his face and hands and, looking
down at himself, saw that his whole t-shirt was covered in streaks of almost black blood.

Shocked, he feebly pawed at his chest and face but couldn´t seem to find any injury except for some minor scrapes and bruises. When he looked over at what had obviously broken his fall down the slope, though, he
swallowed back more bile, as it became obvious where all the blood had come from. Smith´s whole front was blood soaked, and blood from his partner´s head, that lay slack on his shoulder, had also dripped down on
him.

Reasonably stunned by the scene in which he´d wakened, Starsky sat in the water for a moment longer, trying to get his churning stomach under control. Grimacing at the foul taste in his mouth, he absently cupped his
hands to drink some water, and froze when his gaze fell upon the corpses lying directly in it. With a disgusted noise, he let the water splash back into its source, looking after it regretfully. Wiping one soaked hand over his strained features, he reached back behind him with the other for some support on the ground. When it brushed against something soft instead, he jumped and whirled around, sending a wave of protest through his skull. At the sight of the two other corpses lying in an equally untidy and bloody
heap as the detectives, his eyes popped wide open.

"What the hell..." he more mouthed than muttered, frowning as the tried to grasp his memories´ trail. There had only been those four men up there with him and...

"Hutch."

All thoughts of pain shoved aside, he clumsily stumbled to his feet in the water, ordering his shaky legs to carry him, and swiftly walked around the
unfortunate detectives to the grassy wall of the hill he´d been thrown down. Leaning his head back, he blinked upwards into the drizzle, but couldn´t make out anything on the upper ground. There were no sounds, either.

He swayed slightly and placed one hand against the muddy wall to keep his balance, while he tried to figure out what to do. The last time he´d seen Hutch, he hadn´t been in any condition to deal with four armed men by himself, had he? Starsky vaguely recalled his friend´s head and hand bleeding... Or had that been a dream? The frown on his forehead deepened.

Colorful images of what surely had been drug-induced hallucinations suddenly flashed through his mind like memories of a movie. He had dreamed about being able to fly and castles... in the sky...

Frustrated, he shook his head and groaned when his body punished him for that stupidity. Covering his face with both hands, he forced himself to push any crazy seeming memories aside and focus on what might have been reality. Hutch lying on the ground, writhing in agony, as his hand had just been shot most certainly belonged to the 'real' part of the day, and
now that he was straining to remember, Starsky also thought he had heard his friend´s screams break through his stupor once or twice. Had that been real?

But then, Hutch would never have killed the men in cold blood. Not to mention failing to come after him, if he had been in the condition to do that. No, something else must have happened.

Deep concern pushing away confusion, Starsky let his gaze wander over the corpses, then looked back up the hill again. There were no voices to be heard. Either there was no one up there anymore, which would probably mean Hutch had been taken by... someone, or his partner was...

Dread knotting his insides, Starsky reached out to search for a hold on the muddy surface of the stony wall and even managed to drag himself up the ground and find a spot to place one foot. But the next time he reached out, his finger slipped off, and with a stifled yelp, he landed flat on his back next to the small river again.

Lying very still for a few moments to catch his breath and keep the rising bile at bay, Starsky suddenly snapped his eyes open, when the faintest of
sounds reached his ears. A groan. He waited for more, but only a starting drizzle answered his pleas.

Still, it had been a groan.

Filled with hope, he pushed himself onto his feet again, never minding his body´s protests at the sudden movement, and called out, "Hutch?"

Nothing.

"Hutch, are you up there?"

Again nothing, but David Starsky didn´t give up that easily. Maybe his partner just hadn´t heard him. When he called out again, it was a near yell. "HUTCH?"

When there was still no response, Starsky´s shoulders slumped. About to give the climbing up another try, he advanced the wall again.

"Stars...k?"

And froze, head snapping up again. "Hutch? Can ya hear me?"

This time, it didn’t take Hutch as long to answer, and when he did, overwhelming relief sent a grin breaking free on Starsky´s face. "Yeah... you... `kay?"

"Terrific," Starsky replied, staring up at the green side framing the hilltop as if willing his friend to show up there any second. "How `bout you? Are you alone?"

There was a moment of hesitation, then "yeah."

As the first joy at hearing his partner´s voice passed, Starsky´s attention suddenly shifted towards the decidedly strained sound of it.

"Yeah you´re alone, or yeah you´re okay?" he asked, worry once more carving a frown into his forehead.

"Alone," came the tired reply, followed by faint coughing. "Are you... really... a´right?"

"Hey, I just took a nap, remember?" Starsky quipped, while stepping back to search the wall for the best climbing area. "Fit as a fiddle. Could use some help getting up here, though," he added absently and looked
up again. "You didn´t by chance bring any mountaineering gear along with your carrots, did you?"

Having found a projection large enough to put his foot on, he was about to start anew, when he noticed there hadn´t been any reply to that. "Hutch?" he asked, trying to keep the panic out of his voice, but not finding himself quite able to. "Hutch, answer me!"

"Hmmm..." Hutch answered and coughed again. His audible weakness sent ice cold waves of dread down his partner´s spine. "Saw... Ian... thought you... hurt..."

Wincing at the fading stammers, Starsky forced his voice to sound reassuring and steady, while he reached for a branch to hold onto, as he dragged his foot up onto the projection, nearly losing his balance for the
second time. It was definitely not a wall made for climbing.

"Hey, don´t worry, Blintz. Told ya, I´m fine." He paused, looking around for the next support to grasp. "What about you? What the hell happened?"

"Long... story..." Hutch answered, sounding suspiciously out of breath.

"Well," Starsky quipped, having found what had he´d been looking for and reaching up for it, "I´m all ears. This might take me a lit-"

A sudden, choked out scream startled him to a flinch, and for the second time, he lost his balance, landing, again, on his back in the dirt. Only this time he was on his feet again in a matter of seconds, his head bent back so much he almost stumbled, calling out for his partner frantically. "Hutch! Hutch, what´s wrong? What happened? Hutch?!"

Ragged breathing answered him, before Hutch seemed able to form words. "Just... m-moved... Shouldn´t..." There was a short pause, then, even weaker than before, "Don´t feel so good. Starsk?"

"Yeah," Starsky hurried to answer assuringly, concern speeding up his steps back to the wall, "yeah, Hutch, I´m here. I just have to climb up this... small thing here, and then I´ll be right there with ya." Drawing
in a deep breath, he stubbornly started his way up again. "Can you tell me how badly you´re hurt, Blintz?"

When there was no response, Starsky stopped, craning his head back. "Hutch?" Panic acting like a strength supply on him, he continued on his way, not paying any attention to the stone scratching against the skin of
his hands and bare feet. "Hutch!" he yelled, when there was still no answer from his friend. "HUTCH! Talk to me for-"

"S-sorry," his friend interrupted him, sounding truly remorseful. "Head hurts... keep dozing off..."

Feeling all color drain from his face, Starsky tried to climb faster, a noble goal that only resulted in him losing a few inches due to losing his balance
again. "Your head?" he panted out, holding still against the wall for a moment to contemplate his next move.

"Shot..."

"You took a shot to your head?!" Starsky snapped, his gaze flying up as if he could look at Hutch, and again, he stumbled down all the way he´d managed, giving a startled yelp in the process.

"Starsky!" a weak call followed him, the fear it carried obvious through suppressed pain.

"`S okay," Starsky hurried to yell back, wincing as he gingerly sat up, rubbing his bruised and sore back. "Everything´s fine, don´t worry."

Grimacing again, when he came to his feet, he wiped the sweat off his forehead, looking up the wall. It wasn´t that much of a climb, really, if only it hadn´t been raining, and if he hadn´t been so distracted all the time. Hutch sounded so weak, and he had no way of telling how badly he was hurt.

"Hutch?"

"Yeah?"

"I´m going to climb up this wall here, but I need you to stay awake for me and talk to me all the time, okay? Can you do that?"

"Thought... y´were already... climbing."

Rolling his eyes, Starsky wiped his bloodied hands at his t-shirt and, for the third time, approached the wall. "Fell down," he informed his partner and thought he could hear the ghost of a snicker, followed by a faint "Klutz."

Starting his third try at beating the hill, Starsky replied, "Oh yeah? You try bare feet mountaineering one day, and we´ll see how well you manage."

A very sympathetic "Ouch" was the answer, then yet another weak chuckle reached Starsky´s ears. "Could´ve... flown... earlier, huh?"

Smirking, Starsky glanced up, looking for the next support. "Seems to me that’s what I did."

"No," Hutch replied, "Ian..." His voice faded away, much to Starsky´s dismay, and the climbing detective was just about to call out for his partner once more, when he heard him ask, "Y´sure y´re...off it?"

"My head is," Starsky wise-cracked, touched by Hutch´s concern, and suddenly stopped, frowning in thought. Maybe there was some truth in the question. After all he seemed to be losing his balance pretty fast here. But then, did he have any choice?

"Aw. Poor Starsky," Hutch quipped. "B-be c-careful, okay? Don´t... w-want y-you to fall..." An audible gasp cut of the friendly teasing, followed by a couple of shaky breaths.

"Hey, buddy?" Starsky asked, instantly alarmed and  halted so he could look up. No matter how useless a gesture it was, he never could help it. "What´s the matter, Hutch?" he asked further, when he got no answer.

"C-cold... s-sud-suddenly," Hutch whimpered. "Tired..."

"Hey!" Starsky barked, slamming one hand against the cold stone out of pure reflex; it didn´t create any notable sound, anyway, and only resulted in him having to clumsily refasten his grip. "Hutch! What did I say about staying awake?!"

If Hutch´s fading strength and audibly increasing shivers were any indication, he was probably slipping into shock, away from where Starsky
would be able to reach him.

"S-sorry..."

"No!" Starsky yelled, near frantic. "No, Hutch, don´t fall asleep! Hutch?" He waited, listening, his heart racing from the effort of climbing as well as fear.
"Babe, you still there?"

"Hmmm..." Hutch mumbled sleepily.

"Okay. Okay, listen, I want you to tell me something. Can you do that? Hutch?"

"Wha´...?"

"I don´t know," Starsky replied. "Anything. Tell me what happened while I was out."

"Told ya... l-long story..." Hutch said unwillingly, his voice fading into a mumble his friend was unable to hear any longer.

Frustrated, Starsky bit his lip, when a sudden idea hit him. "Hutch?"

"Hm?"

"Sing something."

There was a short silence, and Starsky was already starting to fear Hutch had lost consciousness, when a disbelieving "S-sing?" reached his ears.

"Yeah," he hurried to call back excitedly. "As long as you sing, I’ll know you´re still awake. Think you can do that?"

"Th-thought I wasn´t a-allowed."

Starsky rolled his eyes. "This is an exception."

"Okay," Hutch replied. "Wh-what d´you w-wanna hear?"

"Whatever´s in your repertoire, Maestro," Starsky replied, having to smile at his partner´s serious tone, and added, "Something that´ll get me up here
fast."

There was a brief moment of thinking, then Hutch softly started singing the first lines of 'Camp Grenada': "Hello mother, hello father, here I am at Camp Grenada, camp is very entertaining ..."

Shaking his head in amusement, Starsky continued on his way. "As long as you´re having fun, Blintz," he muttered to himself, and eventually joined in, so that they were singing together, both lowly and out of breath, but at least he made good progress. And Hutch was still awake, if not in his best singing shape.

When the song ended, they started again, neither of them even bothering to ask. They had sung it three and a half times, when Starsky lifted his head to see he had only two more drag-ups to go.

What he also realized, though, and with apprehension, was that he couldn´t hear Hutch anymore. Trailing off, he allowed himself the briefest of pauses, straining to make out any sounds from above his head, but without any success.

"Hutch?" he asked, forcing his sore muscles back to work. He was breathing hard by now, sweat mixing with a thin layer of rain on his face, and his t-shirt clung to his chest and arms. "Hey buddy, thought you
were gonna keep me entertained."

More or less panting the words out by now, he finally dragged himself up over the top, crawling inelegantly onto the ground and resisted the urge to just plop down right where he kneeled. Instead, he let go of a deep, exhausted breath, lifted his head and froze with his mouth hanging open.

Slumped against the trunk with his head having lolled to one side and his left hand lying limply on his thigh and  his pinned right one seemed the only thing that kept him upright, Hutch looked like someone from a scene
Starsky had once seen in a late night horror movie. The gray thin curtain of slender raindrops engulfing him only added to the picture. With a shudder, Starsky dragged his chin up and swallowed against the forming lump in his throat, while he pushed himself up onto legs unwilling to carry him and protesting against his orders to move.

"God, Hutch," he mumbled lowly when he hurried to his friend´s side, appalled by the amount of dried blood Hutch seemed to be covered in. Even though the rain had washed some out of his disheveled hair, there were still long streaks sticking to the side of his face, where it ran down from a nasty looking gash on his forehead. The front of his right arm appeared coated in blood that the knife wound to his palm had sent
free.

There was even more blood on his shirt, and bending in closer to inspect the source of that, Starsky suddenly noticed his friend hadn´t stopped singing. It had just dropped to a volume barely to be counted a whisper.

A soft smile settled on his face, as he saw Hutch´s bluish lips move ever so slightly, and carefully he cupped his partner´s cheek to bring his head up. Hutch´s eyes were closed, but at the contact, he frowned and fell silent.

Feeling him tense, Starsky assured him, "`S'okay, it´s just me. You can stop now, I´m here."

Dragging heavy lids open a crack, Hutch reflexively tried to move his right hand and flinched, when he was reminded of why he shouldn´t do that.

"Easy," Starsky instantly soothed, his free hand coming down to rest on Hutch´s right, upper arm, rubbing softly. "Easy, don´t try to move."

Receiving a nod, he drew away his hand from Hutch´s face and shifted his attention fully towards the pinned hand. The wound was still slowly oozing blood, and there was no telling of how much that would worsen once he´d
dragged out the blade. Thinking, his gaze wandered off absently, until he suddenly frowned at the sight of Hutch´s bloodied collar bone that was obviously broken.

"Aw, man, Hutch, you´re a mess. What the hell happened?" he muttered, more to himself than to Hutch actually, and was taken by surprise at the weary response he got.

"Squirrel."

Glancing into half-opened eyes, Starsky blinked, then smirked. "Must have been some rodent," he stated dryly, ever so gently turning Hutch´s head more so that he could get a closer look at the graze on his head. Dimly recalling witnessing earlier blows to the blond head, he widened his examination, wincing at the many lumps and bruises he found. Hutch was probably severely concussed and showing at least symptoms in terms of confusion, as he furrowed his brows and gave a weak shake of his head.

"N-no, earlier..." he whispered urgently. "Stepped on it."

Hurrying on with his careful check over and discovering two probably broken ribs as well as a lot of bruises, Starsky asked, "You stepped on a
squirrel?"

When he got no immediate response, he looked up from where he was inspecting Hutch´s left hand, wincing at the infected appearance of it, and frowned at the shock he saw on his friend´s expression.

"What is it?" he asked, alarmed, still holding onto Hutch´s hand gingerly, unwilling to let go of it, when Hutch struggled to lift it and touch Starsky´s t-shirt.

"Y-you´re... hurt..." Hutch stammered, all of a sudden seeming much more alert, if still weak.

Following his partner´s gaze, Starsky quickly winked. "Oh no, no, don´t worry, Blondie. It´s not my blood. I told ya, I´m fine." At Hutch´s unconvinced frown, he smiled assuringly. "C´mon, would I have gotten up that mountain over there if I was hurt this bad?"

Finding that a comforting explanation, Hutch gave a soft nod and mumbled "Okay". Looking down his own shirt, a lop-sided smile crossed his pale features. "This is all mine."

Snorting at the sarcastic tone, Starsky gently laid Hutch´s hand back down. "Congratulations, you win. Listen," he added after a moment of taking in his partner´s appearance, the constant shivering and his frightening pallor, "I need to go get some stuff from our tent. Will you be okay for a few minutes?"

Suppressing the tempting urge to just say 'no' and have his friend not leave his side, Hutch nodded mutely. He was so tired and sore, all he wanted to do was sleep, and he just knew what would follow now.

"Okay. But I need you to stay awake, you hear? It´s important."

With the frustration of the sleepy, Hutch nodded again.

Eyeing him, unconvinced, Starsky pressed. "Promise."

"I-I promise," Hutch said, feebly rolling his eyes.

That he couldn´t quite manage the simple action unnerved Starsky, but
there was nothing he could do for his friend at the moment, and so with a parting stroke of blond hair he stood to leave.

"`N Starsk?" Hutch´s voice held him back.

He turned. "Yeah?"

"D-don´t forget... shoes."

Glancing involuntarily down at his dirty, scratched and bloodied feet, Starsky smiled and shot Hutch a quick look, then hurried away.

****

Water!

The very first thing Starsky did, when he arrived at the tent after a sprint on nearly numb feet, was dig around for their water supply and finally quell his thirst with large gulps. Even after various hang-over experiences, he still found it amazing how incredibly wonderful plain water could taste, when the inside of your mouth felt like something furry had taken a nap in it.

The next thing he did was switch into survival mode, gathering together what he would need and as much as he could carry.

When he was done, their former sleeping place looked like a bear had searched it for honey, and the second he wanted to hurry back to his friend he noticed with a frustrated groan he had forgotten his shoes.

Fifteen minutes later, he broke through the green side of the glade, slowing down, puzzled, when he heard Hutch´s quivery voice, but grinned suddenly, as he noticed his friend was singing 'Sleepy' in order to keep awake.

"I know y´are, buddy," Starsky greeted him lightly, dropping his burden next to his friend´s form and sat down himself. "But I´ll have you warm and comfortable in no time, and then we can play a stakeout game, how `bout that?"

Grimacing, Hutch gave a small whine, knowing full well Starsky was right about not falling asleep with his head injured like it was, but unable to contain it. "Aw Starsk... d-d´we have to?"

A bit relieved as Hutch seemed at least coherent, if still cold and weak, Starsky produced one of the bottles of water he´d brought with him, smiling, when Hutch´s eyes widened in delight at the sight. He obviously hadn´t been the only one dying for some water around here, he thought and helped his partner to a few sips.

"More?" Hutch asked, when Starsky placed the bottle aside, arching his brows sick-puppy like.

Already busy tearing a shirt of his he´d brought along into long strips, Starsky cast him an apologetic smile. "Let´s see how you deal with that first, okay? Don´t want you to get sick with broken ribs."

Seeing the sense in that, Hutch gave a small nod and watched Starsky swiftly organize what he´d brought so that everything would be lying ready when he´d needed it. There was no denying the fact that, though Starsky
was nowhere near nature-trained or even outdoorsy, he was exactly the person you wanted to have on your team on a survival trip. It never ceased to amaze Hutch how easily his partner could switch from his nature
attitude to his street wisdom that bore the true source of his survival skills no matter where they were needed. He would never have admitted it to his
partner, of course; and he hated to think it even for himself, but deep down Hutch was pretty sure Starsky would have made for a great Boy Scout actually...

Unaware of his friend inwardly praising him in a way he would have responded to as if it´d been an insult, Starsky  positioned himself in front of Hutch with his makeshift bandages ready to grab.

"Okay, I don´t know how much this is going to bleed, and it´s probably
going to hurt like hell," he said gravely, earning a nervous chuckle.

"Y-you should apply f-for a salesman job, y´know that, bud-buddy?"

The smile Starsky cast his friend didn´t quite reach his eyes, as he placed one hand firmly on Hutch´s right chest and grabbed the knife with the other one. "Ready?" he asked, despite his efforts sounding as fearful as Hutch felt.

Swallowing dryly, Hutch nodded and squeezed his eyes shut in the expectation of severe pain.

He wasn´t quite prepared for how much it actually hurt, and if Starsky hadn´t managed to drag the blade out with one swift jerk, he would have probably begged him to stop. It felt like the stabbing all over again,
his whole hand seemingly on fire, torn skin and flesh screaming at him. Hutch had only managed a gasp followed by a low whimper. Trying to cradle his bleeding hand with his left one, he was met with gentle resistance, as Starsky carefully took his hand in his own to wrap it in several layers of cloth strips, all the time crooning soft, assuring words.

"Easy Hutch, easy boy. It´s okay, you´re doing fine. The worst is over. Just stay with me. Hutch? You still with me?"

"Un...fortunately," Hutch managed to croak out, feeling a soft thumb wipe away a single tear of pain that had freed itself from his closed lids.

"Okay, let´s get you warmed up first, and then I´ll see to the rest," Starsky said, rolling out the one sleeping bag he´d brought and carefully helped Hutch to lower himself down onto it. Catching his friend´s strained features, he turned back from where he´d retrieved a blanket from the pile, he frowned. "Hutch? Babe, just lie down the way it hurts less."

Seeing Hutch hurt so much he couldn´t even answer, and, if possible, grow paler than before, Starsky jumped onto the right conclusion, as he once more scanned his friend for injuries, asking, "What is it? What´s wrong?"

Swallowing past bile, Hutch whispered "Foot", his eyes kept tightly shut against pain running freely through the formerly numb area freely now that he´d moved.

"Foot?" Starsky repeated, confused, but widened his eyes at the sight of Hutch´s right foot. The sides of the brownish-black sneaker-like shoe Hutch wore were crusted with dried blood, and judging from the bulge in the material, the flesh around the wound was more likely swollen, the pressure even adding pain to the sensitive area.

"Shit," Starsky muttered, regretting his defeated tone instantly, and placed a comforting hand on Hutch´s knee. The blond´s trembling had increased
considerably at the latest development of things, so Starsky quickly spread the blanket he´d put aside over him, leaving the foot out in the open.

"Hutch," he said softly, trying to keep any nervous hesitation out of his voice, "I need to, uh, look at this. It might be infected."

He didn´t even bother to mention it was probably going to hurt this time; it obviously hurt unbearably just the way it was already. If Hutch had had any color of face to lose before he´d lain down, now he hadn´t. A distinctive strain of suppressed pain had formed around his mouth and eyes.

His heart flying out to his suffering friend, Starsky gave his knee a slight squeeze. He earned a little convincing glance and a weak nod.

"`Kay," Hutch breathed, not wanting to make this any harder for his partner, but unable to keep from flinching away slightly, when he felt Starsky touch his foot.

Instantly, Starsky drew his hands away, checking Hutch´s expression. "Sorry."

Thinking he wasn´t sure whether he´d want to switch places with his friend, Hutch managed a wry smile. "Jus´... f-fishing for sympathy."

"That´s compliments," Starsky corrected absently, while ever so carefully starting to undo the blood-caked shoe laces.

He had contemplated slicing the thing open with the knife Hutch´s tormentors had so graciously left them, but he just didn´t trust his
trembling hands enough for a task like that, yet. After all, he wasn´t exactly on his usual side of fit, either.

"N-never n-need to fish f-for those," Hutch replied, trying his very best to hold still, when he felt a first tentative tug at he heavy weight pressing down on his burning foot. He couldn´t help it twitching violently, though.

Concerned, Starsky stopped once more, his brows arched so much when he looked at his friend, he almost appeared to be in as much pain. "D´you want to, uh, bite on something? I don´t think doing it the slow way will do any good."

"I-It´s just a shoe, Gordo," Hutch verbally winked, the quiver in his voice betraying his words. "I-if it weren´t f-for my hands, I´d do it myself."

Smiling sort of sadly at Hutch´s miserably failing attempt at bravado, Starsky playfully nudged his jaw. "Sure you would, Blintz. And then you´d go straight for the squirrel to have it busted for illegal possession of firearms, right?" he added, while adjusting his grip on the shoe. Ignoring the small gasps he caused, he continued with a shake of his head. "I mean, honest, where is this forest going to, huh? You can´t even trust your friendly neighborhood squirrel anymore."

And before Hutch could so much as roll his eyes at the statement, Starsky slipped off the shoe, grateful that it was more of a sneaker than a boot. The jerk at crusted layers of blood didn´t tear them open as much as he had feared; in fact just one slender streak broke free, and now that he got a better look at it, Starsky thought with relief that it didn´t look as bad as he had expected. It was probably not even infected.

Hutch´s reaction had consisted in a half-whimpered gasp, his eyes squeezing shut once more. But when the first sensation of what felt like his foot being ripped off had passed, a wave of exhaustion washed over him, offering sweet darkness.

Watching the blond head loll to one side slightly with Hutch´s features relaxing, Starsky hurried wrapping the rest of his makeshift bandages around the injury, then carefully pulled extra large woolen socks
over Hutch´s feet and drew the blanket down to fully cover him.

"Hutch?" Gently brushing strands of damp hair plastered to Hutch´s clammy and sweaty forehead, Starsky tried to rouse him. "Buddy, wake up. C´mon, Hutch, open your eyes for me. Hm?" he urged softly, and indeed tired blue eyes fluttered open.

Casting his partner a proud smile, Starsky carefully lifted his head to place a pillow beneath it. "That´s it. You don´t want me to get bored here all by myself, do ya?"

"Hmpf," Hutch uttered, the faked annoyance not fooling Starsky for a second. "I w-wouldn´t m-mind." He shivered, wincing at the forced movement.

Worried, Starsky frowned, already having switched sides, so that he could pick up Hutch´s left hand. "You still cold?" Again, he reached out to softly
touch Hutch´s forehead.

"Just... tired," Hutch lied, forcing his eyes to stay open for his concerned friend´s sight. "Y-you sh-shaking too," he observed, moving his hand in
Starsky´s grip ever so slightly as if trying to point at him.

"Must be an earthquake then," Starsky wise-cracked. He was dabbing around the inflamed gunshot wound with a damp piece of yet another shirt he sacrificed, trying his best to keep a calm expression as to not let Hutch know how bad this injury looked. Yellowish moisture had mingled with blood and dirt around the edges of the ragged, small hole, and the tips of the fingers had taken on an unhealthy grayish tinge.

"Y´know something?" Starsky asked with an exasperated sigh, when he started ripping apart that second t-shirt, for once wishing they´d bring stronger stuff to camping trips than just beer. "I just thought of the most perfect Christmas present ever for you."

Raising his brows questioningly, Hutch asked, "B-bullet-proof gloves?"

Chuckling, Starsky shook his head and turned to bandage the hand. "No, a camping first aid kit. I never understood why you never bring one, anyway. The trip where we didn´t need it has yet to come."

"`Ey," Hutch protested weakly, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a wince, "`s... y-your trip, Y-yogi Bear."

Having finished his bandaging ministrations, Starsky gently placed the hand under the blanket as well and laid the open sleeping bag´s front over it. "From what it looks like, it could have been one of yours," he quipped. "And don´t call me Yogi Bear."

There wasn´t much more he could do for Hutch´s more obvious injuries now. Drawing the blanket back a bit to once more check the broken collar bone, he decided that lying still would have to make do for that, and so he
tucked his slightly trembling friend in, positioned himself at his side and starting to softly wipe his face with the damp cloth.

Having the itching dried blood and dirt that stuck to his skin washed away felt incredibly good, and Hutch relaxed sensibly in his partner´s care, his breathing evening out, until Starsky, though he hated to do it, felt obliged to tip a finger against his cheek.

"Hey Babe, you want some more water now?" he asked, hoping to make waking up sound more appealing, and indeed Hutch´s eyes opened instantly, a small happy smile crossing his lips.

"I’ll take that as a yes," Starsky smiled warmly and helped his friend to a drink. "Okay," he said, once he had returned to cleaning Hutch´s face again, paying particular attention to the graze on his forehead that had stopped bleeding, but was now covered by a huge, almost black bruise. Whenever he so much as brushed against it, he could Hutch feel swallow back a gasp. He didn´t want to start imagining how Hutch´s head must feel. "Now that Dr. Starsky has checked you over, will you finally tell me what happened? How did you get rid of Funny Name and his goons?"

"Doughny," Hutch corrected drowsily, still fighting sleep. Dragging lazy eyelids up, he cast his expectant friend a teasing look. "And actually... was all y-your fault."

"Pardon?"

"Gold," Hutch explained, rolling his eyes, but wincing at that and settled for looking at his partner again. "Your d-damned gold. That was a code."

Frozen in motion, Starsky stared down at him. "You´re kidding."

"Nope," Hutch replied. Some strength had returned to his voice, and he was indeed finally warming up nicely. "Detectives came up with it. Seems D-Doughny´s business has been running fine for some time now." He
stopped to give a tiny yawn, then continued, "When he found out we´re cops, he thought there was a leak."

"Oh," Starsky muttered, instantly understanding. "That´s why they..." Letting his gaze wander over the blanket covering Hutch´s battered body, he grimaced. "What d´you tell them?"

"That my partner´s an idiot," Hutch stated dryly.

"Take it they didn´t believe that, huh?"

"No."

"Smart guys."

Hutch grinned weakly.

"So Ian and Doughny shot the detectives, because they thought they´d screwed up, huh?" Starsky asked, and Hutch nodded. "Alright, but who shot the agents then? The squirrel?"

"Danny," Hutch answered, yet another yawn breaking free.

Alarmed at the drowsiness displayed in Hutch´s reply, Starsky placed a gentle hand on one side of his head to have him look at him. "Who´s Danny?"

Blinking his eyes open, Hutch explained, "Son of Harry."

Frowning in increasing exasperation, Starsky slowly nodded. "Okay. And who´s Harry?"

"Guy who pinned my hand to the tree," Hutch replied and shuddered at the memory.

"Oh," Starsky said flatly. "So, no nice guys."

"No nice guys," Hutch repeated gravely.

"Why did they do that to you? And where are they now? And why did they shoot-"

"Starsk," Hutch whined, grimacing. "You´re making my head hurt worse."

"Sorry," Starsky hurried to say, stroking a gentle hand through Hutch´s hair. "I´m sorry. So, what did father and son want up he... Oh no. Wait, they didn´t..." As the idea that´d hit him sunk in, he caught the sight of a slightly amused smile tugging at the corners of Hutch´s lips. "I´m not the only idiot in Ol´ Dino´s Woods, huh?"

"No," Hutch said teasingly, making it sound as if he was the comforter now. "And they were three actually. Think they knew you, too."

Surprised, Starsky frowned and widened his eyes. "Three... Aw damn it! I knew something was weird `bout those flakes, but I thought they were just small-town weird, not... partner-torturing weird." The last was said almost apologetically, as if he blamed himself for not having foreseen the strange family´s bad intentions right there at the store. "How did you get rid of them?"

Hutch shrugged slightly and made a face at the unwanted reminder of not doing that with a broken collar bone. Seeing Starsky arch his brows at him and out of no reason draw up the blanket a half inch, he knew his partner had just thought the same and smiled assuringly. "Gave them Doughny´s suitcases," he answered.

"Good thinking," Starsky praised, looking briefly around out of reflex, as if scanning the area for the suitcases as proof of Hutch´s story. When he looked back at his friend, there was a tired grin lurking in the corners of his mouth. "If I´d heard a story like that, I´d never believe it. You?"

Chuckling, Hutch slightly shook his head no. "No way." He was about to add something else, but it changed into a low moan, and he briefly closed his eyes.

"Hutch?" Starsky asked, alarmed.

"`S'okay," Hutch breathed, swallowing back another groan. "Just..." Trailing off, he blinked up at his partner almost apologetically.

Understanding, Starsky smiled comfortingly. "Hurts pretty much, huh?" He didn´t need to wait for answer. "I didn´t find any aspirin when I checked earlier," he continued, "but I need to go get more blankets, anyway."  As if for an added explanation, he glanced up at the faded light blue sky, knowing Hutch would get the meaning of his words. It would be getting dark soon, and there was no way he could leave his injured friend alone in the woods in the night to go for help. They would have to spend the night right where they were.

Sighing in clear regret, Hutch shook his head. "Didn´t bring any aspirin. Can´t take `em during healing measure," he explained, when Starsk´s face fell.

"Great."

Smiling ruefully at the disappointed grumble, Hutch cast his friend a lecturing look. "You shouldn´t take pain meds on top of We-still-don´t-know-what-it-was, anyway."

"Who said I wanted to," Starsky replied grumpily, wiping a quick hand over his tired features, before pointing a reprimanding finger at his injured partner. "But let me tell ya, this healing measure of yours is not helping heal you. Be right back," he added and came to his feet, but froze, when he swayed slightly and had to wait for the trees to stop dancing around
him.

"Buddy?" Hutch asked, instantly concerned and attempting to push himself up, but was kept from it by Starsky quickly lifting one hand.

"Whoa, you stay right were you are. Just got a little dizzy. Nothing to mess up my bandaging work for."

Unconvinced, Hutch relaxed his tensed shoulders, but couldn´t help a worried frown lingering on his face, as he really took in Starsky´s disheveled appearance for the first time. Though the blood may not be his,
the scratches and bruises on his arms and face surely were, and if the deep, dark smudges under his eyes were any indication, the aftereffects of
We-still-don´t-know-what-it-was beat any alcohol-caused hangover. Not to mention he was also chilled, goose flesh visible on his bare arms.

"And Hutch," Starsky started, turning from where he´d started back to their tent.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Hutch cut him off, "don´t fall asleep. I know. I won´t. Starsk?"

"Hm?"

"Eat a carrot or something. You look ready to fall on your face."

"Yes, Mom," Starsky said, rolling his eyes in faked annoyance, mumbling on as he strolled off. "Nag, nag, nag. Eat a carrot, put on shoes, don´t take stuff you don´t know..."

Chuckling at the fading mutters, Hutch allowed himself to close his eyes, savoring the sensation of warmth engulfing him.

It didn´t take him a minute to fall asleep.

*****

The moment Starsky returned to their under-the-stars overnight place, he sighed resignfully at the sight of Hutch being fast asleep. His chest moved slightly with even breaths, and his head had lolled to one side, his features finally relaxed, as pain had mercifully refused to follow him even into slumber.

Watching him for a moment, while he unfolded the second blanket he´d brought along, Starsky found he just didn´t have the heart to wake the man. If Hutch was able to sleep, it would probably do him good to get some much needed rest from the pain, anyway, and Starsky would wake him every few hours to check on him. Having decided that, he carefully spread the second blanket over his partner and tucked it in around him, then wrapped himself in his sleeping bag and sat down at his old spot next to Hutch Indian style, their flashlight in his lap and, obedient partner that he was, started chewing on a carrot.

*****

Starsky´s eyes snapped open, and it was still dark.

Momentarily disoriented, he panicked, jumping at a noise to his right, his fingers reflexively curling around the flashlight he still held and accidentally
switching it on. The suddenly appearing, painfully bright ray of light illuminated dark trees, some smaller animals escaping from its revealing power and a long path fading into darkness.

Trying to catch his breath, his heart pounding in his chest, Starsky stared into the artificial light, waiting for everything to make sense.

'Camping with Hutch...' his mind finally provided him with. 'Must have dozed off.'

"Gawd," he groaned lowly, rubbing over his sweaty features with both hands, images of the dream he´d snapped out of flashing on and off behind his closed eyes. Some weird dreams that had been, with huge, shadowy monsters hunting him and Hutch through the woods...

'Hutch!'

Lifting the flashlight with trembling still hands, he turned to check on his friend, cursing himself for having fallen asleep, as he had no way of telling for how long they´d both been out. Since it was still drizzling slightly, there were few stars to see, and the moon´s dim shape was hid behind thick,
black clouds.

Turning his attention to the injured man next to him, Starsky heard yet another moan, the noise that had startled him on awaking, and when the light settled on Hutch´s face, his friend winced.

The strained expression was back with a vengeance, obviously the pain had found him after all, and he looked a sickly, almost ghostly white that stood in stark contrast to the deep blue bruise on his right side. What had Starsky worried the most, though, were the reddish spots on his cheekbones and a constant mumbling movement of cracked, dry lips that was sometimes interrupted by a small whimper of the kind he´d just heard.

Almost dreading the result of his check, Starsky laid a gentle hand on Hutch´s sweaty forehead and sighed, frustrated, at the heat he could feel radiate from it. Absently letting the hand linger there for a moment longer, brushing over Hutch´s hairline with his thumb, he studied the sick detective´s face, contemplating what to do. There was no need in checking out the source for the fever, Hutch´s left hand had looked pretty much infected before. However, damping the cloth he´d used before with water and positioning the flashlight like a makeshift lamp, Starsky decided to
at least try to rouse his partner in order to check on his head.

"Hutch?" he asked softly, placing the cloth onto Hutch´s forehead. "Buddy, can you wake up for a second? Hutch?"

Shifting his head slightly, seeking the sudden cooling sensation on his face, Hutch stirred a bit, but frowned, when he heard a voice break through his fevered dreams.

"Hutch, wake up."

"No..." he whispered, alarmed, and feebly tried to lift his right hand that was stuck under the pile of blankets and his sleeping bag Starsky had tucked around him like a net.

Seeing a flicker of pain cross glassy eyes that opened to slits, Starsky laid the back of his curled fingers against Hutch´s cheek, soothing softly. "Shh, don´t move, Blintz. Lie still. It´s just me."

The frown deepened with fright for a moment, then relaxed, as Hutch tentatively whispered, "Starsky?"

"Yeah, it´s Starsk. I´m right here. How´re you feeling?" Softly, he rubbed his thumb over the heated skin beneath his fingers. "Got a little warm?"

"Hm," Hutch murmured, confused, and weakly lifted his head to look around. "A-are they gone?"

"Who?" Starsky asked, gently urging his friend back down onto the pillow, and retrieved the cloth to wet it again. "The freaks who hurt you? Yeah, babe, don´t worry, they´re gone." Dabbing at Hutch´s face, he supported it with his free hand to have him directly look at him. "You got rid of them, remember? It´s just me and thee here."

"Yeah," Hutch nodded, though he didn´t look convinced. "Yeah, right. Right." A look of determination mixed with fear appearing in his too bright eyes, he licked his lips and started to move again, stifling a yelp, when he tried to shift his weight to his right shoulder.

"Hey, hey, don´t move," Starsky tried to calm him, reaching out to keep him still.

He was met with feeble resistance, as Hutch shook his head, growing more agitated. "No... no... we should be going... They might come back." With wide eyes, he tried to turn around, but froze in the process, as his vision blurred. "Wh-why´s it so dark?" he asked, his voice already fading. He didn´t even pay attention to his partner gingerly guiding him back down, so that his head rested in the crook of Starsky´s arm.

"That´s probably `cause it´s night," Starsky quipped and grabbed the bottle of water he´d placed in reachable distance earlier. "You thirsty?"

Hutch nodded absently, still puzzled by their environment. When his friend drank enough of the water for Starsky´s liking, he put the bottle aside and tucked the loosened blankets in around Hutch´s limp form, effectively restraining him that way. He kept him cradled against himself, not sure who needed the contact more, as the heavy darkness together with the sounds of the outdoors definitely started to unnerve him.

Settling for rubbing small circles on Hutch´s arm, as if it was actually the blond who needed to be calmed, the city-wise detective focused on what was clearly illuminated by the flashlight. "We´ll be okay, Blintz," he muttered assuringly, "huh? The sun´ll probably rise in..." Trailing off, he glanced up into the sky, but found the shadowy shapes of black clouds suddenly frightening. As if they were forming themselves to humanoid figures, ready to attack.

Squeezing his eyes shut briefly, he lightly shook his head, but when he dared to look again, he couldn´t help the increasing feeling of threat quell up inside him, as if he was sensing watching eyes, lurking beings in the darkness surrounding them.

Monsters in the shadows...

'Don´t be silly, Dave. That´s just the aftereffects of the crap they gave you. Remember? You´ve had hallucinations before. It´s not real. There´s nothing
out there. You can´t afford to fall apart now, Hutch needs you. Pull yourself together, damn it!'

A particularly shriek animalistic noise sent a violent flinch through his tensed muscles, and he instinctively drew Hutch in more, looking down,
startled, when he heard a tiny whimper. "Oh man, Hutch, sorry. Did I hurt you?"

"Starsk?" Hutch whispered, and picking up the flashlight, Starsky saw him gaze up at him confusedly.


"Yeah buddy, still here," he replied and smiled, inwardly kicking him for not having failed to notice Hutch had passed out again.

'C´mon, Detective, get a grip for Christ´s sake!'

"Hurts," Hutch informed him in a tone that sounded almost innocent, then let his gaze wander around in visible fright again. "Where... ?"

Brows arching in overwhelming sympathy at the fear-filled question, Starsky comfortingly stroked through the blond hair, calmingly stating, "They´re gone, Hutch. They´re not gonna hurt you again, you´re safe."

"S-said they´d... smash my kneecaps," Hutch said and shuddered as if suddenly cold. Instinctively, Starsky drew the blankets covering him up higher. "S-Starsk? Y-you won´t le-let `em..." As his slight shivering
increased, the blond trailed off, his head lolling against Starsky´s chest, his eyes drooping close.

"Don´t worry," Starsky assured softly, not caring that Hutch couldn´t hear him any longer, and carefully placed his chin on top of Hutch´s head, as he hugged him tighter. "I´ll protect you. Kneecaps..." he added in a lowered voice, as if muttering to himself, shaking his head at the lack of an alternative gesture to express the fury this latest revelation had stirred
within him. "Bastards."

*****

If cities never went to sleep, woods seemed to never wake up, at least if you asked Starsky.

By the time the first daytime birds greeted the newborn rays of sunshine with their light-hearted melodies, the curly haired detective was beyond
finding any comfort in their efforts.

"Aw, shuddup," he muttered grumpily, when a particularly shrill bird´s voice crossed the glade, and dragged a clammy feeling hand over his tired
features. Holding onto his friend, whose fever had only increased over the night, he hadn´t allowed himself to slip back into sleep at all, instead waking Hutch every few hours, but only receiving incoherent mumbles and a panicked flinch every once on a while, when Hutch thought "they" had come back to further torment him. A few times, the blond had called out frantically for his friend in his sleep, too, and could only be soothed by Starsky all but shaking him awake. Fortunately, he hadn´t been conscious long enough to fully feel the pain that measure had caused.

For Starsky, the label 'worst night of my life' had achieved a whole new meaning, as his irrational, drug-induced fears had only increased over the hours that seemed to have doubled their number of minutes. An unbearably long time before dawn, the flashlight had run out of batteries, leaving the oversensitive detective staring into complete darkness. And if he´d thought that had been a scary environment, he was taught different by the moon breaking through the foggy clouds and sending pale, ghostly light onto the trees´ swaying leaves.

Under normal circumstances, Starsky wouldn´t have taken a particular liking in spending a night in a dark forest. With the remains of whatever
mind-altering substance he´d consumed still in his system, it had been plain horror; an experience that had left him with red-rimmed, burning eyes, and a nearly cramped grip on Hutch´s shoulder. Actually, he thought, when he exhaustedly blinked at a tiny spot of blue lurking through the lightening curtain of ever-present clouds, he was glad that his partner had been as out of it as he´d been. He highly doubted he´d been able to so shamelessly cling to Hutch the way he had during the night, if the blond had been fully alert.

Suppressing a groan when he moved his legs which had long ago fallen asleep, Starsky carefully rolled Hutch onto the ground, laying his head back onto the pillow, and stretched out his arms with a loud, heart-felt
yawn. He rubbed his hands up and down his arms, as the chilly morning breeze crept through the material of the long-sleeved shirt he´d put on at some point during the night, when Hutch´s shivering had worsened so much Starsky had desperately covered him with his own sleeping bag as well.

For the hundredth time retrieving the cloth he´d used to cool Hutch´s face, he checked his temperature, finding it had decreased a bit since he´d last
checked. Hutch wasn´t shaking from cold any longer, either, and the distressed, delirious mumbles had stopped. In fact he seemed to rest peacefully now, and it took all of Starsky´s willpower to disturb his partner´s pain-free slumber.

"Hey Hutch, rise and shine. Wake up, buddy, breakfast´s calling." Gently, he squeezed Hutch´s unharmed shoulder, earning a few faint moans and
eventually a weary flutter of opening eyes.

"Hm?" Hutch moaned drowsily, blinking against obvious troubles at focusing on the worried face hovering above him. "Starsk?"

"Good morning," Starsky smiled, sitting back on his knees to give his friend some space to fully awake. "How´re you feeling?"

Hutch blinked, puzzled, and gazed around. "Where are we?" he asked, his voice so faint the words were more breathed than whispered. His eyes finding Starsky again, he furrowed his brows. "You look like hell."

Making a mental note about Hutch´s discomforting weakness, Starsky snorted. "Why, thank you, Sleeping Beauty. It´s a pleasure waking up next to you."

Casting him a ghost of a smile, Hutch blinked. To his partner´s dismay, his eyes didn´t open again.

"Hutch?" Alarmed, Starsky shook his shoulder again. "Hutch."

It took Hutch visible effort to drag up his lids again, as he gave a small noise that sounded like an annoyed mew, then whispered, "Sorry, buddy. So tired." He paused, swallowing slowly, and licked his dry lips. "Why do I feel so weird?"

Concerned, Starsky studied him closer, reaching for the bottle next to them. "Here," he offered, carefully helping Hutch lift his head a bit, "have some water. You´ll feel better."

Hutch didn´t show the same excited delight in that prospect, but didn´t refuse or argue, either.

"What d´you mean, weird?" Starsky inquired, when he put the water away again, after having helped himself to a liquid breakfast also. What with having paid attention during their various first aid courses, Hutch normally knew exactly what was wrong with him if he was hurt and still coherent.

"Dunno," Hutch slurred, eyes having fallen closed again. "Sleepy." A pause, then, frowning, "`N... my hand´s numb."

"Which one?" Starsky asked, already reaching out to dig out Hutch´s left, but froze, when he felt his friend´s head loll limply against his outstretched arm.

"Hutch. Hutch, wake up," he urged, withdrawing his hand to use both in the shaking process this time. "Hutch! Open your eyes, c´mon."  There was no response.

"Damn it, don´t make me slap you, Blintz," Starsky growled, not even bothering to keep the ice cold fear he felt out of his voice. "Hutch!"

"Didn´t... think you´d hit a sick man," a weak whisper finally answered, and Hutch´s eyes fluttered open once more.

Letting go of a deep breath, Starsky ran a trembling hand through his curls. "Don´t do that to me," he chided, sounding as weary as his friend.

"Sorry... keep fading out," Hutch explained apologetically, blinking repeatedly to keep his eyes open.

"I know," Starsky sighed, gently touching his friend´s frighteningly pale face.

"Head... hurts," Hutch mumbled, seeming to lose consciousness again.

Despair threatening to drag him down a hopeless void, Starsky let his aching head fall into his hands, staring at the grassy ground. 'Damn, damn, damn, damn, DAMN! What the hell am I gonna do?! I can´t leave him here like this!'

But then, he had no choice really, did he? He couldn´t sit back and watch his best friend slip into a coma and die, either.

Looking up again, he was surprised to find tired, yet fully open ice blue eyes focused on him, the slow motion speed they were blinking giving a good image of the effort it took Hutch to comply that tiny movement.

"Hey," Starsky said gently, and reached out to brush damp hair off Hutch´s forehead, thereby discreetly feeling for the heat still evident there. What
little hope he had still left was ready to be crushed.

Casting him a small smile, Hutch closed his eyes, letting go of a relieved sigh. "Your hands´re cold. Feels nice."

"Oh, yeah, wait," Starsky muttered, quickly retrieving the cloth he´d packed aside again, wet it, and placed it back on Hutch´s forehead. "Better?"

"Hm-mm," Hutch sighed, re-opening his eyes. Though he was still obviously sleepy, he seemed more alert, an assumption that was affirmed by him quietly stating, "It´s okay, buddy. I´ll behave myself and not fall asleep."

Though the words themselves didn´t sound convincing to him, Starsky felt incredibly comforted by the sudden renewed feeling of them being 'them' again; the familiar assurance that somehow they would get out of every mess if only they were facing it together acted like a much needed adrenaline supply on him.

Yet, the cold truth remained. "You can’t promise that."

Forcing some steadiness into his voice, wanting to try and make it at least easier for his distressed partner, Hutch countered, "And you won´t be able to keep me from doing it forever. It´s our only chance."

Gratefully accepting Hutch´s offer to turn it into their decision instead of just his, Starsky absently smoothed his hand over the blankets covering Hutch´s right arm. "I don´t like it; leaving you here like this. You can´t even defend yourself against any new squirrel attacks."

Hutch grinned weakly, resisting the reflexive urge to pat his partner´s shoulder assuringly. "I´ll be fine. Just leave me your Dean booklet."

"You can´t hold it," Starsky pointed out.

"I´ll turn the pages with my nose," Hutch quipped.

They both fell silent for a moment.

"I don´t like the prospect of being here all by myself, either." Hutch´s voice carried the same truth Starsky´s had earlier. "But I fear I won´t be around
much longer to keep you entertained if you stay."

At the sight of Starsky´s shoulders slumping, he couldn´t help his right hand working its way up to the surface of the blankets, where he laid it gently onto Starsky´s own, bravely suppressing a wince.

For once, beyond lecturing, Starsky nodded slowly, staring down at his friend´s bandaged hand for a long moment, then lifted his gaze, a grim smirk failing miserably at covering the concern on his face. "If I´m
not back by nightfall, come after me, will you? You know how I hate the woods."

Hutch chuckled and nodded, allowing his hand to be picked up and put back under the blankets again.

"Sure thing, buddy."

*****

About half an hour later, Starsky let a last  glance wander over what he had come to call 'Fort Hutch', an organizing masterpiece consisting of one
injured Hutch wearing freshly changed bandages and being tucked in under various layers of covers. At his right side, within easy reach, there lay the rest of their water supply, some torn pieces of clothes he was to use to keep his face cool, his loaded gun, and a box of matches both he and Starsky knew he could never hope to use one-handed. But, with the flashlight having failed them, Starsky could not endure the thought that Hutch might find himself in the darkness with no source of light around.

It was a futile gesture of which they both were fully aware There was no way Hutch would be able to hold out a full day; he´d be lucky if his fever and concussion hadn´t gotten the better of him by the time Starsky would hopefully be back with help.

"You got everything you need?" Hutch asked, the strength it had cost him to stay awake for so long already missing in his scratchy voice.

Forcing himself to ignore the clear symptoms of utter exhaustion for the sake of his mission, Starsky made a show out of inspecting his feet, lifting and waggling each one. "Yep. Good to go," he finally stated.

Hutch smiled at his friend´s attempt to make light of it all, but frowned, when a sudden thought hit him. Letting his head roll to his right side, he narrowed his eyes at the two bottles of water lying with his 'necessary things'. "Don´t you want to take one with you? It´s a long way down."

"Nah," Starsky waved, "you keep `em. I´ll grab myself a beer when I pass our tent."

"Starsk-"

"Hutch," Starsky cut off the starting argument firmly. "You keep the water. End of discussion."

Hutch obediently closed his mouth, his expression carrying nothing but worry. He looked up at Starsky, who crouched down beside him for a parting squeeze on his shoulder.

Their eyes locked.

"Yeah," Starsky nodded after a long moment as if answering an unspoken question, and pushed himself to his feet again. "I´ll be back," he promised.

"I know," Hutch said. "I´ll be... I´ll try."

"I know."

Hating how vulnerable Hutch looked lying on the ground with only his head peeking out from under the covers, Starsky finally headed for the way back to their tent, but stopped after a few steps to glance back over his shoulder. "By the way, emergency singing is officially allowed from now on."

Receiving a smile, he turned again, grinning at the soft version of 'If You´re Going to San Francisco' that followed him further into the woods, until it
faded completely.

*****

His watch had stopped ticking.

"Triffic!"

Frustrated, Starsky stopped, wearily reaching out to support himself against a tree, as he craned his head back to search the sky for any signs of time having ticked away, while in fact he was just gladly using the excuse to catch his breath. He had no idea how long ago he´d started his march; judging from his exhaustion it might as well have been a week, and the sky wore the same grayish, drizzle-cut overcoat it´d been showing ever since they´d left the Torino.

"Doesn´t the weather ever CHANGE `round here?!" Starsky panted at no one in particular.

As if on cue, the drizzle changed into heavy rain, soaking the noisy detective through to the bones within a matter of seconds.

"Aw nooo... shit. That wasn´t called for!" he let the sky know angrily.

All the comfort he had drawn from his brief fight with nature vanished, though, when his thoughts wandered back to his sick friend. Being chilled through by some arrogant rain was exactly what Hutch didn´t need on
top of his fever right now.

So, with grumpy determination, Starsky pushed himself off the tree again and fell straight forward, his fast reflexes the only thing that kept him from
landing with his face in the mud but on his hands instead. Having the air pressed out of his lungs, he lay still for a moment, stunned, waiting for his own private universe to stop blinding his vision.

'Now that sure looked graceful, Detective,' he inwardly mocked himself, tentatively sitting up, deciding he must have slipped on the wet ground, when he found it hard to his put his feet back onto the ground. 'A straight 9.0, I´d say.'

When the wooziness didn´t vanish right away, he briefly shook his head to clear it, reaching out for the tree to drag himself up again. 'Should have
listened to Hutch and eat that second carrot,' he wise-cracked, but there was some grim truth behind that joke. Except for two carrots, he hadn´t eaten in nearly two days, he hadn´t slept and he was still experiencing dizzy spells from time to time that he chose to blame onto a probable slight head injury from falling down the slope. He didn´t want to start
thinking what other causes there might be.

Finally standing again, he held onto the tree, his head involuntarily lolling closer, until his forehead rested against the clammy trunk.

'You can take a nap later, come on! Move!'

Yet the tree seemed to have a force of attraction by its own, not releasing the tired man from its invisible grip.

'Dave! Move! If Hutch doesn´t make it, because you fell asleep on the rescue mission, so help me, I´m gonna-'

"Okay, okay," he loudly cut off his inner voice, once more pushing himself off the trunk, determined. "I´m go..."

"Sir?"

Blinking in surprise at the three large men wearing yellow rain coats over dark suits, who had seemingly just popped into existence in front of him, Starsky opened his mouth, closed it, glanced at the trunk and back. It suddenly dawned on him that for them, whoever they were, the scene must have looked suspiciously like he´d been talking to a tree...

"I need help," he blurted out, finding he didn´t have any time to lose. He´d gone to find help, and here help was.

The three exchanged a glance that spoke volumes of their opinion on that statement. "Who are you?" one of them asked. He seemed to be older than the others, but then with the raincoats they all looked alike, anyway.

"Detective Dave Starsky, BCPD," Starsky instantly replied, pawing at his soaked, dirty shirt for a second, before he noticed his mistake and stopped. "My badge is up there with my partner. Listen, we really need help, he´s-"

"Bay City?" one of the other two asked, frowning. "What´re you guys doing all the way up here?"

"Vacation," Starsky replied exasperatedly. "Is it still far back to town? Can one of you go call for an ambu... uh, helicopter? Please?"

"Whoa. Easy, Detective," the one who´d spoken first, said calmingly, placing a supporting hand on Starsky´s shoulder, as he continued, "You´re not looking too good yourself here."

"But I´m fine," Starsky insisted impatiently, shrugging of the man´s hand, and then needing it back as he swayed briefly. "It´s my partner, he´s been... hurt," he finished lamely.

"Okay," the man assured, "okay. Calm down. We´re also cops. We´ll take care of things. Dryden," he turned to the silent part of his company, "go call for a helicopter. Officer down." Looking at Starsky again, he asked, "What´s his name?"

"Hutch. Ken Hutchinson."

"Where can they find him?"

"I don´t know..." Starsky stammered, confused by the fast turn things had taken, but stubbornly focused on seeing that Hutch got help as fast as possible. "There´s a clearing near a river, some way up there." He pointed a trembling finger up at no direction in particular. "They can´t miss him. Large, wet brown pile of blankets." A pause. "And he´s probably singing." A sigh. "God, I hope he still is."

Once more exchanging meaningful glances with who seemed to be his subordinates, the first speaker ordered, "Tell them to stop at Corner first, we have a map of the forest downhill." With that, he waved the man off.

 Obeying instantly, the younger man hurried the way they´d come from, while his superior turned his attention to Starsky again.

"Detective... ?"

"Starsky," Starsky helped out absently.

"Starsky," the man nodded. "I´m Lieutenant Rabkin, this is Detective Farrand."

Anxious to move on, Starsky acknowledged the introduction with a curt nod and was about to express his urgent suggestion, when Rabkin asked further, "Is there anyone else up there with your partner?"

"No, they´re all dead," Starsky replied and suddenly froze, the knowledge that there was at least help on its way for Hutch allowing other information to finally break through to him too. "Wait a second, what´s going on here, anyway? What are you doing here?"

Rabkin sighed. "I´m sorry, Detective, but it looks as you and your partner stepped right into the middle of an... arrest."

"That went straight down the gutter," Farrand added grimly, lifting his hand as if wanting to run it through his hair, but instead clenched it to a useless
fist, when he remembered he was wearing a hood. "Damn those freaks."

As the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place, Starsky repeated, "Freaks?", though he thought he knew very well whom Farrand was referring to, and took a step forward, adding, "Can we continue this
conversation while walking, please? I don´t want to miss that helicopter."

"I highly doubt it you´ll be going anywhere but straight to the hospital," Rabin announced, sympathy evident in the glance with which he studied his depleted looking colleague.

"Watch me," Starsky muttered, as he turned, his  extremely unsteady steps speeding up.

With a smile, the Lieutenant caught up him with, Farrand on his tail.

"So let me get this straight," Starsky started, when Rabkin appeared on his side. "You knew about your people´s, uh, business connection, and you prepped their suitcase."

Nodding, Rabkin replied, "Yes. We knew for some time now that Smith and Jones were constantly contacting someone in the Bureau, and... Well, you know how foul things start to smell fast in a squad."

Starsky nodded mutely.

"Anyway, we had to wait for the right time to prep the cargo, since we wanted to be sure we´d get the real guys, not some runner. And when we found out about the newspaper code, we thought that´d be it." In a more
resignful than frustrated gesture, he let go of a sigh-like breath. "Apparently, we, as well as they, should have considered the possibility of some folks being dumb enough to believe that there was truly any gold up there." With a chuckle, he shook his head.

"Where the hell WERE you, if you had your guys under observation?!" Starsky asked, having to restrain him from letting the anger the Lieutenant´s story had stirred break through, since he knew he´d have to go past them to get onto the helicopter once they were down.

Yet, the answer didn´t particularly help him do that. "Downhill."

Starsky actually bit his lip, but still a mumble, fortunately too low for the other cops to hear, slipped out. "Oh that´s great, guys. Brilliant."

Unaware of just digging his own grave, Rabkin continued, "We waited half the night, till the signal came back, and you can imagine our... surprise, when we tracked it down to the Fox family. They told us they´d hiked up into the forest because of the newspaper article and had found the suitcases as well as six corpses and had been just about to call the
 police, when we stopped them." He snorted. "They´re still in custody. We didn´t believe there was anyone still alive up here," he added, patting Starsky´s shoulder with a smile.

"Well," the target of his unwanted display of sympathy muttered, tensing until the contact was broken, "what with how you played the situation, I have to admit it is a miracle."

Suddenly spotting a glimpse of red through a row of high bushes in front of them, he broke off whatever discussion might have developed from his
remark with a relieved "Thank God", the sight of the Torino still peacefully parked where he and Hutch had left it a peculiar source of comfort, like a sign that everything would turn out alright.

And yet another object of transportation was just landing farther down the town´s main road, as if wanting to confirm the red car´s silent assurance.

When the three officers arrived next to the helicopter, they were met by Detective Dryden, who was just bending over a map, along with the pilot. Two paramedics sat inside, waiting.

"I think I found the clearing you meant," Dryden greeted them, ignoring his colleagues and proving to be, in Starsky´s eyes, the only competent one of the trio, not wasting any time. Plus, he discreetly took hold of the exhausted detective´s arm, when it looked as though he would lose his balance from bending over the map.

"Right," Starsky nodded, closing his eyes briefly to clear his vision.

"`Kay," the pilot, a bulky man in his late forties, announced. "There´s a larger one over there." He pointed at it on the map, covering the whole spot with the top of his finger. "Think we can go down there?"

Again, Starsky nodded. "That´s where we pitched our tent," he explained. "But land right on it, it´s got holes, anyway."

The pilot grinned and turned to climb up onto his seat. Starsky followed him, but was stopped by a surprised looking paramedic. "And where d´you think you´re going?"

"With you."

"Ah, no," the man shook is head, "I don´t think so. Hospital’s more like it. Lieutenant, would you dri-"

"Listen," Starsky cut him off, already climbing onto a free seat without paying attention to a hand that came up to stop him, "my partner up there´s not exactly thinking straight, and he is armed." He made the
briefest pause for emphasis, rising his brows meaningfully at the paramedics, who exchanged a quick look. "Well?"

"Okay," the one who´d spoken said, lifting his hands in a surrendering manner, while his colleague already waved for the pilot to start. "But we´re only prepared for one patient, so you better not collapse."

"Don´t worry `bout me," Starsky replied.

*****

If that hadn´t been the dumbest idea he´d ever had!

For once glad he was on his own, as he took advantage of it and let go of a whimper so agonized it even stirred sympathy within himself, Hutch squeezed his eyes shut, not sure whether the wetness he felt on his cheeks was entirely rain-caused.

'I take it all back,' he thought miserably, 'I hate rain in the forest.'

After having kept himself fairly alert by continuing singing to himself, he soon had found that it started to leave him painfully out of breath, plus it annoyed him to have to improvise on the lyrics when he forgot them which happened a lot, due to the fog spreading once more in his pounding head. Yet, finding a new occupation, he´d discovered, was even more unnerving,
as he couldn´t seem to concentrate on anything. He´d even tried a stakeout game, starting words with the last letter of the one before, and had lost against himself, because he´d forgotten the letter.

Settling for imagining how absolutely great it´d feel to be back in civilization, where a warm bed and something more appealing to drink than lukewarm water, didn´t turn out to be helpful, either, as it only caused him to doze off and snap awake with his heart racing frantic seconds later. No, his mind wasn´t on his side, its reminders of not falling asleep eventually turning into a most unwanted mantra of a precise description of what would happen, IF he´d fall asleep.

And on top of this cruel sing-songed 'You´re gonna die!' theme circling in his head, it had started to rain.

The constant drizzle Hutch had come to accept, even appreciate since it kept him at least fairly alert and its coolness seemed to ease his fever.
But lying face up in flood-like rain was simply pathetic, and so he´d tried to turn onto his side to at least shelter his face under a lapel of the sleeping bag that lay on top of the blankets.

The moment the pain from his protesting foot and hand and shoulder and collar bone had passed, as he lay with the left side of his face pressed into the already soaked-through pillow, trying to catch his breath, he felt himself being reminded of the fact he also had broken ribs.

And you really shouldn´t move around with broken ribs.

At first it´d felt like he´d choke right on the spot, the fierce burning sensation in his chest blocking out every thought. Only when the agony mercifully faded into an ever present but bearable dragging pain, he´d
realized what had happened.

'This is just great. Killing yourself over getting rained on. Real Boy Scout you are.'

As the rain continued to beat down on him, the soaked blankets clinging uncomfortably heavily to his body, the coughing started, quickly followed by the taste of blood, faintly at first, but eventually intensifying, until he found himself spitting blood into the pillow next to his face.

'I swear, Starsk, if you get me out of this, I´ll never drag you on any camping trip ever again. Promise. Never.'

It was getting dark suddenly, and he figured it must be night, though why were there no stars? And he thought he heard Starsky´s voice, too, commenting on the promise he´d just given...

With a choked gasp, he snapped his eyes open, and squeezed them shut again, as a painful coughing fit hit him.

'Don´t fall asleep, you´ll die. Don´t fall asleep, you´ll die... die...'

He blinked, but his eyes wouldn´t open. Was it still raining? Why wasn´t he cold anymore?

'Starsky?'

Actually, it was getting rather warm. And dark. A darkness deeper than any night he´d ever seen.

'... dying... ?'

If this was dying, it sure was a hell of a lot less painful than living and coughing and choking on blood quelling up his throat.

'This is nice. Could get used to...'

"Hutch!"

Suddenly, there was... something. He frowned. Or, he thought he did. A flash of cold broke through his new found warmth. He felt himself shudder.

"Hutch? You with me?"

Pain returned with a vengeance, as well as the taste of blood. He heard himself groan and tried to get away, back down to the cozy blackness.

"... no..."

But there was something else up there, something that held him back.

"Don´t go. Please."

Something important.

*****

'Not thinking straight and armed' had of course been a Starsky way to, for Hutch´s sake, avoid admitting that his partner was probably going to be scared if he´d find himself yet again in the hands of total strangers.

Once John and Knox, how the paramedics had introduced themselves, had heard of the condition their soon-to-be patient though, they exchanged an understanding glance.

"Armed, huh?" Knox asked with a friendly smirk, instantly upping his position on Starsky´s character-scale.

"Just want to keep you guys from getting hurt."

Giving an appreciating chuckle, Knox nodded in faked conviction. "Sure. Well, thank you, Detective."

"Call me Dave."

The easy chatting subsided, when they were informed by the pilot that they were about to land.

"Hey Dave," John said, when they were hurrying out of the helicopter a few minutes later, "you better take the lead and tell him we´re the good guys, `kay?"

He needn´t have to tell Starsky, anyway, as the detective was already way ahead of them, stumbling slightly on the still slippery ground, but paying no attention to his body´s protests at this new task. At least it had stopped raining.

"Hutch!" Starsky called out, when he saw the baby waterfall appear in the near distance, forcing his tired legs to a last sprint for the rest of the way.
"Hutch, I´m back!"

There was no reply, yet he hadn´t really expected one. If only Hutch had managed to stay awake, not answering would be fine with his partner. Yet the moment Starsky broke through the dripping wet bushes and saw the soaked through pile of blankets, he knew something was wrong.

'Oh no.'

Very wrong.

"Hutch!"  Racing to his friend´s side, he skidded to his knees, alarmed at the lack of response. Once he got a closer look at the blond, he understood. "Aw no. No, no, no."

Blood was sticking to Hutch´s slightly parted lips and his chin, where it had run down and seeped into the pillow. He was deathly pale, his breathing raspy and strained. That he was still breathing at all came as a immense relief to his friend, who at the first sight had for an agonizing moment thought Hutch was already dead. He looked so still, broken.

"Hutch." Desperate and for once afraid to touch his friend, as if any wrong motion would cause the shallow breathing to fully stop, Starsky placed one hand on the pillow next to Hutch´s face, as he looked up right in time to see John and Knox arriving at the scene. Catching the shocked expression on his face, the paramedics sped up, lowering the gurney they brought
with them to the ground.

"He still breathing?" Knox asked.

About to answer, Starsky suddenly flinched, startled, when he felt the tip Hutch´s nose involuntarily brush against his thumb, as the blond shuddered once, then lay still again, the ghost of a frown crawling over
his forehead.

"Hutch? You with me?"

As if for an answer, the frown deepened, and a groan escaped Hutch´s blood caked lips that turned into a weak cough. A slender trail of fresh blood appeared on his chin, quickly followed by another one. His whole
body jerked with the next cough that faded into a choked out whimper. To Starsky´s horror, he didn´t draw in a new breath.

"Oh God, no, Hutch. Hutch please..."

"Dave, get out of the way." Gently, but determined, John grabbed the pleading detective´s shoulder, and to his surprise, he obeyed instantly, almost jumping to his feet and stepping back. His eyes, though, never
left Hutch´s face, as the paramedics started working on him.

"Don´t go," Starsky whispered, suddenly almost overwhelmed by the urge to touch Hutch, but keeping his distance out of fear of disturbing John and Knox.

"Please. Please, don´t go. Don´t go."

"He´s breathing again," his inaudible mantra was cut off by Knox, who looked up at him, while John put an oxygen mask over Hutch´s face. "We better hurry, though. Come on, help us get him... unwrapped," he finished with a glance at the heap of covers.

Again, Starsky obeyed in a heartbeat, and within a few moments, they had Hutch settled on the gurney. All the way back to the helicopter, Starsky´s hand never left his partner´s shoulder, and when they were in the air again, and John and Knox started undoing the makeshift bandages to get a look at what they covered, he sat in the very back, perfectly out of the way, one
palm softly resting against the ankle of Hutch´s good foot.

*****

Young Dr. Buckley was a man to pity. Since he was the youngest member of the hospital staff and still very inexperienced in the treatment of patients, which was a fact, period. But today, it was even more true than usual. First he´d had to tend to the guests of a 5-year-old´s birthday party, who´d, in an unwatched moment, thought it a good idea to take a bet at who would dare to eat poison ivy, and now he was sitting in the waiting room, watching his patient, who appeared ready to faint at any moment, pace in front of him at a speed that made the doctor´s head swirl.

"Detective, uh..." Running a hand over his tired features, as if for a gesture to hide the fact he´d forgotten the curly haired man´s name, Buckley sighed. "I promise you we´ll inform you about your friend´s condition the moment my colleague has finished his examination. Will you please sit down now so I can take a look at you?"

Starsky stopped for the briefest of glances, frowned at the young man, and asked "Pardon?" and, without waiting for a response, continued his pacing.

If possible, Buckley´s shoulders slumped more. He had ceased to try to talk the detective into following him to an examination room some time ago, when he´d found his assurances that "Yes, they´ll find you there in case your friend needs you" only meeting unbelieving ears.

Tired himself, he had then settled for waiting, convinced that his patient would pace himself out of energy eventually. Yet, that decision was almost ten minutes old, and no change in situation had occurred. So when there was suddenly a figure appearing in the open door of the waiting room, his head came up almost as fast as Starsky whirled around.

When Buckley saw that it wasn´t his superior, Dr. Larkson, who had took over the more seriously injured officer at the small group´s arrival in the ER, he sighed, frustrated.

Starsky, on the other hand, cast the man a wide-eyed, expectant look, feebly reaching for the wall with one hand, when he found he couldn´t stop swaying slightly. "Knox, have you heard anything? They don´t want to
tell me anything. Threw me out of the fucking room! Why isn´t anyone telling me anything?!"

Hearing that, Buckley glanced up at Knox, who cast him a brief, sympathetic look. "Nurses said you might need some help here, kid?"

Mutely, the younger man nodded.

"Seems so," Knox agreed and walked over to place a supporting hand on Starsky´s shoulder, gently yet firmly dragging him off the wall and across the room to the door. "Hutch is in surgery, Dave. They´re really doing the best they can, and they´ll let you know about him the second they know. Okay?"

Starsky stared up into the man´s eyes searchingly. "He´s going to die, isn´t he?"

To Buckley´s surprise, a shadow crossed the paramedic´s face. "You don´t know that. Don´t think like that." His hand never leaving the slightly
smaller man´s shoulder, he turned to look back at Buckley, who´d come to his feet. "Where d´you want him?"

"Uh... room four´d be great," the doctor stammered.

"Room four it is. Come on, Dave." And under Buckley´s disbelieving stare, he guided Starsky out into the hallway. "Go see if you can find some scrubs for him to wear, will you, kid?"

Used to orders like that, Buckley hurried away and was back with a pair of light blue scrubs just when they arrived at the room.

"Thanks," Knox said and grabbed the clothes to shove them into Starsky´s arms. "Here. Put those on and sit down on the table. Dr... ?"

"Buckley," Buckley helped out quickly.

"Dr. Buckley and I will be outside for a moment. Okay?"

Starsky gave a small nod, holding onto the scrubs as if for comfort. In fact, Buckley had to admit, the man´s appearance had miraculously changed from snappy patient to that of a lost little kid.

"We´ll be right back," Knox assured and closed the door behind Buckley and himself. "His buddy´s heart stopped on our way here," he explained curtly, when the younger man turned questioning eyes on him.

"Oh."

"Yeah, we got him back, but Dave still seems to a be a bit shocky. You might want to check on that."

"Okay," Buckley nodded. "Thank you, by the way."

"Don´t mention it," Knox waved and patted a white coat-clad shoulder. "They shouldn´t let you green boys treat cops, anyway. They´re the worst,
believe me." With a last assuring 'I´m with you glance', he turned to re-enter the room, a most grateful doctor on his tail.

*****

"I promise you we won´t give you anything that´ll make you sleepy, Detective," Buckley tried for the hundredth time to convince his patient of the wise idea to get an IV running in order to rehydrate him, but Starsky only shook his head, determined, like he had had before.

"No. You do know that word, don´t you, Doc-"

"Here you are," Knox, who´d just re-entered the room from where he´d gone to get the stubborn detective some water, interrupted what could easily have turned into an insult.

"Thanks," Starsky replied gratefully and accepted the cool bottle, for he was after all very thirsty. "You´re a life saver."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Knox waved. "Still, I´m on Kid Doc´s side here. Your can´t drink as much as your body needs after-"

"Knox."

"Hey," the paramedic gave up, raising his hands in a surrendering gesture. "Just showing off with my medical knowledge. Now, anything else, Doc?"

"Hm?" Buckley made, having scribbled something onto Starsky´s charts, and lifted his head. "Oh. No, I don´t think so."

They had treated the detective´s many bruises and cuts, which were all rather minor injuries, and the symptoms of shock seemed to have ceased, too. He was finally getting some liquid, his temperature was normal, and the slight malnutrition was nothing a good meal couldn´t fix.

"Is there anything else we can do for you, Detective?"

Busy downing half the bottle of water with large gulps, Starsky waved, but froze, when a thought hit him, and lowered the bottle, coughing, when he
swallowed wrong in order to speak.

"Easy, Dave," Knox quipped, but his good-humored expression changed into a worried frown, when Starsky croaked out, "Took drugs."

"What?!" the two other men snapped in unison.

Having gotten his coughing under control, the detective explained, "We stepped into this drug deal, and I had to take two."

"Two what?" Knox asked, while Buckley was already leaving the room to get ampoules for a blood example.

"Pills," Starsky replied. "I don´t know what it was, but they were kinda small and white and... Oh," he snapped his fingers, "the guys who called you know what it was."

"Lieutenant Rabkin?" Knox asked, and received a nod. "He and his colleagues are downstairs waiting for some corpses to be brought in for autopsy. I´ll go ask them."

"They´re here?" Starsky asked, his head snapping up. With a determined look, he slid off the examination table, wincing when his bare, band aid covered feet made contact with the floor. "I meant to talk to those-"

"Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah," Knox said, quickly grabbing the smaller man´s shoulders to almost lift him back up. "Hold your horses. You stay right here, and I’ll go get them. Okay?"

Grumbling, but trusting the paramedic, Starsky nodded, having to admit that the prospect of walking anywhere wasn´t a very appealing one at the moment, anyway.

"Be right back," Knox promised and left the room.

*****

Buckley had just excused himself to bring the blood examples to the lab, when Knox returned, Rabkin and Farrand on his tail.

"Seems you took Bird Safe, Dave."

Forcing himself to not let his refound wrath finally meet its causes, Starsky looked from the cops to Knox with a frown. "That sounds like those bird stickers you put on your window," he observed, and the paramedic chuckled.

"Yeah, but in this case, you´re the bird. Bird Safe is LSD mixed with some highly dosed natural sedatives. I´ve seen kids on it a few times, and let me tell you, you should be glad you´re still alive."

The frown faded into a wide-eyed stare, as the color drained from Starsky´s face. "I took LSD?"

"Just a minor dose," Farrand explained. "See, the main thing about Bird Safe is that you have the LSD-like effect of hallucinations, but don´t run the risk of taking a fly, because you´re too doped for that." He shrugged casually, as if the logic in that was really too simple to believe. "Bird Safe."

"Well," Knox intervened, casting Farrand what looked like a scowl, "from my side of the fence, the birds aren´t always getting home safe, if you get my meaning."

Not paying attention to the tensed air between the two men, Starsky nervously asked, "A-are there any, uh, lasting-"

"No," Farrand shook his head assuringly. "That´s another advantage Bird Safe has over old-fashioned LSD. You usually get absolutely off it."

"Usually," Knox repeated through a snort, leaving Starsky to think that his dislike of the cops was clearly endearing, but that only this one time he´d
rather go with their version of things after all.

He didn´t need to express this opinion of his, though, since before anyone could add any more, Dr. Larkson entered the room, filling it with total silence by his mere presence.

Instantly concerned by the doctor´s tired expression and the lack of 'don´t worry' air surrounding him, Starsky felt his features straining. He swallowed
dryly, his throat and mouth suddenly parched, despite the daily ration of water he´d consumed earlier.

Casting Knox a brief glance, Larkson came to a halt in front of Starsky, who still sat on the examination table. Farrand and Rabkin had stepped away politely.

"Detective Starsky," Larkson started and paused briefly, seemingly trying to find the right words.

Whatever color had returned to the curly haired man´s cheeks faded in an instant. 'Oh my God, he´s dead. Hutch is dead.'

"D-Doc, uhm..."

Seemingly kicked back into action by the fearful whisper, Larkson said, "Your partner´s alive." He waited for the good news to sink in, but since they were shadowed by darker ones, and since his expression couldn´t hide that fact, the reaction wasn´t as relieved as he´d hoped it to be.

"But... there´s more, isn´t there?" Starsky asked dreadfully.

"Yes. I´m sorry to tell you, but Detective Hutchinson is a very sick man. As you know, his heart stopped once, and it did again during surgery. We got him back, but he´s very weak. His lungs were punctured by broken ribs, and though we could repair the damage there, he´s having trouble breathing himself due to his fever. At the moment, we´re trying to get that
under control with strong medication, and we´re putting him on a respirator to help him breathe, so that his lungs aren´t strained too much, while his body´s fighting the fever. There is a high possibility that he´ll develop pneumonia, and in his current condition that would be most likely fatal. He´s also severely concussed, and, uhm, well there is a very low chance
that he might lose his left hand. But, actually, at the moment, that is the least of his worries." Again, he paused, forcing himself to meet the crushed expression in front of him. "I´m sorry."

Starsky blinked, his mind still working on taking it all in. When he spoke again, his voice was flat, like a little kid´s or as if he hadn´t understood a word of what he´d just heard. It was obvious, though, that he had very well. "A-are... are you saying Hutch is dying?"

"I´m saying his condition is critical," Larkson corrected in a very doctor-like manner, and his next question nearly destroyed all hope he had wanted the suffering man to keep. "Would you like to sit with him? I can call a nurse to get you a wheelchair."

"I-I´m... Ahm..." Running a trembling hand through his hair, Starsky stared at the ground, seemingly having fallen out of the scene. "Th-this is not even the job. Hutch would never die if it´s not... for the job. He loves camping. He wouldn´t die on a camping trip."

His heart reaching out for the suddenly very small, broken looking detective, Knox placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and looked at Larkson. "I think it´d be good for him, thanks."

Apparently equally affected by the grief he´d just caused, the doctor cleared his throat. "Yes, I, uh, I´ll tell a nurse." And with that, he all but fled from the room.

There was a short silence as thick as a wall of bricks lingering in the air, before Rabkin in a low, strangely respectful tone said, "I´m sorry, too,
Detective Starsky. If there´s anything, we can do for you..."

Not even aware of Knox next to him casting the lieutenant a look only slightly less despiteful as his own, Starsky narrowed his eyes, all sign of shock seemingly vanished from his face, as he repeated dangerously low, "If there´s anything you can do?! Well, let me think about this, Lieutenant Rabkin. Maybe not planning your idiotic as hell far-distance stakeouts in a way that turns them into a fucking danger for anyone who´s not involved. Yeah, that would surely be something you could have done. But then, now it´s a bit too late for that, isn’t it?!"

"Hey wait a second," Farrand replied angrily, while his superior lifted his eyebrows indignantly. "What are you saying, man?! It´s not our fault your friend-"

Too quick for Knox to hold him back, Starsky was off the table, forcing the other detective to take a startled step back, as he advanced on him threateningly. "It´s NOT?! If it hadn´t been for you hotshots having left the Funny Farm Squad to play cops, none of this would have happened! Because you were too plain lazy to hike up a God damned hill, Hutch lived through hell, and now he may be dying!"

"Detective, please," Rabkin said calmingly, raising one hand. "We´re all agita-"

"We?!" Starsky cut him off, turning to him now. "I don´t see where you´re agitated! I bet you´ll even write in your report that your 'investigation' was
successful, you-"

Before he could get precise, a nurse entered, rolling a wheelchair in front of her. Taking the opportunity, Knox cast her a grateful look, as he reached for the chair. "Thanks, Nurse. I´ll take over from here."

"Dr. Larkson said the patient might need some seda-"

"Oh no," Knox winked with a friendly smile, already grabbing Starsky´s arm. "He´s fine. Thank you."

With a shrug, she left.

"Come on, Dave," Knox urged, when Starsky struggled slightly against his hold. "You´ll feel better."

"You know what´ll make me feel better?" the detective snapped, but at last obeyed, lowering himself into the wheelchair. "Kicking their fucking heads all over this room, that´s what. But my feet hurt," he added, "and besides, what with being in a hospital, they´d get help far too soon."

Grinning up sweetly at the two stunned cops, Knox patted Starsky´s shoulder and turned the chair for the door. "Don´t worry, pal. I´ll run over them with the ambulance later."

*****

It never ceased to amaze Starsky how vulnerable Hutch appeared when sleeping. With his features totally relaxed, it was unimaginable that they could ever carry a sarcastic expression or form the witty look of
unconvincing innocence the blond would use to emphasize a teasing remark. The usual air of self-confidence that surrounded him seemed to fade away, leaving boyish facial lines behind that involuntarily stirred paternal feelings in his partner.

'Vulnerable', of course, didn´t even cover how Hutch looked, when Knox wheeled Starsky into the room, leaving discreetly without a word, when he saw the curly haired man tense at his friend´s appearance. As white as the sheets he lay on, Hutch lay so still the ever so soft rising and falling of his chest was clearly visible. The gash on his forehead was covered by a large bandage that was wound around his whole head. Half-heartedly washed off streaks of dirt surrounded a band aid covering a cut under his right eye, and there was still dried blood visible on his chin. His left foot was in a cast and looked out from under the blanket covering him, as well as his left hand that was so heavily bandaged it looked three times its usual size. A thin, small tube from under it vanished somewhere under the blanket; Starsky quickly averted his eyes, but only found more bandages to look
at on Hutch´s shoulder and slightly up his neck from his collar bone.

The worst thing, though, was the respirator. Starsky had always felt it made people look much worse off when there were any machines attached to them. Hutch´s reply to that - "That might be because if you´re hooked on a machine, you ARE bad off, buddy." - had made him roll his eyes back then. Now it made him close them, needing to draw in a bracing breath,
before he re-opened them. Since he couldn´t hold onto his friend´s hand, the right one underneath the blanket was probably bandaged as well, he gently placed his own cool one on the side of Hutch´s neck, wincing, when he felt the heat still radiating from the man´s skin.

"Hey Hutch," he whispered softly and smiled lopsidedly, as he added, "The mummy´s alive, huh?"

Letting his gaze wander up to the respirator bag that swooshed steadily, he sighed deeply, his thumb absently starting to gingerly brush over the spot it lay on.

"You know what," he started again, this time talking out loud, "I think I´m bad luck for campers. Honest. Going on a camping trip with me is like having a lady on a ship. You never get your hand shot or pinned to a tree or whatever when you´re alone on these things. At least as far as I know," he quipped, once more smiling.

Joking on Hutch´s sick bed had always been an odd comfort, as if he was doing it for his friend´s sake, when actually it was just a Starsky-like substitute for desperate crying.

"Hey, wanna hear something funny? The stuff I took is called Bird Safe, because it´s supposed to keep you from taking a fly when you´re high." He grinned tiredly." And didn´t that just sound like a commercial line Huggy would come up with... Anyway, isn´t it sort of poetic justice that I fell down a cliff, while on something designed to prevent that? Well, okay, I didn´t actually fall, and it´s not justice, because I didn´t do anything to deserve it, but, uh... Still, it´s something poetic."

The following silence weighed heavily, the lack of any typical Hutch responses to a nonsense rambling like that almost physically sensible, as if there was suddenly no oxygen in the air. Starsky bowed his head.


"Don´t do this, babe." His voice was a mere whisper again, his free hand coming up to lightly tug once at a loose edge of Hutch´s blanket. "Don´t die. Please."

Again, there was only the noise of artificially created breaths answering him, and after a long, long while of sitting very still, staring at the shape of
Hutch´s arm underneath the blanket, Starsky lifted his head with a small sniff he hadn´t known had been forming. There was no moisture in his eyes, yet they stung, as if the sight they were forced to endure physically hurt them.

"Honest, Blintz..." A smirk dragged slightly quivering lips up at the corners, as Starsky lifted his eyebrows. "If this is your idea of an effective lecture, I have to tell you it´s lame." He had to pause and draw in a shaky breath to complete the wise-crack that wasn´t really one. "You know perfectly well that I know that gold isn´t true wealth. I don´t need no gold or anything, I just wanted you to have this post-plague vacation we never managed to go on, and don´t tell me you didn´t know that all along. Now please... please
just wake up and never let me hear the end of this, will you? I´ll even let you sing whenever and wherever you want. Anything. Just come back, Hutch."

Finding some unexpected comfort in his quiet pleading, Starsky was about to continue, when the door opened, revealing Doctor Buckley, carrying a bottle of water and a woolen blanket.

"Uhm..." he stammered, obviously uncomfortable with having just stepped into a private situation, and for a brief moment Starsky wondered if
Knox had sent him in as some sort of training. "I thought you might..." Buckley started, lifting the blanket with a feeble smile and crossed the distance, holding out both for the detective, who accepted them with a grateful smile.

"Thanks, Doc."

Hovering at Starsky’s side for an uneasy moment, the young doctor looked down at Hutch. "Dr. Larkson is the best doctor I know."

Surprised at the sudden firmness and lack of nervousness in Buckley´s voice, Starsky glanced up at him. "He´s not giving him much of a chance, is he?"

At that, a very unused looking small smile crossed the younger man´s features, as he replied, "He hasn´t treated a lot of cops during his career." It seemed like he wanted to say more, but decided against it and with a parting smile turned to left the room.

Blinking in confusion, Starsky frowned, then looked at his still friend with a shrug. "Weird, but nice, huh?"

*****

It was long past midnight, when Starsky awoke with a startled jerk, looking around wildly for a moment, as he tried to remember where he was. Along with the memory came his body´s reminder of sleeping upright in a chair being a bad idea, and with a stifled groan, he craned his neck, rubbing it with one hand.

It was dark in the room, except for the dim light over the headrest of Hutch´s bed and the long ray of some huge white electrical sign outside shining through the window. Stretching more, Starsky pushed the blanket
off him, flinching, when it fell down on the empty water bottle next to his wheelchair and knocked it over with a clang that echoed loudly through the still room.

Bending over to pick the bottle up again, Starsky´s gaze fell upon Hutch´s face, and he froze.

"Oh my... Hutch?"

There was no reaction, and for a moment Starsky found himself wondering if the blond had been unconscious with his eyes open the whole time long, but after a long while that hadn´t seen the darker man move at all from his odd angle, heavy eyelids came down to close over ice blues, then lifted again.

Starsky was on his feet in a heartbeat, almost losing his balance and stumbling back into the chair. "You´re awake! You... Don´t go anywhere," he cut himself off, pointing a warning finger at his friend and pushing
the nurse´s call bottom three long times in a row. His eyes never Hutch, though, who watched him rather confused.

"Don´t fall asleep again," Starsky ordered. "Stay right with me and wait for the nur... He´s awake!" he whirled around at the sound of the door being opened, greeting the entering nurse with an ear-to-ear grin.

Startled by this welcoming, she cast the excited detective a scowl, then turned to Hutch, whose gaze very slowly wandered from Starsky to her, when he heard her voice. "Detective Hutchinson, can you hear me?"

The muscles in Hutch´s neck strained a bit, when he tried to speak past the tube in his throat, and the nurse quickly explained, "You can´t talk right now, because there´s a tube in your throat to help you breathe. Do you know where you are?"

A faint frown crawled over the blond´s forehead, then suddenly it faded into an unnerved looking rolling of his eyes, that searched for his partner on the other side of his bed. Grinning, Starsky nodded. "Right, Blintz. Hospital. Couldn´t help it, sorry."

Furrowing her eyebrows at the silent communication she´d just witnessed, the nurse stated, "He seems pretty alert. I´ll go get the doctor."

"Yeah," Starsky nodded eagerly, having to force his gaze away from Hutch´s and up to meet hers. "This means he´ll be okay, right?"

"Try keeping him awake until the doctor arrives," she said instead of an answer and turned for the door, hearing a convincing "You´re gonna be okay, Blintz" before she stepped onto the hallway.

*****

"Captain Dobey."

"Cap!"

"Now," the gruff voice on the other side of the telephone line stated dryly, "haven´t I waited for this call. So, Starsky, what happened this time? Where are you?"

"Rocky Beach Hospital," Starsky replied.

Dobey sighed. "Why am I not surprised? What kind of a mess have you two gotten yourself into now?"

"Hey, wait, it wasn´t our fault."

"It never is," Dobey wise-cracked. "Spill it, what happened? How long will you have to stay there?"

"Probably about a week," Starsky answered. "Hutch stepped on a squirrel."

Since he wasn´t in the best mood of the year after having learned his partner had not caught pneumonia and was going to be okay in a few weeks, Dobey didn´t get the humor, a fact that showed in the unnerved
"Starsky" he muttered for an answer.

"Okay, okay," Starsky verbally waved. "We accidentally pitched our tent in the middle of a drug deal and the parties involved in that weren´t particularly pleased."

His tone darkened, as he added, "They worked Hutch over real good. But," and the audible grin was back, "I just spoke to the doctor and he says he´s gonna be good as new. He´s still running a fever, but since he woke up last night, he seems alert, and Doc said maybe they´ll take him off the respirator tomorrow."

"Respirator?" Dobey asked, alarmed.

"He punctured a lung. They had to help him breathe so he could fight the fever from infection on his left hand. But there´s good news to that too. Dr. Larkson said he certainly won´t lose it."

Paling as he tried to follow his excited detective´s tale and found the results rather distressing, Dobey tentatively asked, "Lose what?"

"His hand," Starsky explained and thought he could hear his superior get to his feet, like he usually did when becoming exasperated during a conversation.

"Starsky-"

Knowing THAT tone of his superior´s voice too well to continue his light-hearted happy rambling, Starsky turned into an obedient subordinate and quickly filled Dobey in on the story´s details.

When he was done, there was yet another exasperated sigh to be heard. "But Hutchinson is going to be okay, right?"

"Like I said."

"What about you?"

"Oh, don´t worry," Starsky replied casually. "I´m fine. Had to take LSD and fell down a cliff. No big deal."

"You know," Dobey said, not even bothering to acknowledge that revelation with an audible reaction. Starsky was sure, though, that he was just rubbing his eyes almost exhaustedly with his free hand. "You´re the only people I know who I fear for more when they go on vacation than when they hit the streets. Whenever you get a long weekend off I ask around who
might be able to cover for your shift the week after that. Just in case."

"Aw, Cap, that´s nice," Starsky grinned. "You fear for us?" A growl answered him, and he suppressed a laugh, stating innocently, "But it´s not like Hutch and I plan for these things to happen."

"Sometimes I wonder," Dobey replied and finally let go of that third sigh. "Well, I´ll have someone cover for you then. And you keep me posted on Hutch, will you?"

"Sure thing," Starsky assured. "See you, Cap."

*****

Dr. Larkson had just left his patient´s room, which he had enlightened with the announcement that Hutch would really be taken off the respirator that afternoon.  Starsky stretched in his chair that had replaced the wheelchair some time ago, picking up the Dean´s Corner booklet he´d read to Hutch earlier. A young nurse was still busy re-bandaging the blond´s left hand that the doctor had also checked.

As always when Dr. Larkson had said his friend would be alright, Starsky was smiling happily at Hutch, before furrowing his brows. "Man, did I tell you already you really scared the living hell outta me this time?"

Hutch only arched his brows.

"Yeah, okay, so I did," Starsky waved, unaware of the nurse´s glance raising in curiosity at his answering-like tone. "But you can´t tell me to shut up, so I´m going to say it again. You SO damn scared the hell out of me up there. Why did you move, anyway? I thought you´re the Cop Doc of this duo. Don´t you know you can’t move around like that with broken
ribs?"

Chuckling, finding the curly haired man´s openly displayed concern for his friend rather cute, the nurse glanced down at Hutch, who was furrowing his
lifted brows sick-puppy like and blinked once.

"But you said you liked rain in the forest," Starsky replied to some unspoken explanation, much to their witness´s amazement. "Besides, don´t you think killing yourself over not getting wet is a rather drastic measure?! Not to mention the fact that you would have gotten soaked through, anyway."

There was a short pause; the detectives looked at each other, the pitiful expression on the blond´s face only intensifying as he let his gaze wander over to meet that of the nurse.

"I think," she said with a smile, looking over at Starsky, "he´s really sorry for that, Detective." With that, she lowered Hutch´s freshly bandaged hand onto the bed and with a friendly pat to his arm, stood, not catching the triumphant look her patient shot his friend.

Grumbling, Starsky opened the booklet. "Sure. He´s probably sorry for dragging all you nurses on his side, too. Now, where were we?" he added, flapping through the pages until he found the one he´d stopped at before.

Sensing Hutch´s pleading gaze on her as he headed for the door, the nurse turned and was about to hurry to his aid, when Starsky, without even looking up, stated, "Cut it out, Blintz. You should be glad I brought something educational. There´s always the opportunity to widen your horizon. Oh, look, isn´t this great? There´s a picture of Frank Sinatra next to the Dean sign."

As Starsky started reading the story connected to the picture, the nurse shrugged apologetically at a very helpless looking Hutch and left the room.

*****

Six days later, Hutch was sitting in his hospital bed, lowly singing the most bored version of 'Blackbird' to himself, while he monotonously threw a small soft ball in the air with his left hand and caught it. More often than not he managed to catch it, and the few times it landed in his lap, he would start a new song.

Though it had been officially, which meant by Starsky, declared the first stakeout game ever invented by Hutch, this exercise, which was supposed to help the damaged hand muscles recover, had quickly turned into the first 'Boring Hospital Days Game' and had even attracted new team members, as the nurses would usually join into the singing, too, when they dropped by.

Today, though, 'Catch and Sing' was proving it´s sole-player qualities; it was late afternoon, and Starsky still hadn´t shown. Plus, it was a busy day, with no nurses having the time to stop by Hutch´s room for a little chat or flirt.

For the hundredth time glancing at the digital numbers of the clock on his nightstand, Hutch missed catching the ball and sighed. He picked it up again and started a new round with 'Oh, Lonesome Me'.

Since there had been no beds to spare in the hospital, Starsky had settled for moving to a hotel down the street once he´d been released, and today was the first day he hadn´t spent the whole day with Hutch like he usually did, but had excused himself after a short visit in the early morning.

At first Hutch had found the prospect of having some time for himself appealing, since he couldn´t help feeling slightly guilty, thinking that his friend spent his hard earned free time playing 'Catch and Sing' or sat, reading in his chair, when the blond was asleep. As soon as noon, though, that first enthusiasm had subsided into a dangerously quickly intensifying grumpiness. With both hands still bandaged and too weak to hold a book upright, Hutch couldn´t read, there was no TV in his room, and with nothing and no one around to distract him, he suddenly found there were several, mostly unreachable, spots on his healing body that, well, itched.

So when he heard Starsky´s humming outside his room, Hutch´s head snapped up, a relief most adult people never experience again once they´d passed the age of having to go shopping with their mother flooding him.

"Hey Hutch," Starsky greeted him, when he entered and easily caught the ball that game flying his direction with one hand. In the other, he held a brown paper bag. "Wow, bad mood?"

"Where´ve you been?" Hutch asked, unable to help sounding like a whiny five-year-old.

"Around," his friend answered with a smile and waggle of his brows. He carefully threw the ball back, and Hutch caught it with his left, but winced slightly.

Concern instantly covered the air of happy excitement that seemed to surround Starsky, as he sat down on the edge of the bed, reaching out to gently inspect Hutch´s hand. "How´s it feel today?"

"Hurts," Hutch answered and drew it back, his gaze falling upon the paper bag that his friend had placed on the floor. "What´s that?"

The amused twinkle returned to cobalt blue eyes, the worry that colored the darker man´s voice clearly faked now. "And the foot?"

"Itches. Starsk, what´s in the bag?"

Starsky laughed and picked it up. "And you keep telling me I´m like a little kid? Here," he sat it on the bed next to Hutch. "For you."

"For me?" the blond grinned, playing along with his partner´s wise-crack. "What is it?"

There was no time for Starsky to answer, though, as Hutch already dug into the bag, frowning when his fingers brushed against soft material." Starsk, what... Oh." Having dragged the content out, he now saw it was a red 'Dean´s Corner'-t-shirt that had the town´s sign printed on the front and 'Gotta Have Style' on the back in black letters.

"Well?" Starsky grinned, clearly enjoying himself. "D´you like it?"

"Uhm... Sure," Hutch replied, cracking his friend a smile. "Thanks a lot, buddy."

"Great. They have a whole store of this stuff, d´you know that? Think I found your Christmas present."

"They have Dean Martin first aid kits?" Hutch asked dryly.

"No, Dean-shaped carrot peelers."

"If it plays 'I Take A Lot Of Pride In What I Am' while peeling, I´ll take it."

"Yeah, well," Starsky said through a chuckle and patted his friend´s knee. "Speaking of carrots, there´s something else I have for you."

The delight of a child on Christmas morning flashing through his eyes, Hutch opened his mouth in a 'Hooray!'-kind of gesture. "You brought me carrots?! I love you!"

"Sort of."

Just like a light switch being pushed, 'Hooray' changed into suspicion. "What´s that mean?"

"It´s more like... salad," Starsky explained.

Apparently not sure whether it was all right to bring 'Hooray' back on, the blond´s eyes wandered aside, then back to Starsky, who sat, smiling expectantly. "Salad," he finally repeated, unconvinced. "Like... carrot salad?"

"Yup," Starsky nodded. "Original Starsky recipe."

"Wait a sec, you MADE it?"

"Hutch, you can´t buy carrot salad. We, normal people, don´t like it, cause it´s weird. But I figured since they don´t get your healing measure thing `round here, the least I could do was to make sure you don´t have to stop it completely... what with you really kinda needing to heal right now," he added with a warm smile.

"So you made me carrot salad?" Hutch asked, dumbfounded.

"There are apples in it too," Starsky informed him, a ray of pride over his rarely revealed cooking talents showing through.

"I didn´t even know you knew how to make salad," Hutch said and grinned. "Wasn´t that just a horrible experience for you, being in one room with tons of fruits and vegetables?"

"Is that your way of showing gratitude, Blintz? Bugging me? Just so you know, I´ve had several requests from the guy at the hotel kitchen to let them have it."

His best sick-puppy look on full power again, Hutch lifted his bandaged right to flap it against his partner´s arm with exaggerated weakness. "I´m sorry," he said in a small voice. "I´m sure it´s great. Thank you." Blinking innocently, he flashed on a boyish smile that slipped into lopsidedness, when Starsky rolled his eyes with a groan.

"Okay, okay, I´ll get it. Jeez." And with that, he stood, headed for the door, but was held back by Hutch´s voice behind him.

"Hey Starsk."

"Hm?" Brows lifted questioningly, Starsky turned, but too late, as the small ball landed just in front of his feet. Picking it up, he looked at Hutch
expectantly. "Well?"

"Your turn."

"`Kay." And throwing the ball back at his friend, who caught it easily, Starsky started the first lines of 'Camp Grenada'. Laughing, Hutch joined in, watching his friend leave the room.

"... camp is very entertaining ... and they say we´ll have some fun if it stops raining...'

THE END

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