By SunnyD

Well, the key to my survival
was never in much doubt
the question was how I could keep sane
trying to find a way out

things were never easy for me
peace of mind was hard to find
and I needed a place where I could hide
somewhere I could call mine

I didn't think much about it
'til it started happening all the time
soon I was living with the fear everyday
of what might happen at night

"No Son of Mine"

Cloudless azure sky, a gentle, pine-scented breeze, and
the occasional bird call provided an odd counterpoint to dark
flapping robes, barked commands, muttered oaths and slamming
doors. Hutch watched a handcuffed young man with long, greasy
hair struggle belligerently as a uniformed cop placed a large,
rough palm atop his head and shoved him unceremoniously into a
squad car. The officer ducked down, face painted with disgust,
and spoke to his prisoner for a moment before shutting the door
with a flourish.

"How is he?"

Dobey's voice, and the unexpected grip on his shoulder,
snapped Hutch from his bemused reverie. His eyes darted to the
Torino and the figure slumped inside, against its passenger door.
Starsky's face was hidden, turned into the glass, his body
hunched and still.

Hutch felt the rage, tucked safely away while he'd dealt
with his shivering partner, begin to expand. Cheeks flushed,
bright blue eyes turned hard as agate and his fingers
unconsciously curled into fists. Dobey dropped his hand and
moved back a pace, a reflexive reaction to perceived danger.

"He's alive." Hutch's voice was tight, flat. "None of his
injuries appear life threatening." He shrugged. "Beyond that it will
take a doctor to assess all the damage. I can tell you that I don't
think you could find a spot on his body that's not cut or bruised.
That he's got a nasty burn on the side of his face and probably
several cracked ribs. His wrists look like hamburger and I'm pretty
sure he has a concussion, but it's hard to tell since it looks like
they drugged him and it hasn't completely worn off." His voice
rose steadily. "No food, hardly any water, t-terrorizing him by..."

Dobey's hand returned, solid, strong, but his words were
gentle. "He's alive. Dead men don't heal."

Hutch let his chin drop to his chest, sucking in a long, slow
breath of air and then blowing it out. When he raised his face to
Dobey again, some of the fire had receded from his eyes.

"Yeah. I hear you."

Dobey shuffled his feet, sliding back into captain mode.
"I'll take care of things here. You just concentrate on taking your
partner to the hospital to get him checked out. Take the rest of
the day off, but I want you both in my office bright and early
tomorrow morning so Starsky can give his statement."

Hutch nodded, the corners of his mouth lifting. "We'll be
there. Thanks, Cap."

"Don't bother thanking me. Just get Starsky into shape so
we can nail these turkeys!" He turned before Hutch could respond,
bellowing at one of the lab techs who stood near the entrance to
the grotto where Starsky had been held. "Wazinski! I want this
place gone over with a fine-toothed comb, fingerprints, pictures,
the works! Turn over every rock if you have to, but make sure
you've got enough evidence for an airtight case on these punks!"

Strangely comforted by Dobey's roar, Hutch walked quickly
back to the Torino. He paused with one hand on the door,
stooping to peer through the window. Starsky hadn't moved. He
seemed to be sleeping, his pale bruised face tipped at an angle
that concealed the blistered flesh around the right eye. Both arms
were laced tightly around his middle, his shoulders curled and his
knees pulled toward his chest. Hutch let his own eyes slip shut.



But alive.

He sighed, slipped his fingers under the door handle and
tugged, sliding behind the wheel. He was totally unprepared for
Starsky's reaction—his partner nearly falling off the seat in an
exaggerated startle reflex. He bolted upright, arms flung up to
cover his face, breath reduced to short, sharp pants, and a low cry
wrenched from his lips. Hutch's heart twisted in sympathy. He
stifled the automatic impulse to lay a calming hand on his friend's
shoulder, using low, soothing words instead.

"Easy, easy, you're all right. It's me."

Starsky's breathing slowed from the harsh gulps for air and
he dropped his arms, wincing at the delayed screams of pain from
abused ribs. He swiped at the perspiration that beaded his brow
and upper lip with the back of a trembling hand. A wide, black
sleeve slid down his arm to pool at the elbow, revealing a bracelet
of raw, bleeding flesh encircling his wrist. Hutch clamped his teeth
together and averted his gaze, fury pounding behind his eyes and
reverberating through his skull.

"'M okay. You just surprised me, is all." Starsky held his
body stiffly as he shifted, searching vainly for a comfortable
position. "We done here?"

Hutch turned the key in the ignition and the Torino's engine
roared to life. "Dobey said he'd handle things."

Starsky turned to look out the window, his voice soft.
"Good. If I never see this place again, it'll be too soon."

Hutch stole a quick look at the back of his partner's head,
blood matting the dark curls, and threw the gearshift into drive.

They drove in silence, Starsky drifting back into a partial
doze until he realized where Hutch was headed. His brow
furrowed, but he could only muster a halfhearted protest.

"Aw, Hutch, can't you just take me home? Last thing I
wanna deal with right now's being poked and prodded by some
doctor—'specially wearing this thing." He tugged on the robe, face
screwed up in disgust.

"Dobey's orders, Starsk. He insisted I get you checked out
right away." Hutch silently thanked his captain for providing the
necessary excuse to prevent an argument neither of them was in
any shape to conduct.

"Since when are you so worried about Dobey's orders?"
Starsky muttered under his breath, but he looked so miserable
Hutch couldn't take offense.

"Look, I know you don't want to do this, but try to be
sensible. For the last twenty-four hours, you've doubled as a
punching bag for Marcus' goons. You've taken more than one
severe blow to the head, that burn needs to be treated or you
could wind up with a scar, and judging from the way you've been
holding your sides, I'd guess you've got some cracked ribs—
maybe broken."

"Not broken."

"How can you be sure? The doc's going to want to take an
X-ray to be..."

Starsky huffed impatiently. "I'm tellin' you, they aren't! I
damn well know what broken ribs feel like, and I'm saying..."

"You've had broken ribs before? When?" Hutch tore his
eyes from the road to look quizzically at his partner.

Starsky pressed his lips tightly together and hunched down
further in the seat. "Forget it. Let's just get this over with."

Hutch opened his mouth to retort, but something in
Starsky's tone—a slight catch or tremor—held his tongue. He
concentrated on driving and allowed his partner to compose

The problem was that the very silence Starsky seemed to
crave left Hutch with time for a little reflection of his own. Too
much time. For the past twenty-four hours he'd operated at
breakneck speed, frantically searching for the pieces to Simon's
puzzle in hopes it would lead him to Starsky before it was too late.

What is it with you and these twenty-four hour deadlines,
Starsk? First the professor's poison and now Simon. I'm getting
too old for this...

While he'd been running down leads, racking his brain for
answers, Hutch had been able to avoid thinking too closely about
what his partner might be enduring. His mind was imprinted with
Marcus' monstrous acts—snapshot images from crime scene
photos that had rattled the armor of even the most seasoned
veterans on the Force. But he'd managed to tuck those fears into
a dark corner of his brain, far from the light of rational thought, and
concentrate on the mechanics of the search. They'd nipped and
buzzed at the edges of his consciousness like annoying
mosquitoes, but he'd swatted them away without looking too

Now the undeniable evidence of abuse was written in
Starsky's flesh, the stillness in the car a perfect medium for Hutch
to speculate on the origin of each and every wound. Dobey was
right; he was alive and therefore able to heal. But the shell-
shocked glint in Starsky's eyes warned the road might be rocky.

By the time they pulled up to the hospital most of the fight
had gone out of Starsky. Glassy-eyed with delayed shock, pain
and fatigue, he seemed to be functioning on autopilot, letting
Hutch steer him into the emergency room, park him on an
examination table, and talk with the doctor.

Dr. Reed, who wore a Hawaiian shirt under his white lab
coat and red tennis shoes on his feet, took in Hutch's abbreviated
tale of Starsky's captivity with raised eyebrows. When he
performed a cursory exam on his patient, however, his manner
was sympathetic and gentle. Starsky wordlessly submitted as
Reed peered into his eyes, listened to heart and lungs, and
enlisted a nurse to record his temperature and blood pressure,
and draw a vial of blood.

"You're a bit dehydrated, Detective Starsky. Are you

Hutch watched his partner's tongue snake out in an
unsuccessful attempt to moisten dry lips, mentally kicking himself
for not having thought of the obvious.

"Yeah." Starsky's response was a rough croak, but the
eagerness in it only exacerbated Hutch's sense of guilt.

Reed nodded and turned to the nurse. "Kelly, would you
please get the detective a cup of water? We'll also need..."


Like the sudden crack of a gun, Starsky's ragged protest
silenced the doctor and drew three pairs of eyes. He licked his
lips again and shifted uneasily, a grimace of discomfort passing
quickly across his face before he could conceal it.

"Not water. I don't want water."

Hutch studied his partner's white-knuckled grip on the
gurney, the dilated eyes and the too-rapid puffs for breath.
Starsky was scared, as alarmed as if the doctor had offered him
acid instead of water. Why? To his relief, Reed didn't question
the odd behavior.

"Better make that apple juice then, Kelly. And we'll need a
pair of scrubs so we can bag his clothes for evidence."

Starsky's respiration was already slowing, but Hutch
moved to his side in silent support. His partner kept his eyes on
the doctor, but shifted just enough that his leg brushed Hutch's.

"Okay, here's where we stand," Reed told Starsky, "though
I'll need to get some tests to confirm. You've got a concussion—if
not from the initial blow to the head, from the ensuing trauma.
Second and third degree burns to the side of your face, though
fortunately the right eye appears unaffected. Several cracked ribs
on both sides. Some possibly lingering effects of an as yet
unknown narcotic substance. And one hell of a lot of bruising and
contusions." He finished ticking off the injuries on his fingers and
tugged on the ends of the stethoscope slung round his neck.

"That's the bad news. The good news is that so far there
doesn't seem to be any internal bleeding, and your kidneys appear
relatively intact." He scratched his head. "And you're breathing.
That's the best news of all. I've been following the coverage of
Simon Marcus' trial, Detective. All things considered, I'd say
you're a very lucky man."

"Amen," Hutch mumbled as Kelly returned with the
promised juice.

"That may be well and true, Doc, but you'll forgive me if I
tell you I'm not feelin' too lucky at the moment. When can I go
home?" Starsky's words slurred with weariness, and when he
reached for the cup, his hand trembled.

Reed shook his head. "Not today, I'm afraid. I'm sending
you upstairs for a CAT scan and a few other tests. Then I want to
admit you at least overnight for observation. If all the tests look

"Uh-uh. No way."

Starsky set down the cup with a smack that splattered
droplets of juice onto the crisp white sheet before he started to slip
off the gurney. His feet touched the ground but didn't halt the
downward momentum, knees buckling under his own weight.
Hutch caught him before he could hit the floor, slipping an arm
around his waist to steady him.

"Starsky! Will you just..."

"No, Hutch! I let you drag me in here, but I'm not stayin',
and that's all she wrote. I been in worse shape than this and..."

"You don't know what kind of shape you're in unless you
let them finish the tests! Stop acting like a stubborn..."

"Knock it off! Both of you!" Reed's barked, authoritarian
command conflicted with his innocuous appearance. The surprise
was enough to shut them both up. He pointed a finger at Starsky,
slipping back into his easygoing persona. "Have a seat before
you fall on your face. I'm willing to deal."

Starsky scowled, but allowed Hutch to help him back up on
the gurney. He started to fold his arms, flinched, and dropped
them to his sides instead. Hutch bit back any further argument,
his eyes leapfrogging between his partner and the doctor.

Reed sighed. "Okay. I'm hearing some serious
reservations about spending the night in our lovely establishment.
I don't suppose you'd like to share *why* you find the idea so

"'Cause it's just plain ridiculous, that's why. I may be a little
banged up, but I sure don't need to be *hospitalized*." Starsky's
physical appearance did little to back up the passion of his protest.
The chalk-white pallor of his skin emphasized the angry, red burn
on his cheek and the mottled black-and-blue patches that marred
most areas of exposed flesh. His normally sparkling blue eyes
were dull and smudged with shadows, his voice thin and strained.

Hutch couldn't contain a response, but tried to keep it
gentle and non-threatening. "Banged up?" He shook his head.
"You should take a look in the mirror, buddy. I've seen corpses in
better shape."

"Thank you," Starsky said sarcastically, but the corners of
his mouth turned up.

"Detective Starsky, I need you to understand that a period
of observation is not out of line in a case like yours," Reed
interjected, drawing their attention back to him. "Even if the CAT
scan looks clear, you need a neuro check every couple hours to
be sure we haven't missed a slow bleed or some other
complication. The fact that you've been drugged just muddies the
waters. The first twenty-four hours after a trauma such as you've
suffered are critical, and if something does go wrong it's best to
have you here, where we can..."

Starsky held up a hand, cutting him off. "Doc, I'm sure
what you're saying makes perfect sense. It's just that I'm not
feeling very sensible right now, ya know? If I haven't bled to death
so far, odds are it ain't gonna happen. I just want to go home.
Can you understand that?"

Reed ducked his head, cupping the back of his neck with
one hand. When he lifted his eyes from contemplating the floor,
they were warm with empathy. "Yeah. I guess I can. Here's the
deal—my only offer. You be a good little patient and let me run
the necessary tests. That includes allowing me to hook you up to
an IV so we can rehydrate you and give you something for the
pain, provided your blood test results give us the green light."

Starsky made a face. "I've already been drugged to the
gills, Doc. I'd rather pass on the pain medicine."

"You may think so now. Wait until we have to dress that
burn and wrap your ribs. Your body is still in a partial state of
shock, Detective. Believe me when I say that you haven't even
begun to hurt yet. Take the drugs."

Starsky chewed on his lip, eyes wary. "What else?"

"If the test results come back negative you can go home—
provided you have someone stay with you to handle the neuro
checks. And you come back in a couple of days for a follow-up

Starsky hunched his shoulders, his eyes sliding to Hutch's
in a silent question. Hutch nudged his leg with a little grin.

"You really think I'd let you off the hook that easy?" To the
doctor, he added, "Just give me a list of instructions."

Reed nodded, satisfied. "Okay, let's get this show on the
road. Detective Starsky, you take a minute to trade that outfit for
some scrubs. Kelly can help you, if..."

"That's not necessary, I'm fine." Starsky's cheeks flushed
and he peered at the nurse from under his lashes. "No offense,
Kelly. I been dressin' myself since I was two, I think I can handle

To Starsky's further embarrassment and Hutch's
amusement, the pretty nurse winked. "Sorry to hear that,
Detective. You let me know if you change your mind." She
collected the empty juice cup and sauntered out of the room.

Reed chuckled at Starsky's flustered reaction. "You should
feel flattered, Detective. Kelly wouldn't make that offer to just
anyone. I'll send her back in a few minutes to get that IV started."

Hutch wandered over to the window as Starsky reached for
the scrubs. "Gotta hand it to you, partner. You've got the touch."

"Yeah. Just my luck. A pretty lady comes on to me when I
can't do anything about it," Starsky grumbled, grunting in pain as
he bent to slip his legs into the scrubs. He carefully slid off the
table, hanging on with one hand as he tugged them up to his
waist. That accomplished, he slipped off the hateful black robe
with a little sigh of relief.

Hutch turned around just as he was reaching for the shirt.
His eyes widened to saucers and he crossed the room in three
quick strides to reach Starsky's side.

"What in the hell...?"

Starsky evaded his eyes and tried to slip his arms into the
sleeves, but Hutch stopped him by knotting his fist in the material.
His blue eyes had gone flat and cold as ice, and he leaned in to
take a closer look at several bloody, crescent-shaped wounds on
Starsky's left upper arm and shoulder.

"Starsk, are those... Are those bites?" He couldn't keep
the horror and rage from his voice.

Starsky yanked the shirt from his fingers and finished
working it over his head, never meeting his eyes. "Yeah."

The fury that rose in Hutch felt too big to be contained—he
thought the top of his head might just blow off from the pressure.
He stalked across the room and back again, wanting to smash,
wanting to pound, wanting to destroy. He settled for muttering his
rather extensive repertoire of obscenities under his breath.

"I should've killed him," he growled. "Right there in the
interrogation room, when I had him pinned up against that wall. I
should've just wrapped my hands around his throat, and..."

Starsky's clutching hand and haunted, desperate eyes
pulled him up short. "Hutch. Let it go. Please."

Hutch remembered childhood vacations. How clothes
never seemed to fit back into the suitcase when it was time to go
home. Stuffing them inside and sitting on the lid just to get it shut.

He looked into his partner's weary, ravaged face, pushed
and shoved the rage back into its box, and sat on the lid. Starsky
must have been able to see the change in his expression,
because his eyes slipped shut and the tension left his body.

"Thanks, Hutch." The words were wispy, insubstantial.

Hutch laid a hand on Starsky's shoulder, mindful of the
bruised, torn flesh. Careful to add warmth and comfort, not pain.
But inside, a chunk of ice lodged in his stomach.

We're not finished with this, Starsk. Not by a long shot.

* * *

"I don't think that's such a good idea." Hutch kept his voice
calm and reasonable, though his own exhaustion left his temper
frayed at the edges. He set two amber vials of pills on the counter
next to Dr. Reed's instructions.

Starsky leaned outside the kitchen, one palm pressed
against the wall as if to reassure himself of its stability, the other
cradling sore ribs wrapped in a Velcro bandage. Even in the
rapidly dimming light from the window, Hutch could see pupils
abnormally dilated from a dose of Demerol.

"You're entitled to your opinion. I'm taking a shower,
anyway." Starsky's voice and tucked-in chin were mulish, despite
his obvious weakness.

"Starsky, you're not supposed to get that burn wet. And
what about the bandages on your ribs and your wrists? Besides,
you're dead on your feet. Get some rest and tomorrow..."

"I can't!" Ragged, broken.

Hutch's hand froze in the act of reaching for a glass.
Starsky shivered and looked away, blinking rapidly. His voice was
very soft and meticulously controlled when he finally continued.

"I can't sleep while I can still smell that place on me. Smell
*them* on me." He began moving carefully toward the bathroom.
"I'm gonna take a shower."

Hutch followed him, throat tight with sympathy, but gut
churning at the thought of the slippery tile. "You're awfully
unsteady on your feet, pal. At least take a bath..."

"No!" Starsky froze, shoulders stiff and back ramrod
straight, his tone identical to the one used when Reed had offered
a cup of water. A slight shake of his head, and he started moving
again, never looking back. "No bath. I'll be careful."

Hutch watched him disappear into the bathroom, heard the
door shut, the lock engage. He opened his mouth to protest,
visions of Starsky sprawled unconscious on the tile flickering
through his thoughts, but choked it back. His partner was already
on the edge, functioning by sheer willpower. No sense starting
another pointless argument. If worse came to worse, he'd break
down the door.

He returned to the kitchen and rummaged around, one ear
on the patter of the shower. Dr. Reed's instructions suggested
Starsky should eat something before taking the first dose of
antibiotic, but Hutch knew his partner's stomach had been
bothering him. After a bit of searching, he found a half-empty box
of tea and a loaf of bread. By the time his friend emerged from
the bathroom wearing sweats, Hutch had pulled together a mug of
the hot beverage and a slice of toast. He waited until Starsky had
collapsed on the couch before handing him the food, silently
taking note of his partner's reddened eyes and subdued manner.

Starsky viewed the offerings skeptically, but managed to
consume half the toast and most of the tea, juggling the food while
Hutch carefully rebandaged first one wrist and then the other. He
let his head drop onto the back of the couch and gazed at Hutch
through heavy lids.

"Never really said thank you."

Hutch's mouth curved. "Never really had to. But you're

The long silence that stretched between them was
comfortable, unburdened by the need to be filled. Hutch thought
Starsky had dropped off to sleep, was perilously close to doing the
same. His partner needed a bed, not a couch, and unless he set
an alarm, Dr. Reed's neuro checks weren't going to happen. He
was just summoning the energy to move when Starsky's soft
words stopped him.

"Didn't think I was gonna make it this time, Hutch. Buyin' it
on the street, that's one thing. But winding up one of Simon's
sacrifices..." He swallowed thickly, tried to smile. "Kept tellin'
myself to hang on, that you'd find me. And you did."

Hutch closed his eyes, breathed slowly and evenly.
"'Course I did. Always will. Count on it."

Another stretch of silence, drawn out like taffy. Then,

"They liked to talk—when they weren't chanting Simon's
name. Kept telling me you weren't coming. Even said they'd set a
trap for you, wasted you with a bomb in the Torino." A beat. "I
was a little bit worried, ya know?"

Iron fingers around his throat, but Hutch kept his voice
light. "Yeah?"

" know. I love that car."

Hutch opened his eyes to meet his partner's quizzical
gaze, hearing the words behind words. He pursed his lips to hide
a smile and nodded.

"Sorry you had to go through that, buddy." The smile
evaporated. "I was a little worried myself. Marcus' goons left an
awful lot of blood in that bathroom at the courthouse. Thought at
first it might be yours."

Starsky's mouth twisted into a self-deprecating grimace.
"Guess they were hiding in the stalls. I never saw 'em coming
until it was too late. Felt like they took my head off." He blinked
and a huge yawn slipped out.

"Go on and lay down, Starsk. Might as well try to catch a
few winks before I have to wake you up again." Hutch kept it light,
a suggestion. Knowing how much his stubborn partner hated to
be told what to do. Understanding that now, more than ever, he
needed to feel in control.

Starsky didn't even try to argue—a telling indicator of his
pain and exhaustion. He stifled another yawn and started to haul
himself to his feet. He'd barely managed to slide to the edge of
the cushion when he froze, sucking in a sharp gulp of air. His own
fatigue forgotten, Hutch sprang to his feet and crossed to stand in
front of his partner, extending both hands.

"Easy, Starsk. Grab my wrists and just keep your arms
locked; let me do the work."

Starsky growled something unintelligible under his breath,
but complied, clenching his teeth when Hutch tugged him upright.
He wobbled for a moment, reflexively releasing Hutch's hands to
clutch at his shirt. The gesture was so familiar, and so fraught
with memories, Hutch had to draw in a steadying breath of his
"You okay? Need help getting settled?"

Starsky released the fabric and gave Hutch's stomach an
affectionate pat, one corner of his mouth turning up in a lopsided
grin. "Nah, I'm fine. I'd race ya, but I wouldn't wanna show you
up." He started toward the bedroom, feet shuffling across the

The words, paired with the gait of a ninety-year-old man,
turned Hutch's concern to a snicker—as he was sure his partner
had intended. "You're too good to me, buddy. I can only try to
deserve it."

His last glimpse of Starsky was an upraised middle finger.

* * *

Hutch jerked fully awake, heart thumping. His wide eyes
struggled to make sense of deep shadows and broken shafts of
moonlight, his ears attuned to catch the slightest sound. He
swung his legs over the side of the couch and stood, drinking in
the silence, then tipped his watch toward the light from the
window. 10:34. Almost four hours since he'd shaken his groggy
partner awake for the last check.

He'd never intended to doze off—slumber had ambushed
him like a cat pouncing on a mouse. Thirty-six hours of running
on nothing but coffee, determination and fear had resulted in a
deep and dreamless sleep.

So what had awakened him?

A sound from the next room, a soft whimper, like the cry of
a wounded animal, was his answer. Hutch moved unerringly
through the apartment, familiar terrain even in the dark. He
paused just inside the doorway to the bedroom, hand hovering
uncertainly over the light switch. Moonlight spilled through the
uncovered window, illuminating the thrashing figure on the bed.
The sheets had tangled around Starsky's ankles, and Hutch
couldn't help wincing at the bruises that stood out in stark relief to
his pale skin. Another low moan and a mumbled string of vowels
prodded him to action. Forgoing the light switch, he flipped on a
small lamp in the corner and walked over to sit on the edge of the


More unintelligible muttering and Starsky's fingers
scrabbled at the mattress. Hutch was able to catch a word here
and there—"no," "please," and "out" being the clearest. Sweat
glued the thin tee-shirt to Starsky's torso and plastered his hair to
his brow. His eyes moved rapidly behind the closed lids.

Hutch hesitantly laid a hand on his partner's shoulder,
keeping both his touch and his voice feather light. "Starsky, wake

Starsky's response was as violent as if he'd been slapped.
He shot up, eyes wide with terror and arms flailing.

"No! No more!"

Hutch flinched back from the buffeting fists, nearly falling
off the bed. He ducked and grabbed one arm, forgetting the
abused wrist until Starsky hissed in pain. Letting go as if he'd
been scalded, Hutch settled for catching Starsky's face between
his palms.

"Starsky, stop! It's a dream, buddy! It's just a bad dream."

Starsky's vivid blue eyes stopped rolling in panic and
locked onto Hutch's. His breath came in short, harsh pants and
powerful tremors wracked his body.

"You're safe," Hutch repeated. Slow. Calm. "It was a
dream, Starsk. A dream."

His partner stared into his face for a long moment, as if
deliberating the truth of Hutch's words. Then he clasped his legs
to his chest and dropped his forehead onto his knees—a position
that Hutch was certain would be causing him a great deal of pain if
he were coherent enough to register it. He ventured to place a
hand on Starsky's back, rubbing it in soothing circles when the
touch was not rebuffed. Gradually, the trembling under his fingers
ceased, the jagged, uneven respiration smoothed.

Hutch knew his partner had come all the way back when
his shoulders tensed in the first recognition of cracked ribs.
Starsky lifted his head, face twisted with discomfort as he tried to

"Hang on."

Hutch grabbed pillows and stacked them against the
headboard, then helped his partner ease back until he was
propped against them. Starsky shivered, this time in pain, and
tried to stifle a groan.

"Feel like I just went ten rounds with Muhammad Ali."

"Just a minute." Hutch made a trip to the kitchen for water
and the bottle of pain medication. He handed the glass to Starsky
and shook one of the small white pills into his palm. "You were
really thrashing around. Must've been one helluva nightmare."

A veil came down over Starsky's eyes, shuttering them
from Hutch's probing stare. He reached for the pill with unsteady
fingers and the water sloshed wildly in the glass.


Not letting you off that easily, partner.

"You want to talk about it?"

A barely perceptible shiver, and Starsky plucked absently
at his tee-shirt, eyes skating around the room. "It wouldn't be my
first choice."

Hutch stood and walked over to a chest of drawers,
deliberately keeping his movements loose and casual. "Might
help, Starsk." He dug a fresh tee-shirt out of a drawer and tossed
it to his partner before returning to the bed. He met Starsky's wary
gaze as his partner gingerly swapped shirts. "You know, you have
every right to be rattled after what Simon's people did to you. It's
not surprising you'd have a nightmare or..."

"It wasn't about..." Sharp words cut off just as sharply.
Starsky shifted, one hand unconsciously rubbing a bandaged
wrist. "What do you want me to say, Hutch? That I was scared?
That I thought I was gonna die, hacked apart piece by piece?
That the...the craziness in their eyes was more frightening than
the knives and chains in their hands?"

Hutch dropped his chin to his chest, sighing. His reply was
very soft. "What do I want? I want it to never have happened,
Starsk. I want to walk into that bathroom and stop those punks
from grabbing you, putting you through hell the way they did." He
lifted one shoulder in a halfhearted shrug. "But since that's not
possible, I want to be here for you now. To do whatever I can to
help you get past this."

When he ventured to lift his eyes, Starsky was staring into
space, his throat working furiously. The voice that finally emerged
was tight and choked with emotion.

"I've always been a little scared of the dark—I ever tell you
that? Used to be a big baby about it when I was a kid; had to
have a nightlight on 'til I was ten."

Hutch didn't answer. Didn't move. Didn't breathe.

"They...uh...blindfolded me." Starsky licked his lips.
"When I woke up...the first time... I...uh...thought something was
wrong with my eyes." He tried to chuff a weak little laugh. "Guess
I was so outta it at first, I couldn't feel the cloth."

"They hit you pretty hard." The words were quiet and
unobtrusive. More to let his partner know he was listening than to
add to his story.

Starsky's lips twitched just a little. "Yeah. My head hurt
like a hangover without benefit of the booze." His mouth settled
back into a grim line. "Hands tied behind my back so I practically
had to eat dirt to sit up. Everything pitch black. But I could..."

He swallowed and Hutch handed him the glass of water,
mystified at Starsky's slight grimace. His partner took a small sip
and continued. "I could hear 'em, all around me. Chanting.'t want 'em to know how shook up I was. So I got mad

"What happened?"

Starsky pasted on a crooked grin. "Never insult a buncha
religious fanatics. They ain't got a sense of humor."

Hutch's stomach twisted. "No?"

The grin, which had never reached Starsky's eyes, dried
up. His voice turned distant, detached. "Didja know it's possible
to hear your own ribs crack?" He yawned, sinking lower on the

Hutch drew in a long, shaky breath; forced his fingers to
uncurl from clenched fists. He watched Starsky lose the battle
with heavy eyelids, his respiration slowing, deepening.

"Get some sleep, buddy. Dobey'll be looking for us bright
and early tomorrow."

No response, but he didn't expect any. Hutch padded
quietly over to the small lamp but paused, hand on the switch, to
look over at the peaceful face of his partner.

Sweet dreams, Starsk.

Leaving it lit, he crept quietly out of the room.

* * *

"Starsky, I can't tell you how good it is to see your
gorgeous butt parked in that chair, safe and sound." Minnie
tousled Starsky's hair and gave his shoulder a squeeze, oblivious
to the pain she'd just provoked.

Hutch watched the discomfort flicker across his partner's
face and disappear. Starsky tipped his head back to look up at
Minnie, and if his patented grin was a bit forced, only Hutch knew
him well enough to recognize it.

"Thanks, schweetheart. My butt's happy to be here—and
so am I."

She snorted, grabbing a stack of file folders and
disappearing into the hallway. Starsky dropped his eyes back
down to the typed report in his hands, absently rolling the shoulder
Minnie had manhandled.

"You okay?" Hutch pitched the question for Starsky's ears

Starsky picked up a pen and signed the report. "I'm fine.
Ain't you got nothin' better to do than worry about me?" Raised
eyebrow and quirking lips took the sting out of his words.

Hutch looked at him, deadpan. "Why, no, Starsk, I don't. I
just wouldn't have a reason to get out of bed in the morning if I
didn't have you to fret about."

Starsky's muttered obscenity was punctuated with a
snicker. He leaned cautiously back in his chair with a soft grunt.
"The doc was sure right about one thing—pain's worse today than
it was yesterday. I hurt in places I'd've never thought possible."

Hutch shook his head. "I told you to take the damn pill."
The words carried more bite than he'd intended.

Starsky sighed, adopting the exaggeratedly patient tone a
teacher might use with an exceptionally dense child. "And I told
you, the pills make me fuzzy. No way am I takin' the third degree
from Dobey while I'm three sheets to the wind. I'll take one later."

Dobey swung open the door to his office and glared at his
two detectives. "Well? What are you two waiting for, an engraved

Starsky gingerly got to his feet with tightly controlled
movements designed to spare aching muscles and scooped up
the signed report. "Ain't it great to be loved?"

They filed into Dobey's office, Starsky dropping the report
on his desk before easing himself into a chair. Dobey eyed them
both from under furrowed brows, then bent his head and began to
read. After several minutes of silence, he tossed the paper on the
blotter and pinned Starsky with an assessing stare.

"This is some report you've got here. I've seen more
details on Edith's grocery list!"

Starsky's lips thinned, but his voice remained deceptively
light. "Just told it like it was."

Hutch's eyes darted between the captain and his partner.
"What's the problem, Captain?"

"What's the problem?" Dobey huffed. "Have you read your
partner's report?"

A quick glance at Starsky yielded no information. "No.
What about it?"

"It reads like a piece of Swiss cheese, that's what! I've
never seen so many holes."

"Gimme a break! The basic facts are all there," Starsky
snapped. "Sorry if I failed to go into all the gory details."

Hutch leaned over and plucked the paper from the blotter,
rapidly scanning it. Dobey braced his forearms on the desktop
and leaned forward, his face and his voice softening. "Come on,
Dave. You know as well as I do that we can't have too much dirt
on these punks. The DA's going to need to show the kind of
brutality they're capable of so no bleeding hearts on the jury let
them off the hook. Some of those kids are from well-to-do families
with the money to hire a good lawyer."

Starsky's face went blank and still. "What about Gail?
What happened to her?"

"Her parents bailed her out and took her home. They've
got a high-paid psychiatrist evaluating her, no doubt for a not
guilty by reason of insanity plea."

Starsky picked at the bandages on his wrist, his voice low
and wooden. "She didn't want to hurt me. They messed with her
head, had her all confused."

Dobey eyed him shrewdly. "All the more reason to nail the

Hutch shifted his gaze from the report to Starsky. "This is
pretty bare bones, Starsk. You don't mention anything about..."

Starsky sprang to his feet much faster than his battered
body would allow. Grimacing, he waved off Hutch's hand. "Look,
they kidnapped and assaulted a cop. I did what you asked; it's all
in the report. If that ain't enough, you're gonna have to dig for dirt
somewhere else." He stormed across the room and flung open
the door.

"Starsky! Get back here!"

Dobey's bellow was punctuated by a slam. Lacking its
original target, he turned his glower onto Hutch. "What in the hell
is wrong with your partner?"

Hutch covered his own unease. "Captain, twenty-four
hours ago he was strung up by his wrists, all set to be another of
Simon's trophies. Maybe we could just cut him a little slack."

Dobey's frown gradually smoothed and he ran one large
hand over his face. "Yeah. Guess we could." He sighed. "Get
him out of here. You, too. You both look like something the cat
dragged in."

Hutch raised his eyebrows. "Okay. Well, then, I guess I'll
round up my partner and take him home."

"Do that. And make sure you're both in here on time
tomorrow!" Dobey's bluster was back. "With Starsky off the
streets, you can use this time to catch up on that backlog of
paperwork that's always cluttering your desks."

"You're all heart, Cap."

Hutch didn't really expect to find his partner at his desk. A
Starsky in a snit was a solitary creature. He'd find an out-of-the-
way spot to cool off and lick his wounds. Hutch cruised the
hallways, eventually winding up at the men's room in the
basement—about as far off the beaten path as you could get in

Starsky was hunched over a sink, wrestling with the
childproof cap on the amber bottle of pain pills. And losing—if the
muttered curses were any indication. Hutch silently took the
bottle, unscrewed the cap, and shook a tablet into his partner's
outstretched palm. Starsky swallowed it dry, following with
several handfuls of water from the tap. He braced his hands on
the porcelain and stared dully into the mirror.

"Don't worry. I'm sure that ugly mug of yours will be back
to normal in no time," Hutch gibed, regretting the words the instant
they'd left his mouth.

"Yeah. Couple weeks and you won't be able to tell it ever
happened." Like unsweetened chocolate, the words carried an
unexpected bitterness.

Hutch tipped his head toward the door. "Come on. Let's
get out of here."

Starsky's eyes narrowed. "Uh-uh. I'm not goin' back for
another pep talk from Dobey. If he wants..."

"He wants us to get out of his hair, go home, and get some
rest. Seems he's got big plans for us while you're stuck flying a
desk—something about catching up on paperwork."

Starsky rolled his eyes. "Terrific."

Hutch held the door open for him. "Tell you what. How
about we stop by Huggy's for an early lunch? My treat."

Starsky looked him up and down. "I think I saw this in a
movie. These space creatures were invading the Earth by killing
people and replacing 'em with aliens that looked just like 'em."

"Very funny. Just for that you can buy your own lunch,"
Hutch retorted, secretly relieved to be back on familiar ground.

* * *

Huggy welcomed Starsky with the enthusiasm of a long
lost brother. He seated them at his best table, returning moments
later with two beers that he insisted were on the house.

"Looks like your aliens have claimed another victim," Hutch
said to his partner with a smirk.

Huggy remained unruffled. "I don't know nothin' about
aliens. Just glad to see m' man Starsky here alive and intact—
relatively speaking."

"I'll drink to that," Starsky agreed, slapping Hutch's hand
away from his glass.

"You can't drink that, Starsk. You're not supposed to mix
booze and pain pills—says so right on the bottle."

"One beer and one pill," Starsky argued, his voice
reasonable. "I've even got a designated driver. Lighten up,

Hutch grumbled under his breath, but he moved his hand.
"At least eat something."

Starsky shot Huggy a long-suffering look. "You heard
Mom, Hug."

Huggy gave a mock bow. "No need to fuss, leave the
cookin' to us. Two burgers with the works, comin' right up."

Hutch waited, sipping his own beer, until Huggy had
disappeared into the kitchen. Setting the glass down on the table,
he cleared his throat.

"Starsky. Back in Dobey's office..." Outwardly, Starsky
appeared not to react, but Hutch sensed the subtle stiffening of his
shoulders, the tense set to his mouth. "What was that about?"

His partner busied himself tracing obscure patterns on the
tabletop. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, cut the bull! That report wasn't complete and you
know it." He stopped himself, backed off from the anger.

Maybe we could just cut him a little slack.
Right, Hutchinson. How about taking your own advice?

"Look, I can understand you not wanting to talk about it,

"Very perceptive, Detective Hutchinson," Starsky said
sarcastically. "I don't want to discuss it, so how about we end the
conversation right here."

"You're going to have to deal with it, Starsk. It won't just
go away."

"What—suddenly you're an expert? You been takin'
classes to become a shrink when I wasn't lookin'?" Starsky

Hutch bit his lip, his eyes sliding away to the bar. "You're
not the only one who's been kidnapped and had the hell beat out
of him."

Warmth on his forearm and he looked down to see
Starsky's hand covering it. When he raised his eyes, his partner
wore a stricken expression.

"Hutch, I...I didn't mean...didn't think..." He swallowed
convulsively. "I haven't forgotten what you went through. I

Hutch sighed and shook his head. "Look, I didn't bring it
up to make you feel guilty. We both know I'd've never made it
without you. All I'm asking is that you let me return the favor.
That's what being partners is all about, right?"

Conflicting emotions chased each other across Starsky's
expressive features. Wanting the relief, the catharsis that would
come from sharing whatever burden he'd been carrying. Needing
the safety of silence, of control. Of terrible secrets hidden away in
a locked box while he held the only key.

"It's not that simple, Hutch."

Hutch smiled. "Sure it is, buddy. You talk, I listen. Can't
get any simpler than that."

Starsky refused to be coaxed. "No, you really don't
understand. There's so much you don't know, it's not just—"

"Here you go, two slices of heaven on a bun. Prepare your
taste buds to be tantalized."

Hutch nearly groaned aloud. Starsky's mouth snapped
shut, then curved in a cut-and-pasted grin. He tilted back in his
chair and offered it to Huggy, who didn't appear to notice it was

"Thanks, Hug. Looks good enough to eat."

Huggy sniffed. "Is the pope Catholic? That's no mere
burger, my friend. It is a culinary triumph."

"Well, now, let's not get carried away," Hutch muttered. He
knew it was unreasonable to be angry at Huggy, but couldn't
shake his irritation at the lost opportunity.

Starsky looked at him shrewdly. "Don't mind him, Hug. He
thinks desiccated liver is part of the meat food group."

"Just give it twenty years, partner. Your body'll be falling
apart and I'll still be fighting off beautiful women."

Starsky snorted, "Still?," snickering when Hutch flashed
him a graphic gesture. He picked up his beer, unsuccessfully
smothering a jaw-cracking yawn.

By the time Hutch polished off his burger, his partner had
folded his arms into a makeshift pillow on the tabletop and dozed
off. Huggy poked at Starsky's barely consumed lunch and raised
an eyebrow.

"What's with your partner? Not like him to let a
masterpiece like this go to waste."

Hutch rolled his eyes. "I told him not to mix alcohol and
those pills." He winced. "I can't believe he fell asleep like that. If
he weren't stoned, he'd be in a world of hurt from those ribs."

Huggy stood and collected their plates. "Well, Prince
Charming, I suggest you get Sleeping Beauty home before he
turns into a pumpkin."

"You're mixing fairy tales, Hug."

"I just call 'em as I see 'em, my man. Now get him outta
here before he ruins this establishment's reputation as a hot spot
for fun and excitement."

It took Hutch practically yelling in his ear and the still cold
beer bottle pressed to the nape of his neck before Starsky roused
enough to groggily follow him out to the car. Hutch poured his
partner into the passenger seat before slipping behind the wheel.
Starsky let his head loll to the left, already more asleep than

"Sorry, Hutch."

"Next time maybe you'll remember that they put those
warning labels on for a reason," Hutch replied, more amused than

Starsky's face screwed up. "Huh? Whadda're ya talkin'

"The beer, Starsk. You never should've had that beer."
Hutch spoke slowly and patiently.

Starsky started to shake his head, then seemed to think
better of it. "Nah, don't mean that. Sorry for gettin' so mad."

Hutch grinned and started the car. "Forget it. Just don't
shut me out, okay?"


Hutch thought he'd slipped back into a doze, was reaching
for the gearshift when Starsky's mumbled words froze his hand.

"Thought it was over...buried. Didn' ever want ya to

Hutch stared at his partner's sleeping face for a long time
before shifting the car into drive. He had the strangest feeling
Starsky hadn't been talking about Simon.

* * *

Hutch thought about leaning on the horn, then decided to
spare Starsky's neighbors the irritation. Not even a week back on
active duty and Starsky was going to get them chewed out by
Dobey. Grumbling under his breath, he got out of the car and
jogged up the steps, letting himself inside.

"We're gonna be late," he called to the rustling sounds in
the bedroom.

"I'm comin', I'm comin'. Have some coffee."

Hutch wandered into the kitchen, trying to tamp down his
impatience. Three weeks had passed since Starsky's kidnapping
by Simon's followers. His ribs were healing well, the burn and
bruises fading. But though the physical injuries from his ordeal
were disappearing, Hutch sensed a deeper wound festered just
beneath the surface. Something was wrong. And Starsky wasn't

Hutch searched vainly for a clean mug before giving up.
He fished one out of the precarious pile of dishes in the sink,
rinsed and filled it with some of Starsky's industrial strength brew.
He leaned against the counter as he sipped, eyes roaming. Not
liking what he saw.

Normally, his partner was a neat freak. Unlike Hutch's
rather "lived-in" apartment, Starsky's was always scrupulously
clean and tidy. Hutch took in the dirty dishes, scattered items of
clothing, and old newspapers. The garbage can overflowed with
too many beer bottles and a peek in the refrigerator revealed too
little food.

"I'm ready, let's go."

Starsky came out of the bedroom, voice muffled by the
shirt he was gingerly tugging over his head. Hutch caught a brief
flash of prominent ribs and loose jeans slung low on his hips
before the fabric dropped into place. Starsky plucked the mug out
of his hands, took a swig, and set it on the counter before
propelling him toward the door.

"Good morning to you, too." Hutch schooled his features
into a smile, inwardly reeling. He'd had suspicions that Starsky
had dropped a few pounds, but from what he'd just witnessed it
looked to be more like ten.

"You can grab some breakfast to eat in the car, if you
want. We're not that late," he offered as Starsky followed him out
the door.

"Nah, I'm not hungry. Let's just get to work before Dobey
blows a gasket."

Not hungry? What's going on inside that head of yours,

Hutch stole furtive glances at Starsky throughout the drive
to Metro, unease fluttering in his gut. Dark shadows rimmed
bloodshot eyes, and his face looked thin and gaunt. The weather
was picture perfect, and Starsky was back on active duty—plenty
of reasons for his high-spirited friend to be talking Hutch's ear off
about any number of off-the-wall topics. Instead, he slumped
silent and uncommunicative in the passenger seat, staring out the

Hutch could stand it no longer. Bracing himself for an
explosion, he gripped the steering wheel more tightly and took the

"Starsky, what's going on?"

Wherever his partner had been, the question blindsided


Hutch sucked in a deep breath. "Something's been eating
at you ever since the trouble with Simon. What is it?"

Arms folded and chin tucked to his chest, Starsky frowned
at him. "You worry too much, Hutch. I'm fine."

Hutch snorted and rolled his eyes before staring back at
the road.

"What?" Starsky's tone was testy.

"Have you looked in a mirror lately, buddy?" When Starsky
pressed his lips together and glared sullenly out the window,
Hutch softened his voice. "Starsky, you look like hell. You may as
well spill it, 'cause you're not fooling anyone—least of all me."

The same expression he'd seen at Huggy's place three
weeks earlier—both wistful and apprehensive—flickered across
Starsky's face. Hutch cursed himself for letting an interruption end
that conversation. He'd never pushed Starsky to revisit it, and
now he wished he had.

Starsky seemed to reach a decision. His uncertainty
vanished, replaced by a smile too carefully guarded to be real.
"You're makin' a big deal out of nothing. I'm just having a little
trouble sleeping, that's all."

Hutch refused to back down. "A lot of trouble, from the
looks of you."

Starsky adopted a hurt expression. "Aw, Hutch. You're
bruisin' my fragile ego."

Hutch tried unsuccessfully not to snicker at that. He shook
his head, the smile fading. "You're having nightmares, aren't you?
Level with me, Starsk."

Starsky's eyes cut away to the passing cars. "Maybe." A
long pause. "How'd you know?"

"You had one that first night, remember? I just put two and
two together." He waited for Starsky's reply. When none came,
he added, "Must be bad."

"Bad enough."

Well, here goes. In for a penny, in for a pound...

"I know you don't want to hear this. But there's no shame
in needing to talk to someone about what happened."

The scowl was back, full force. "What—like a shrink? No

Hutch's temper sparked, fueled by frustration and
helplessness. "So you'd rather suffer through the nightmares, put
up with not sleeping, just to preserve your damn pride?"

Starsky's voice rose. "Pride's got nothin' to do with it! I
don't need to see a shrink! The nightmares'll go away."

"They aren't going away, Starsky! You look exhausted all
the time. And while we're on the subject, just how much weight
have you lost?" Even as the words spilled from his gut, Hutch's
head knew he was making a mistake. Starsky needed to be
cajoled, not pushed. Shove too hard and he'd just dig in his heels.

"If I say they'll go away, they'll go away, damn it! I know
what I'm talking about, it's not like this is the first time..." He
clamped his jaws together and refused to meet Hutch's probing

Hutch had the maddening sensation he was grasping
something just out of reach, fingertips brushing but unable to gain
purchase. Once again, he had the distinct impression Starsky
was referring to something far bigger than his ordeal with Simon's

"Starsk, what is this really about?"

"All units, we have a report of a 211 in progress at
Saveway Liquors, corner of Crescent and Adams. Shots fired.

Less than a mile from their current location. Hutch
concentrated on not screaming as Starsky leaned over to snag the

"This is Zebra Three, we are responding. Over." He
pointedly ignored Hutch as he pulled out the mars light and
slapped it onto the roof.

* * *

They were first on the scene, greeted at the curb by the
frantic owner who clutched a gun in his hands. "They went that
way, down the alley!" He gestured wildly with the pistol until
Starsky grabbed his wrist and pointed it toward the ground.
"Punks got over two hundred bucks!"

"How many?" Hutch demanded, drawing his own weapon.

"Two, and they're both packing guns! Wouldja hurry up,
you're gonna lose 'em!"

Starsky was already dodging traffic, one hand outstretched
in a vain attempt to stop the cars. A black-and-white pulled to the
curb behind Hutch's car.

"Get his statement!" he called to the two uniformed cops,
then dashed after his partner.

Twenty feet into the alley, Hutch spied the two fleeing
figures wearing ski masks, Starsky hot on their heels.

"Police! Freeze!" His partner fired a warning shot.

As they reached the far end of the alley, the lead figure
spun and fired wildly over his shoulder before disappearing
around the corner. His companion attempted the same maneuver
but was apparently hampered by his covered face. He stumbled
and fell to one knee, tugging at the mask and nearly losing his
hold on the gun. Starsky, who had ducked behind some crates
when the first shots were fired, popped out and trained his
weapon on the fallen robber.

"Don't move, turkey."

Hutch doubled his speed, intending to continue pursuit of
the other man. He watched, stomach plunging, as the robber's
head came up and the mask dropped to the asphalt.

It was a kid.

Fair-haired, blue-eyed and baby-faced, he didn't look to be
more than sixteen or seventeen years old. Hutch saw Starsky
flinch, his eyes going wide and his gun wavering, a one or two
second hesitation that was one second too long. Time slowed to
a crawl as the blue eyes went flat and calculating, the baby face
twisted into a sneer.

"Starsky, look out!"

The kid's gun swung up and Starsky's came down, but the
crack of Hutch's weapon beat them both. The bullet caught the
kid in the shoulder flipping him onto his back, weapon flying out of
a limp hand to skitter harmlessly across the pavement.

Hutch waited for Starsky to move; finally taking over when
his partner remained as motionless as the kid on the ground.
Crouching down, he placed his fingertips on the kid's throat, then
glared up at the gathering crowd.

"Someone call an ambulance."

His words seemed to jar Starsky into action. His partner
walked over to the discarded weapon and gathered it with shaking
fingers, the other hand braced across still sore ribs.

"How is he?" His voice was low, toneless.

"He'll live. How 'bout you?"

Starsky gave him a sharp look and stuck the gun into his
waistband at the small of his back. "I'm fine."

The wail of a siren punctuated his words. Hutch stood and
invaded his partner's personal space, laying one hand on his arm.
He felt muscles tightly coiled, thrumming with all the emotion his
voice lacked. "Starsky..."

"He's just a kid, for cryin' out loud!" Starsky snapped,
throwing off the hand and stepping away. "Looks about twelve.
Took me by surprise, that's all."

Hutch crowded him, relentless, speaking to his back. "You
froze up, Starsk."

"Nothin' happened."

"He almost killed you. You were at point blank range; if
he'd gotten a round off..."

"He was just a kid!" Starsky spun, advancing so Hutch
backpedaled. He knotted his fingers in Hutch's jacket, shaking
him. "It was my job to make sure nothing happened, that he came
through okay!"

Hutch stared into his partner's wild, unfocused eyes, the
color draining from his face. "Starsk..."

Starsky released him as if stung, just as the two uniformed
cops came up the alley. In the flurry of activity that followed,
Starsky evaded Hutch's questioning gaze and gradually regained
his equilibrium. He helped brief the other officers on the events in
the alley, calmly turned over the weapon, and saw to it that one of
them accompanied the kid in the ambulance. By the time they
were back in Hutch's car, it was very apparent that Starsky
intended to proceed as if the outburst in the alley had never

Hutch had other ideas.

He took his hand off the ignition and turned toward his
partner, one arm stretched across the back of the seat. Before he
could even open his mouth, however, Starsky held up a warning


"Excuse me?"

Starsky gave an angry shake of his head, but his eyes
looked weary. "Don't even start. I was outta line back in the alley.
It won't happen again."

"Out of line?" Hutch growled. "You damn near slammed
me up against the wall, buddy. I think I deserve an explanation."

"I already told you. Seein' how young he was just shook
me up for a minute. After what happened with Lonnie Craig, well,
I guess I freaked."

Hutch considered the explanation and promptly rejected it.
It made perfect sense, except for the things Starsky had shouted
at him while trying to shake his teeth from his head. He hadn't
been talking about Lonnie Craig. And he hadn't been talking
about the kid in the alley, either.

Hutch chased his partner's shifting gaze and held it.
"That's a load of bull, and we both know it." He pressed thumb
and forefinger against his temples, then ran his hand along his
jaw. "Me and thee, Starsk. We've always been there for each
other. For God's sake, why won't you talk to me about this?"

He watched a battle rage behind his partner's intense blue
eyes, nearly groaning in frustration when Starsky finally looked

"I can't, Hutch. Not this time. If you really wanna help me,
you'll just leave it alone."

Worry and disappointment sharpened his tongue. "For
how long, huh, partner? 'Til you get one of us killed?"

Starsky recoiled, his face ashen. When he spoke his
words were tightly controlled—a sure sign he was furious. "That
ain't gonna happen. But if you're worried, you could always ask
Dobey for a new partner."

The retort sucked all the wind out of Hutch's sails. He let
his head drop back so that he was staring at the roof. "You know
that's not what I meant." When Starsky maintained a stony
silence, he sighed. "I give, Starsk. Just forget I said anything."

He turned the key in the ignition and the engine sputtered
to life. He was checking over his shoulder for oncoming traffic
when Starsky's hand touched his arm.

"Hutch, I...I appreciate what you're tryin' to do. But you
gotta trust me on this one. Some things are better left buried."

Hutch suddenly felt as tired as his partner looked. "'Fraid
that only works if they're really dead, buddy. Otherwise they got a
nasty habit of digging their way out."

Starsky's hand left his arm and he headed the car back
toward Metro.

* * *

"I can't take it anymore—I can't!" Terrified blue eyes roll
behind blackened, puffy lids, tears streaking cheeks mottled with
bruises and the smeared blood from a broken nose.

His gut twists with a mixture of pity for the kid and his own
barely controlled fear. Placing a steadying hand on the thin
shoulder, he pitches his voice much tougher than he feels.

"You can. You don't have any choice. None of us do."

The kid wraps filthy, sore-encrusted arms around his
knees, rocking mindlessly back and forth. "They'll never find us!
We're never getting out of here!"

He glances over his shoulder at the other men, mindful of
the way panic can spread like a disease. By his calculation a
week has passed since they were taken prisoner, and after an
endless string of interrogations, all of them are in bad shape.
Their captors have broken the third and fourth fingers of his right
hand, now terribly swollen and misshapen, and lately whenever he
takes a piss there's an alarming amount of blood. Leaning in
closer, he forces the kid to meet his eyes.

Kid! That's a laugh, really. He himself can't be more than
a year or two older, but unlike the boy in front of him, he was
stripped of the last veneer of innocence within two months of
arriving in-country.

"Look, Jon, we're all scared. But you can't give up. You
got people at home, waitin' for you, don't you?"

The rocking slows and the kid bobs his head. "Yeah.
'Course I do. My folks, my sister..." Amazingly, the ghost of a
smile touches his lips. "Even got a girl."

He smiles back, ignoring the pain from a split lip. "Bet
she's pretty, huh?"

Jon uncurls a little more, swiping at his eyes with the back
of one hand. "She's beautiful."

He nods, hardening his eyes and his voice. "Then every
time you start to feel like throwin' in the towel, I want ya to think of
her—got it? You think about how she'd feel if you never made it

Jon licks dry, cracked lips, his eyes pleading. "I want to be
strong like you, Dave. But I don't think I can."

"Bullshit. We're gonna make it—you hear me, Jon? We're
both gonna walk outta here. I promise."

He's barely finished speaking when the door flies open and
the guards are there, cold black eyes scanning the room. Jon
whimpers and attempts to crawl inside himself as their captors
cross the floor to stand before them. One of them, a short,
brawny soldier who's already earned himself a reputation for
extreme cruelty, grabs Jon by one bony arm and hauls the
gibbering youth to his feet. Jon begins to struggle wildly.

"No! No more, please! No more, I can't..."

He jumps up and pushes his way between Jon and the
guard, trying to shield the kid with his body.

"You guys just got finished with him, why don't you leave
him alone. Whatsa matter, you only pick on kids, you cowardly
bastards? Why don't you have a go at someone else—or are you
afraid you can't handle me?" He's never sure which ones can
speak English so he mixes in some Vietnamese obscenities he's
picked up and follows with a roundhouse swing that catches the
guard high on the right cheekbone. He's too weak to do much
damage, but the reddened spot will eventually develop into a
satisfying bruise.

There's just enough time to register the furious glint in the
soldier's eye before the rifle butt rams into his belly, sucking all the
air from his lungs. He instinctively doubles over, only to receive a
second blow to the jaw that sends him crashing to the floor. Steel
arms grab him and he has a split-second glimpse of the horror
and gratitude on the kid's face before he's hauled out of the room,
spitting dirt and blood.

In the interrogation room his wrists are enclosed in iron
shackles attached to a pulley, and he's pulled up until his toes just
barely brush the floor. The one in charge—a captain, he thinks—
picks up a heavy metal rod and walks slowly over to smile at him.

"So, Sergeant Starsky. I understand you requested this
meeting. I'll do my best not to disappoint you." His English is

The captain wields the pipe like Babe Ruth out for a home
run. For an instant after the impact he feels nothing, but hears a
snapping sound like breaking toothpicks.

Once he starts screaming, he can't seem to stop...

"Noooooo! Oh, God, no! Stop! Stop!"

Starsky bolted upright, sheets clenched in his fists, sweat
dripping down his face and plastering his shirt to his back. He
gulped frantically for air, fighting against the crushing pain in his
chest. His heart pounded wildly and he had a split second to
register his churning stomach before dashing to the bathroom,
where he lost what meager dinner he'd managed to consume.

He pressed his burning cheek against the cool porcelain
for several minutes before gathering the energy to stagger to the
sink and rinse his mouth. A gaunt, hollow-eyed stranger stared at
him from the medicine chest mirror, and he had to turn away.

As he had for so many nights now, he exchanged the
sweat-soaked tee shirt for a clean one and returned to perch on
the side of the bed, staring at the phone on the nightstand. He
wrestled with the nearly overwhelming desire to call Hutch. To let
him hear the pain and weariness and desperation. To ask for the
help he knew he badly needed. And, as on previous nights, he
eventually turned away and shuffled out to the kitchen.

He grabbed a beer from the refrigerator, amused and
annoyed to see that Hutch had smuggled in a container of lasagna
and some beef stew. His partner had been needling him about his
lack of appetite, and it had been all he could do to choke down
food while in Hutch's presence. With a little shake of his head, he
shut the door and went to sit at the table with his beer.

Yet another thing Hutch had been nagging him about, he
thought as he pulled the tab and took a swallow.

You're not eating enough, Starsky. You're not sleeping
enough, Starsky. You look like hell, Starsky.

He mimicked Hutch's voice in his head, unable to muster
any real anger. Ironically, he missed his partner's relentless
prodding about his health. Since the incident in the alley the day
before, Hutch had scrupulously avoided such comments, though
Starsky had caught more than one worried glance.

Ah, Hutch. If you only knew how much I'd like to tell you

He considered the idea, poked at it gingerly the way one's
tongue explores the bloody socket from a lost tooth. Found it just
as raw and unsettling.

He knew a lot of people didn't understand his friendship
with Hutch. He couldn't really blame them—he and his partner
were about as different as the North Pole and the Sahara Desert.
Heck, sometimes he didn't even understand it himself.

He'd grown up in the heart of New York, a city rat through
and through. Though his father had tried hard not to bring the dirt
and grime of the streets home, Starsky had seen and heard
enough to know the world could be a harsh, unforgiving place—a
truth made all the more real by the men who took his pop's life.
His grief and bitterness had launched him down a path that might
have ended in disaster had his mother not sent him to live with his
aunt and uncle.

It was both the best and worst thing she could have done.

He took another long swallow and thought about Hutch.
Hutch, with his Minnesota farm boy upbringing—wholesome and
squeaky clean. No gangs. No violence. No drugs. Sure, he had
problems at home, a father too free with his money and too stingy
with his love. People telling him what he should be, instead of
listening to who he was. But he'd managed to rise above it all,
make his own way, his way. And he'd never lost his class in the

Hutch was caviar and champagne. Starsky was beer and

And most of the time, it didn't really make a damn bit of
difference. Hutch was his best friend, the kind you find maybe
once in a lifetime, if you're very lucky. He'd die for Hutch, and he
knew unequivocally that his partner would do the same.

But sometimes... Sometimes...

He felt outclassed.



Seeing Hutch with his buddy, Jack Mitchell, had brought it
all home, given him a new perspective on his partner. In some
ways he and Hutch just weren't in the same league, and never
would be. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but one he could accept
and live with. It didn't change the bond, the friendship—if
anything, it made it all the more extraordinary.

What he couldn't accept, what would kill him, would be to
let Hutch down. To do something that might disappoint, or worse,
disgust him.

Starsky let his eyes slip shut, pressing the cold metal of the
beer can to his aching head. He'd told Hutch that he couldn't talk
about the nightmares because some things needed to stay buried,
and that was the truth. The contents of those tiny coffins terrified
him. Shrouded by the shadows in his memory, the occasional,
hazy glimpse was frightening enough. To drag them out of hiding
and inspect them in the full light of day was unthinkable.

But it was a half-truth. The fear had a larger, more
horrifying twin that cemented Starsky's resolve to remain mute.
That if Hutch knew the truth, understood that piece of David
Starsky, he'd walk away and never look back.

It was an unacceptable risk—a chance he couldn't afford to
take. To see what he feared most in Hutch's eyes—the contempt,
the loathing—would kill him far more efficiently than Marcus'
knives and chains.

Starsky set the empty beer can on the table and ground
the heels of his hands into his burning eyes, vainly trying to stave
off the tears. He was tired, the kind of exhaustion that sank into
every bone and muscle in his body and throbbed relentlessly in
his head. Yet the mere thought of sleep was enough to start his
heart thudding and his stomach rolling. Thirty years old, and he
was still scared of the dark.

Except these days, the light no longer reassured him.

He dragged himself out of the chair and walked over to a
cupboard, reaching in back behind some boxes of sugary cereals.
Back where Hutch wouldn't snoop and give him hell.

The whiskey bottle was less than a third full—alarming,
considering the date of purchase. He grabbed a dirty glass from
the sink and wandered into the living room, flicking on the TV
before slouching down on the couch. He filled the tumbler halfway
with the amber liquid and flipped channels until he found an old
horror film. Bela Lugosi, sporting a long, black cape, proceeded to
bite the neck of a terrified young lady.

Starsky took a gulp from the tumbler before raising it to the
screen, lips twisted in a bitter grimace. "Here's to the undead,
huh, Hutch?"

It was a long time and most of the bottle before he slept.

* * *

"You're not his mother, Hutch."

His own muttered words echoed in the silent car, and
Hutch made a face. Nine o'clock on a Saturday morning, the
whole weekend spread out before him, and what was he doing?
Checking on Starsky.

Starsky, who didn't seem to want his concern—in fact,
rebuffed it. He'd certainly made it more than clear to Hutch that he
was capable of dealing with this problem—whatever it was—
alone. The thing was, Hutch didn't believe him.

"All right, I'm not his mother. But I am his best friend, and I
won't just stand by and watch him fall to pieces."

Saying it was the easy part. Figuring out what to do was
something else altogether.

A traffic light blinked yellow, then red, and Hutch slowed to
a stop. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel
and glanced sightlessly out the window, his thoughts wandering
back to the incident in the alley. He'd replayed that scene over
and over on the movie screen in his head, trying to understand
what had happened. Starsky's hesitation at such a critical
moment was troubling enough, but his reaction during the

"He was just a kid! It was my job to make sure nothing
happened, that he came through okay!"

Where had that come from—the anger, the pain,
the...guilt? For a few terrible moments, Hutch had the eerie
feeling that despite the body in front of him, Starsky was missing.
That he was someplace a world away from that alley.

Someplace infinitely darker and more dangerous.

An impatient honk startled Hutch from his reverie and he
hit the gas with a sheepish wave. All he had were a few disjointed
pieces of a complicated puzzle, too many holes to make out the
big picture. And he got the uneasy feeling he was running out of
time. Despite his insistence to the contrary, Starsky was getting
worse. Dobey hadn't said anything yet, but Hutch had caught him
studying his partner with a furrowed brow. He wouldn't be able to
cover for Starsky much longer. He wasn't even sure he should.

Hutch parked on the street and walked to Starsky's door,
barely feeling the warmth of the sun on his shoulders. His fingers
reached for the key, hesitated, then curled to a fist and knocked.

No answer.

Hutch's brow furrowed. The Torino was in the driveway,
and Starsky had begged off grabbing a beer at Huggy's the
evening before, saying he intended to turn in early. Not wanting to
wake his partner if he was getting some badly needed sleep,
Hutch slipped the key into the lock and let himself in.

He squinted as his eyes adjusted from the sun's brassy
outdoor brilliance to the softer, muted tones filtered through drawn
curtains. The softly droning television cast flickering blue light on
Starsky, sprawled on the couch in sweat pants and a ratty tee
shirt, dead to the world. The smile that spread across Hutch's
face faltered when his gaze lit on the empty whiskey bottle.

He crossed the room to stand beside one upturned palm.
His eyes noted the ashen skin beneath stubble and dried tear
tracks, even as his nose registered the sour smell of liquor.
Caught between pity and anger, Hutch moved stealthily through
the rest of the apartment, cataloguing each piece of evidence with
the eyes of a trained investigator. The rumpled sheets and
discarded shirt in the bedroom. The lingering smell of vomit in the
bathroom. The untouched food and empty beer can in the

Hutch braced one hand on the table, stared out the
window, and told himself the cold, hard truth. Then, ignoring the
tightness in his chest and the ache in his gut, he calmly brewed a
pot of coffee and started washing dishes.

By the time the coffee was done and he was halfway
through the dishes, Starsky had shuffled in and sat down at the
table. He cradled his head in his hands, flinching each time Hutch
added another glass to the drainer.

"What is this, maid service?"

Hutch took a clean mug, filled it with coffee, and set it
beside one elbow, followed by two aspirin from a bottle he'd found
in the bathroom. "More like first aid."

Starsky scowled at him through a lattice of fingers but
remained silent. The aspirin went down with a gulp of coffee and
a grimace, and Hutch returned to the sink. He could feel Starsky's
eyes on his back, knew he was waiting for Hutch to voice his
disapproval. Pressing his lips into a thin line, Hutch rinsed
another glass and let him stew.

Eventually, Starsky cracked.

"Go ahead. I can tell you've got plenty to say. Wouldn't
want you to bust a gut tryin' to hold it in."

Hutch braced his palms on the sink and stared at the wall,
fighting to hold onto his temper. "I think we've both said just about
all there is to say."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Hutch dried his hands on a towel and turned slowly to face
his partner, his words clipped. "Just how far down do you plan on
sinking before you'll admit you need help, Starsky?"

"Oh, c'mon! You tryin' to tell me you haven't tied one on
now and then? Since when did it become a federal offense?" His
bluster was forced, fueled more by fear than anger.

"This is different, and you know it! You're drinking alone,
and you're drinking the hard stuff! What if we'd been on duty

"We aren't on duty!" Starsky lunged to his feet, furious
enough to ignore his aching head. "What I do on my time is my

Hutch ran a hand down his face, mentally taking a step
back. "Why?" he asked quietly.

Starsky squinted at him, his anger short-circuited. "Why

"I've never known you to touch the hard stuff, Starsk. Why

"Oh, for Pete's sake!" Starsky threw up his hands and
stalked out of the kitchen.

Tossing the dishtowel onto the counter, Hutch followed.
His partner stomped into the bedroom and began hunting for his
shoes, snagging one from under the end of the bed and another
from beneath a pile of dirty clothes.

"Could it be that you're having more than just a little trouble
sleeping? Huh, partner? That getting plastered is the only way to
stop the nightmares?"

Starsky's fingers faltered, then continued tying his laces.
"Back off, Hutch." He ground out the words through clenched

Hutch let his eyes drop shut for a moment. Gripping the
doorframe, he played his last card. "Starsky, you're my best
friend, and I'd do anything for you." Starsky opened his mouth,
but Hutch held up a hand. "Anything but sit by and watch you self-
destruct. I can't make you talk to me, but I can see that you talk to
someone. I'm going to Dobey first thing Monday morning."

Starsky gaped at him, swaying slightly. "Hutch, you can't
mean that! You know what Dobey'll do! He'll take me off active
duty; he...he'll suspend me until I'm cleared by a department

Suddenly the rage was gone, and Hutch saw a scared,
bewildered little boy in blue Adidas tennis shoes. He swallowed,
his throat like sandpaper.

"I don't have a choice. You're not fit to be on the streets
right now, Starsk, and you know it." He struggled against the
tremor in his voice. "You can't do this alone. I'm going to make
sure you don't have to."

Starsky paced to the window and back, running his fingers
through his hair. "You don't understand, Hutch! You think I can
talk to some stranger when I can't even talk to you? Please, if
you're my friend, don't do this!" His words were thick with tears.

Hutch shook his head, unable to manage more than a
weak croak. "That's why I have to."

Starsky's head snapped up and he stared at Hutch for
what seemed an eternity, eyes shiny with unshed tears. He
abruptly dropped his gaze and shouldered past, grabbing jacket
and keys on his way to the front door.

"Starsky..." It was a reflex—Hutch had no words left.

Starsky pulled open the door and turned, his face twisted
with anger and grief. "You got no idea what you're doin', Hutch.
You think you know me, but you haven't got a clue. You do this
and we're both gonna be sorry." His voice broke and he ducked
out the door.

Hutch listened to the fading roar of the Torino's engine and
wondered if he'd just handed his friend a life preserver or a very
large rock.

* * *

"Rachel? This is Ken Hutchinson."

"Well, hello, Ken! What a nice surprise! Let me guess—
you need another of David's favorite recipes."

Hutch tipped his head onto the back of the couch and
stared at the ceiling. He'd argued with himself all night over
whether to call Starsky's mom, barely getting any sleep. Though
he'd eventually come to the conclusion that he was doing the right
thing, hearing her cheerful, blissfully ignorant voice left him

"Uh, n-no, not this time."

Abrupt silence, and he could feel her fear. "Ken? Is
something wrong? Has David been hurt?"

"No! I'm sorry, Rachel, I didn't mean to scare you.
Star...David is fine."

Another beat of silence. "Ken, what's going on?" Her
voice took on an overly patient tone that was very familiar. "You
wouldn't be calling me, sounding like that, if everything was fine."

Sounding like what?

Hutch nearly voiced the question aloud before forcing
himself back to the real reason for his call. He'd grown
accustomed to Starsky picking up on his moods, but Starsky's
mother? From the opposite end of the country? He gave his
head a little shake.

"Rachel, I... This is hard. Did David tell you about
the...uh...kidnapping a few weeks ago?" Hutch winced at his own

Brilliant, Hutchinson. That's really going to reassure her.

Rachel's voice was confused. "Kidnapping?"

Hutch swiped at a drop of sweat trickling down the side of
his face. "You've heard of Simon Marcus?"

"Yes, of course. David told me how you two managed to
catch that monster. It's been all over the news, his trial and the
way those crazy followers of his..." Her words cut off in a sharp
gasp. "David? David was the police officer they kidnapped?"

"Yeah, but..."

"I don't... How can that be? I talk to him every week, Ken,
every Friday!" The words tumbled out, the pitch climbing an
octave. "I've read the papers, I know what those sadists were
capable of. He never once let on to me that anything was wrong,
that something so terrible..."

When her voice broke, Hutch hastened to calm her.

"He's all right, Rachel. Really. They roughed him up pretty
badly, but his injuries are healing well." When she didn't reply, he
awkwardly added, "I'm sure he just didn't want to worry you."

This is going great, Hutchinson. Starsky's gonna kill you if
he finds out.

She sighed heavily. "My son tends to forget I was a cop's
wife for many years. I'm not nearly as fragile as he thinks." Her
voice sharpened. "Why are you telling me this, Ken? It must be
important for you to risk going behind David's back."

"Rachel, I said he was healing physically, and he is. But
something else is bothering him, eating him up inside. Whatever it
is, he won't talk to me about it."

"Sweetheart, I'm sure you want to help him, but maybe
David needs to work this out on his own. Maybe he just needs

Hutch shook his head, oblivious to the fact that she
couldn't see him. "It's been three weeks, Rachel. He's getting
worse, not better."

"I'm not sure how you think I can help," she replied, clearly
bewildered. "I could call him, but if he won't talk to you, I'm pretty
certain he won't talk to me. He'll be so furious you told me there'll
be no reasoning with him." She huffed. "He's got his father's
temper, that one."

Hutch found his lips curving in spite of his anxiety. "Don't I
know it." He sighed. "Rachel, I called you because I get the
feeling that whatever is bothering him is much bigger than just his
ordeal with Marcus's followers. That maybe that experience
triggered memories of some older trauma. The insomnia, the
nightmares, the drinking—they all seem to point to..."

"Ken, wait!"

The sharpness of her command startled him to silence.

Her voice was distant, distracted. "Did you say

Something in her voice made the little hairs at the nape of
his neck stand up. "Yeah. Bad ones."

He chewed his lip to avoid speaking during the long
silence that followed. Eventually Rachel sucked in a long draught
of air. "Ken... How much has David confided in you about

His jaw dropped as he fumbled awkwardly for an answer.
"I... Not much. Every once in a while he'll make a wisecrack
about what it was like being a soldier, but never anything specific.
And I...I got the idea he didn't want to be asked."

She chuffed a humorless little laugh. "I'm sure your
instincts were right." A hesitation. "I don't suppose it was possible
to leave that war without scars, but David... There were times I
thought they'd sent home a stranger. It was over a year before I
really felt as if I had my boy back." A very long pause. Hutch was
opening his mouth to speak when she softly added, "Did you know
David was a POW, Ken?"

Hutch's fingers tightened on the receiver in a white-
knuckled grip. "Excuse me?"

A soft puff of air. "I didn't think he'd told you. He and
several other members of his company were captured during what
was supposed to be a routine patrol. It was better than three
weeks before they were rescued, more dead than alive." Her
voice quavered and he heard her breathing speed up. "He nearly
lost a kidney. Half-starved, a concussion, two of his fingers and
most of his ribs broken. It's a miracle he..."

Her voice faded, drowned out by the rushing of blood in his

"Didja know it's possible to hear your own ribs crack?"

Starsky had been talking about his beating at the hands of
the cultists.

Hadn't he?

"...was discharged as soon as he was well enough to
travel. I might never have known about any of this, if it weren't for
his commanding officer. Whenever I tried to get David to talk
about it, he'd just get upset. Told me some things were better off
buried." Her voice broke. "He wouldn't let me in, Ken. He'd wake
up screaming, drenched in sweat and shaking like a leaf. He lost
weight, wouldn't eat enough to keep a bird alive. He'd stay out 'til
all hours of the night, come home reeking of alcohol. But he
wouldn't let me in."

Hutch closed his eyes, swallowing against the boulder in
his throat. Ten years gone, but Rachel could have been
describing yesterday.

"He was just a kid! It was my job to make sure nothing
happened, that he came through okay!"

A jolt like pure electricity, and his eyes flew open. "Rachel,
you said several others were captured along with Starsky. Do you
know...were they able to save all of them?"

Rachel's voice was dull, weary. "Five of them were taken.
I was told one boy didn't make it, was dead before the rescuers
ever got there." She sighed. "Ken, it was a long time ago. Do
you really think it has anything to do with whatever is bothering
David now?"

I'm sure of it.

"I think it's possible those memories weren't buried quite as
deeply as David thought," he said carefully. "I think maybe Simon
Marcus helped dig them up."

"You'll let me know if there's anything I can do, won't you?
I feel so helpless, all the way across the country."

Hutch tried hard to sound reassuring. "Of course I will.
But like you said, right now he'd only be upset if he knew we'd
talked. Let me handle this one, Rachel."

"Take care of him, Kenny. He loves you very much. Don't
let him push you away."

"Don't worry. He could never shove hard enough."

Hutch dropped the phone onto its cradle and stared
blankly into space. He'd called Rachel without any expectations,
hoping she might be able to shed a glimmer of light on Starsky's
behavior. He never imagined she'd hand him the key to unlock
the fortress his partner had constructed. Suddenly all the pieces
were snapping into place to reveal a picture he'd never

Starsky was a survivor. Hutch had seen the courage and
determination, not to mention plain stubborn pigheadedness, more
times than he could count. Vic Monty's hitmen. Prudholm.
Bellamy. Situations that could've killed his partner—would've
killed a lesser man—but he'd come through stronger than ever.
Ironic that two seemingly unrelated incidents, almost ten years
apart, would conspire together to succeed where men like
Prudholm had failed.

Somehow Starsky's treatment at the hands of Simon's
goons had triggered memories of those three weeks at the mercy
of the Viet Cong. Hutch was no psychology expert, but it didn't
take one to see that both groups had employed similar methods to
terrorize and brutalize his partner. Somewhere along the way,
Starsky's personal Pandora's box of memories had been opened,
the lines between past and present blurred, entwined.

And tangled up in the middle was one dead soldier who
never made it home.

Hutch dry-washed his face before dropping his head in his
hands. He had hunches, suspicions, but nothing concrete. The
fact remained that he couldn't help Starsky as long as his friend
hid behind a wall of denial. But maybe, just maybe, Rachel had
given him the means to make a chink in that wall.

A shrill ring from the phone beside his elbow jerked Hutch
from his thoughts. He leaned over to scoop up the receiver,
hoping to hear his partner's voice.


"Hutch? It's Captain Dobey."

Hutch automatically straightened his posture, flushing
when he realized Dobey couldn't see him. "Yeah, Cap. What can
I do for you?"

"I just got off the phone with Ed Randall. He's the..."

"Legal council for the Department. Yeah, I know." Hutch
rubbed the taut muscles at the back of his neck, sure he wasn't
going to like what was coming. As usual, his instincts were

"They've scheduled the deposition for you and your partner
on Thursday. Ed wants to meet with us first thing tomorrow
morning to go over both your testimonies—especially Starsky's. I
need you two in my office by 7:30 sharp, got it?"

Hutch barely bit back a groan. So much for his plans to
talk to Dobey. At least this gave him an excuse to call Starsky.
"Yeah, I got it, Cap. I'll let Starsky know and..."

"Not necessary. I just spoke to him." A loaded silence.
"What's going on with your partner, Hutch?"

It caught him by surprise, as if Dobey had peeked inside
his head. "Uh...going on?"

"That's what I said! I'm not blind, you know. From what
I've seen, he's a time bomb just waiting to go off." Dobey's voice
dropped, softened. "Hutch, I can't help him if I don't know what's

Welcome to my world, Captain.

Hutch hesitated, still struggling to assimilate his
conversation with Rachel and unwilling to confide in Dobey over
the phone. "I hear you, Cap. Just give me a little more time."

"From the look of Starsky, time is something you don't
have," Dobey growled. He blew out a gust of air. "All right. But
I'm warning you, Hutch. I get wind that he's a danger to himself or
to you, and I won't hesitate to pull him off the streets."

Hutch grimaced. "I understand."

"Good." Hutch thought Dobey was about to hang up,
surprised yet again when he awkwardly cleared his throat.
"Randall's already talked to me about the holes in Starsky's report.
He's gonna push Starsky to fill them in, Hutch."

The flick of a switch, and everything—the sleepless night,
his frustration and worry over Starsky—boiled to the surface. Like
a man caught in the path of an erupting volcano, Dobey just
happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"What do you want from me, Captain? Why are you telling
me and not Starsky? You know, contrary to popular opinion, I am
not his keeper, and I'm for damn sure not his mother!"

"That's right, you're his partner! And you and I both know
that if he won't listen to you, he won't listen to anyone! You wanna
know what I want? I want to get Starsky through this mess
without having to ask him to turn in his gun and his badge! If that
takes making you his keeper, or even his mother, then so be it!"

Short, sharp pants for air filled the silence as both
struggled to regain their tempers. Hutch was the first to speak, his
voice contrite.

"I'll see what I can do. But not even I can get Starsky to
talk if he's made up his mind not to."

Dobey's reply was dry. "Yeah. Don't I know it." He
sighed. "I'll try to keep Randall on a leash, Hutch. But I'm warning
you, he's going for broke on this one, determined to nail those

"And I'm warning you,Captain. He pushes Starsky too
hard, and it's gonna blow up in his face."

Dobey grunted, then growled, "I've had nothing but trouble
ever since the commissioner handed me the file on Simon
Marcus. I wish to God I'd never heard the name."

Hutch swallowed. "Yeah." There wasn't really anything
more to add.

* * *

If possible, Starsky looked worse. Hutch's eyes narrowed
as he watched his partner descend the steps and circle around
the front of the car. Dark sunglasses might effectively mask
bloodshot, heavily shadowed eyes, but they couldn't hide baggy
clothing, ashen skin, and a tight, carefully controlled gait. Starsky
tugged the door open, fished an empty coffee cup off the floor,
and tossed it into the back before sliding in.


No reprimands about how he should take better care of his
car—even if it was a hunk of junk. No annoying whistling or
tuneless humming. No puppy dog face trying to convince him to
stop for doughnuts. Clipped. Cold. Just as he'd been the
previous night, when Hutch had called to say he'd be by a little
early so they'd make the meeting.

"You want to drive together? Thought you'd be goin' in
early so's you and Dobey could have a nice little heart-to-heart
'bout how to handle your crazy partner."

"Damn it, Starsky! I never said you were crazy!"

"That's right, you didn't. I remember now, it was something
about me being self-destructive and not fit to work the streets.
Guess the rest was just implied, huh, buddy?"

"Look, I'm not gonna fight with you, Starsky. Do you want
me to pick you up or not?"

"Fine. I'll be ready."

Hutch had heard the unspoken message, loud and clear.
Don't bother coming in. You're not welcome.

"Good morning." He glanced at Starsky from the corner of
his eye as he navigated the car back into traffic. "You ready for

Starsky had been looking out the window, but his head
snapped around at Hutch's question, his glare razor sharp. "I'm
fine. Don't start, Hutch."

Hutch struggled to hold onto his anger, which seemed
determined to slide through his fingers. He possessed a
seemingly bottomless supply of patience for a wounded, hurting
Starsky, but the sullen, taciturn man beside him quickly frayed his

A slight movement caught his attention and he looked
down to see Starsky rubbing his wrist. The skin was smooth and
unblemished, the painful abrasions completely healed, yet Hutch
had seen his partner perform the gesture countless times since
the kidnapping.

You can still feel the ropes, can't you, buddy? I just wish I
knew how to get rid of them for you.

"I didn't... I just meant..." He caught himself, took a deep
breath. "I know this won't be easy for you. Randall's going to
push hard for details—you know that. But then, he didn't have to
live it."

The hostility in Starsky's face faded to wariness. "What
are you trying to say, Hutch?"

Hutch shrugged, feeling every one of the knots in his neck
and shoulders. "I don't know. Maybe just that for this case, you
shouldn't expect yourself to be a cop first. You were the victim
this time, Starsk. It's bound to change your perspective."

He expected anger, or even indifference, but not the
bewildered stare. "I'm always a cop first, Hutch. Don't think I
know any other perspective. 'S who I am, ya know?"

Hutch's fingers reached out reflexively to squeeze
Starsky's shoulder. "Yeah." He sighed, pulled his hand back to
the steering wheel. "Yeah, I guess I do."

* * *

Dobey was waiting for them when they walked into the
squad room. His dark, assessing eyes traveled over Starsky, now
minus sunglasses to soften his haggard appearance, before
locking onto Hutch. Hutch read unspoken concern in the creased
brow and lifted one shoulder in a barely perceptible shrug.

If Starsky noticed the exchange, he ignored it. "Mornin',
Cap'n." He moved to the coffee machine and began pouring a

Dobey inclined his head. "Good morning. Randall's
waiting for us down the hall if you two are ready."

A nudge to his elbow and Hutch turned to have Starsky
place a mug of coffee into his hand. Time slowed and Dobey
faded to the background as he stared into a face as familiar as his
own, eyes soft with affection, one corner of the mouth curved in
the ghost of a lopsided grin.

Hutch accepted the mug, a knot in his gut slowly uncoiling
as his fingers brushed his partner's. Not a word spoken aloud, but
a message sent and received.

Dobey cleared his throat, motioning for them to follow him
down the hall to one of the interrogation rooms. A tall, thin man,
with salt-and-pepper hair and piercing black eyes, was seated at
the long table, a file opened before him. He stood as they
entered, extending his hand.

"Detective Starsky, Detective Hutchinson, I'm Ed Randall.
Thank you for coming. Why don't you both have a seat and we'll
get this show on the road. I know you're busy, so I'll try not to take
up too much of your time."

Hutch shook the proffered hand and pulled out a chair,
observing Starsky respond less than enthusiastically to the
greeting and plop into his own seat. He wasn't fooled by his
partner's deceptively relaxed disposition, though undoubtedly
Randall would be. Starsky was on edge, wired, the slouched,
almost insolent posture a careful smokescreen.

If the attitude irritated Randall, it didn't show. He resumed
his seat and opened the file folder, fingers rifling through pages
and photos before he lifted his gaze to Starsky.

"Detective, this is a strictly informal meeting, designed to
ensure we have all our ducks in a row before the formal deposition
on Thursday. I don't have to tell you how vitally important it is to
back up our charges with clear, precise details of the events as
they occurred. We want Simon Marcus and his crazy followers
locked safely away where they can't hurt any more innocent

Hutch frowned. His attention had wandered to Starsky
during Randall's little pep talk, and he'd seen an odd expression
flicker across his partner's face for just a moment before vanishing
under the bland exterior.

Randall paused, then continued when it was apparent that
Starsky didn't intend to comment. "Detective Starsky, what I'd like
you to do is recount your experience, step by step." His eyes
shifted to Hutch. "I'll be asking you to fill in some gaps along the

Starsky tipped back in the chair, arms laced across his
chest. "Mr. Randall, I've filed a report. I believe you have it right
there in front of you." His tone was courteous but firm.

Hutch inwardly winced, licking his lips. Randall gave
Starsky a sharp look before picking up a sheet of paper with his
partner's unmistakable scrawl at the bottom.

"I've read the report, Detective. There are some notable
holes that need to be filled. Trust me when I say you will be asked
to do so on Thursday."

Starsky muttered something under his breath about
trusting lawyers, and Dobey leaned across the table with a growl
and a glare. "Starsky! Tell the man what he wants to know."

Starsky's lips compressed to a thin, bloodless line, but he
began speaking. "All right, all right. When Hutch and me got to
the courtroom, I ducked out to use the little boys' room."

"It was almost time for the hearing to begin," Randall
observed. "Weren't you concerned you'd be late?"

"Nah, I knew Hutch'd hold down the fort," Starsky
answered, looking at his partner. "'Sides, it was more from
principle than necessity. Every time I go to the john before a
hearing, the bad guy takes a big fall. Way I see it, if it ain't broke,
don't fix it."

Hutch let a genuine grin spread across his face, which
Starsky reciprocated for a moment before sobering. "I didn't see
Simon's goons. Guess they must've jumped me as I was washing
my hands, while my head was down. I remember feelin' like my
head just exploded, then nothing."

Randall nodded and made a brief notation on a yellow
legal pad. Hutch was pleased with Starsky's calm, matter-of-fact
delivery, but he also realized this was safe ground his partner had
already covered.

Randall tapped the eraser end of his pencil against the
pad. "What's the next thing you remember?"

Starsky straightened a little, pulling his legs closer to his
body in an unconsciously defensive movement. "Water."

Randall looked up. "Water?"

"Yeah. Ice cold. They threw it on me, to bring me around,
I guess." He smiled, but it never touched his eyes. "It worked."

"Go on. Where were you at this time?"

Starsky's left hand crept to his right wrist. "I...uh...I don't

"I understand you can't tell me the exactly location,
Detective. Just describe it."

Hutch leaned forward, his eyes drawn to Starsky's fingers
as they rubbed and circled. Starsky's face had gone even more
expressionless, if possible.

"I can't describe it. I couldn't see. They had me tied up
and blindfolded." He stopped massaging his wrist and began
picking at a piece of lint on his sweater. "I could hear them all
around me, though. The shuffling of their feet in the dirt, the
chanting. I yelled at them, tried to get them to talk to me, but they
wouldn't say anything but Simon's name."

Randall nodded, eyes jumping down to the report and then
skewering Starsky. "Now we come to one of those gaps,
Detective. You state in your report that you blacked out and woke
up in some kind of courtyard or pit. What exactly caused you to
lose consciousness?"

Starsky's fingers faltered, but he kept his eyes lowered.
"They, uh, weren't too happy with me yelling at 'em. Roughed me
up a little."

Randall ducked his head, trying to chase Starsky's eyes.
"What exactly does that mean? Could you be a little more

Starsky's head swung up and his eyes blazed with anger.
"They kicked the crap out of me—is that what you want to hear?
All of 'em. Do you also want to hear what it was like not to see it
coming, not to be able to use my arms to protect myself? All I
could do was lay there with my face in the dirt and pray they'd get

Hutch leaned over to lay a hand on Starsky's arm, felt the
tension thrumming like live current. Randall had paled during his
partner's tirade, the pencil clutched tightly between his fingers. He
glanced at Dobey, finding no assistance in the pinched, careworn

"Detective, do you need a moment? A glass of water,

"No. Let's get this over with." Starsky looked at Hutch with
a barely perceptible dip of his head. Hutch gave the arm a gentle
squeeze before removing his hand.

"Okay. When you woke up, Gail Harcourt was watching
you, is that right? She had a knife, correct?"

Starsky bit his lip. "Yeah, Gail was there, but it wasn't like
she was guarding me. I mean, sure, she had a knife, but she
never threatened me with it. To tell you the truth, I got the idea
she was just as messed up as I was—maybe more."

Randall raised an eyebrow. "You say here, she cut off
your clothes and gave you a bath, Detective. Are you telling me
that wasn't against your will?"

If the situation hadn't been so serious, Hutch would've
given in to the grin that tugged at his lips. Starsky flushed a bright
red, his shoulders coming up around his ears.

"Well, no—I mean, yeah! Of course it was against my will!"
he stammered. "When someone holdin' a butcher knife tells me to
do something, I don't ask a lotta questions. But Gail never hurt
me, she was real gentle." He blushed again. "And she acted
kinda spacey, like she'd been hypnotized or something. Half the
time she didn't seem to know why she was doing what she was
doing. Kept sayin' Simon dreamed it."

Randall's mouth twisted into a grimace. "I don't want to
engage in a debate over Ms. Harcourt's guilt or innocence,
Detective. Let's skip ahead to your escape attempt. You
managed to get loose from your bonds—correct?"

"That's right. The water loosened up the ropes enough so
I could slip my hands out. At the time I thought I'd outsmarted
them..." His voice trailed off and he shivered.

"But now?" Randall persisted, oblivious to Starsky's

Starsky stared blankly into space, his expression becoming
distant. "I think it was all part of the game. They wanted me to try
and get away. Just like a cat plays with a mouse before it eats it."

Warning bells went off in Hutch's brain and he stiffened.
He opened his mouth to say something, to warn Randall to ease
up, but knitted eyebrows and a shake of Dobey's head stopped

Randall ignored them both, too wrapped up in getting
information. "So you tried to run. But instead of finding your way
out, you found yourself..."

"Bear." Starsky whispered it, blinking.


"Yeah. A big one—a grizzly, something like that. Came
right for me."

"What happened next?"

Starsky swallowed thickly. "One of Simon's freaks—Luke,
I guess his name is—he was at the top of the pit, lookin' down at

Randall made some more notes on his pad. "Did he say

Starsky's eyes went flat, hard. "Yeah. He said, 'Don't
make him angry, he bites.'"

"And then?"

"I p...picked up a rock." Starsky chuckled, but it was a sad,
jagged sound. "Guess I was tryin' to live up to my name." At
Randall's blank look, he added, "Don't tell me a hotshot lawyer like
you 's never heard of David and Goliath."

Hutch snickered at Randall's sour expression, and
Starsky's shoulders eased a little. "Anyway, something happened.
They musta called off the bear, 'cause it went out through an
opening in the rocks. I figured that was my cue to get the hell
outta there."

When Randall just looked at him expectantly, he sighed.
"It was like a maze in there, and I was pretty mixed up. I came
around a corner and Luke was hidin' up on some rocks. He...he
had a torch and he stuck it in my face." Starsky fingered his
cheek and the pink, still-healing burn. "Thought he got my eye at
first. The pain..." He swallowed again.

"You say in the report there was a struggle, you fought
him," Randall prompted.

Starsky snorted. "As much as I could, half blind and
wearing a dress."

"You overpowered him?"

A self-deprecating shrug. "Got lucky, I guess. Didn't hang
around for a rematch. I saw a buncha steps leading up to a door
and I thought I'd found my way out."

"But you didn't make it."

Starsky raised a shaky hand to scrub at his face. "Cat and
mouse. They were waiting for me."


Starsky's brow furrowed. "The other two freaks—what're
their names? Matthew? And Peter? They had a gun."

Randall nodded, silent for a moment as he looked over his
notes and Starsky's report. When he finally lifted his head, his
expression was determined. "Now we come to another one of
those holes, Detective. In fact, this one's a veritable crater. What
exactly happened next?"

Starsky stiffened, his spine ramrod straight. "They
grabbed me and tied me right back up again. Spent some time
tellin' me how much they were gonna enjoy killing me." He closed
his eyes, swallowed.

"You'll never make it, sucker. We're not nothin', man.
We're your executioners."

Randall's voice cut through the fog, startling him back to
the present. "Not good enough, Detective. I need to know exactly
what transpired, what those three did to you. It could mean the
difference between assault and attempted murder."

Starsky was shaking his head before the lawyer finished
speaking. "No. Forget it. They knocked me around some more;
leave it at that."

Hutch heard it—the edge in his partner's voice that
signaled he was close to the breaking point. The interview had
already taken its toll—Starsky's eyes were sunken, his skin
clammy when Hutch reached out to him.

Randall displayed irritation rather than empathy. "They
won't leave it at that on Thursday, Detective Starsky, and I can't,
either. They grabbed you. They tied you up. What did they do?
Who else was there? Gail? Any of the others?"

Starsky licked dry lips, still shaking his head, but his face
had gone terribly blank. "No. Not Gail, she...she wasn't strong upset...confused. I didn't want them to hurt her,

"What did they do, Starsky?" Randall insisted, relentless.

Hutch shoved back his chair and went to stand by Starsky,
one hand on his shoulder. "Back off, Randall!" he hissed. "Can't
you see he's had enough for today?"

Dobey also stood. "Hutch, take it easy. Randall, I think..."

"He's a cop, Detective Hutchinson!" Randall snapped. "He
of all people should realize how important it is to put these lunatics
away once and for all. Or does he want them to do this to
someone else?"

"No!" Starsky sprang to his feet, chair overturning. "No,
better me than him, he can't handle it! I'm stronger, I...I...c...can
take it!"

Hutch looked into the same, sightless eyes he'd observed
in the alley, icy fingers scampering up and down his spine. He
gripped his friend's shoulder, struggling to force words from a
bone-dry throat. "Starsk..."

Starsky turned, seizing two fistfuls of Hutch's jacket. He
reminded Hutch of a drowning man, desperately groping for a
hand to pull him from the water.

"Don't you understand? I promised." His voice was soft,
keening. "I promised."

Hutch grasped his shoulders, shooting a pleading look at
Dobey. "Captain, get him out of here. Please." He jerked his
head in Randall's direction, then turned back to Starsky, volume
dropping to a soothing murmur. "Take it easy, Starsk. It's okay,
everything's gonna be okay."

Though he didn't understand the drama being played out,
the lawyer possessed enough common sense to keep silent. He
watched appraisingly as Hutch tugged Starsky to the back of the
room, maintaining a quiet patter of reassurances. Dobey pulled
open the door and motioned for Randall to accompany him.

"C'mon, Ed. You heard the man."

Randall scowled, stabbing his pencil in Starsky's direction.
"Captain Dobey, if you think for one minute that I'll let this slide,
you are sadly mistaken. We are not done here until..."

"He's my detective, Randall! If I say he's done, he's done.
Now, clear out and give them some space!" Dobey's roar echoed
in the small room and Randall visibly jumped.

Snatching the casefile and his papers from the table, he
stalked past Dobey and down the hallway without a backward
glance. Dobey hesitated, watching Hutch's continued attempts to
calm his partner. With a sigh, he stepped outside and pulled the
door shut behind him.

Heart thudding wildly in his chest, Hutch tried to hide his
own distress from his partner. Not that it mattered. Starsky was
practically babbling, most of it meaningless to him.

"Thought I could stop it...wanted to...she...she was so
scared, Hutch! But it hurt, it hurt...hands over head,
couldn't touch the ground...over and over and over. And what
good did it do, huh? What g...good did it do? They le...left me in
the d...dark for days, and they took...took him, anyway!"

"Starsky. Starsky, stop!"

Starsky blinked, startled to silence by the sharp command.
Hutch finally managed to break the death grip on his jacket and
steered his partner to a chair. Pulling up another for himself, he
sat down so their knees brushed. Starsky was panting, a sheen of
perspiration on his pale face.

"Look at me," Hutch said, keeping his words gentle but
firm. "Deep breaths, buddy. You're going to hyperventilate. Slow
it down."

He watched Starsky fight to regain control, saw when
clarity slipped back into his gaze, followed immediately by shame.
His eyes slipped shut and he dropped his head into trembling

Hutch placed his palm on the bowed back, rubbing in small
circles. "You okay?"

A slight nod. After a long pause, Starsky scrubbed at his
face and dropped his hands, though he didn't lift his head.

"Nothing to be sorry about," Hutch replied lightly. "Randall
is an ass."

No response, not even a hint of amusement. Hutch drew
in a deep breath, keeping his hand on Starsky's back. "Where
were you just now, Starsk?"

Another shake of the tousled head. "I can't, Hutch."

Hutch bit back an angry retort, remembering the terror in
his partner's eyes. "You have to. It's not buried anymore, pal. It's
hanging onto your back like some kind of giant leech, sucking the
life out of you. You can't keep trying to carry it alone." He moved
the hand from Starsky's back to the dark curls. "You don't have

Starsky finally lifted his head. His face seemed to have
aged decades in the space of an hour. "You don't understand."

Hutch bit his lip. "Yeah. I do. I talked to your mom,
Starsk. I know all about those three weeks in Nam." He tried to
smile. "Why didn't you tell me? Me and thee, buddy. Did you
really think it would change how I see you?"

Starsky's violent response blindsided him. His partner
recoiled and stumbled to his feet. " called Ma? You had
no right, Hutch! How could you?"

Hutch lurched to his own feet, angry in spite of his better
intentions. "I have every right, you're my best friend! I couldn't sit
by and watch you slip away, Starsky. If you weren't going to give
me the answers, I had to find them myself."

Starsky backed toward the door. "You will never
understand, Hutch. I don't want you to, can't you see that? Why
couldn't you just leave it alone?"

"This is 'cause of him, isn't it?" Hutch blurted, desperation
making him throw all caution to the wind. "The kid who didn't
make it. You feel responsible, you blame yourself!"

Starsky staggered, fingers scrabbling at the doorknob.
"Shut up," he muttered. "Stop it, Hutch."

"It's garbage, that's what it is! You can't save the whole
world, my friend. I'm sure he understood that."

"Shut up!" Starsky flew at him, both hands connecting with
his chest in a shove that drove the breath from his lungs and
knocked him backward onto the floor. "You don't know, damn it!
You got no idea. It shoulda been me, Hutch. Me!" He sucked in
a ragged breath like a sob. "I wish to God it had been."

The words were a sucker punch, stealing Hutch's breath
more efficiently than the shove. "Starsky..."

His partner tore open the door and fled before Hutch could
pick himself up off the floor.

* * *

"What do you mean, 'he just left'?" Hutch towered over the
much shorter patrolman, hands propped on his hips.

"Look, Sergeant, how many ways do you want me to tell it?
He ran down that hallway and out the door." He jerked his thumb
in the direction indicated. "Now if you don't mind, I've got things to

"Yeah, yeah." Hutch turned away with a dismissive flip of
his hand.

He stared at the double doors leading to the street, a
gnawing ache somewhere between his stomach and his heart.
He distantly felt a whoosh of air as the squad room door swung
open and then a presence at his shoulder.

"Where's your partner?"

"Good question." Hutch turned, running a hand over his
hair to cup the back of his neck. "I don't know where in the hell he
thinks he's gonna go, he doesn't even have a car."

Dobey's eyes panned the hallway and he lowered his
voice. "You want to tell me what happened back there?"

Hutch dropped his hand, his voice frigid. "I warned you
what would happen if Randall pushed too hard."

"Pushed too..." Dobey noticed heads turn and caught
himself. "In my office. Now."

"I need to find Starsky, Cap." Hutch's tone skirted the
edge of insolence, worry making him sound more like his partner
than himself.

"It'll only take a minute." Dobey turned and lumbered
through the squad room doors, not bothering to check if Hutch
was behind him.

Hutch stole one final look down the hallway before

Dobey ushered him into his office and shut the door firmly,
sinking into his chair with a grunt and gesturing for Hutch to do the
same. Hutch pointedly ignored the offer, thrusting his hands into
his jacket pockets and stalking around the room like a caged tiger.
After several minutes of Dobey silently watching him pace, he
stomped over to brace his palms on the desk.

"What is it, Captain? Why am I here instead of tracking
down Starsky?"

"You're here to level with me!" Dobey growled, leaning
forward until they were nose to nose. "What I saw just now was
not your partner losing his temper. What I saw was a cop on the
edge, close to a breakdown. Now I want to know just how long
you've been covering for him."

Hutch took a step back and folded into a chair. He drew a
hand wearily over his face. "I was gonna talk to you."

"So talk."

Hutch heard the note of compassion that had crept into
Dobey's voice; lifted his head to search the captain's face.
"Something's been eating him since the kidnapping. Something
that's a lot bigger than just Marcus."


"If I knew, don't you think I'd do something about it?" Hutch
snarled. "He's not talking to me, damn it!" When Dobey just
looked at him, he wilted. "Captain, I...I've got an idea, but right
now that's all it is."

Dobey sank back in his chair, studying Hutch as his teeth
worried his lower lip. After a moment, his brows drew down in a
scowl and he waved a hand at the door.

"Go on! Get outta here."

Not needing to be told twice, Hutch sprang to his feet and
strode to the door. When his hand connected with the knob,
Dobey cleared his throat.


He turned slowly, warily. "Yeah, Captain?"

"You're both on desk duty until further notice."

Hutch inclined his head, then slipped out the door.

* * *

Starsky stared out the window, trying to ignore the
tightness in his chest and the dull throbbing behind his eyes. He
was in a cab, and judging by the scenery, the driver was taking
him home. The problem was, he couldn't remember how he'd
come to be there. A black hole in his memory had swallowed up
everything from the moment he left Hutch until he found himself
on a torn vinyl seat breathing air that smelled of stale cigarettes.

He closed his eyes, only to be confronted with Hutch's
face, worry and hurt etched in fine lines around his eyes and

"Why didn't you tell me? Me and thee, buddy. Did you
really think it would change the way I see you?"

The tightness in his chest grew to a crushing weight and
tears burned behind his closed lids. Hutch's patience, his
steadfast friendship as he refused to let Starsky push him away,
hurt almost as much as knowing it was all coming to an end.

Hutch knew. Not everything, not yet, but it was only a
matter of time. The only thing that topped Blondie's ability to ferret
out the truth was his pit bull persistence. He'd sunk his canines
into something Starsky had managed to keep secret for ten years,
and he wouldn't let go until satisfied he knew it all.

And once he did, nothing could ever be the same.

The cabbie cleared his throat. "That's seven dollars even."
Starsky's eyes flew open and he flushed, scrambling to pull
a ten from his wallet. "Keep it."

He got out of the cab and stood in the driveway, one hand
propped against the Torino, as the cabbie pulled away. His
apartment, normally a refuge, now only magnified the stress
fractures in his soul. There were bogeymen in the closet, the bed
had become a place of torment rather than rest, and the air would
undoubtedly still reek of his latest middle-of-the-night attempt to
silence his demons.

And he'd done the unthinkable—walked out while on duty.
Dobey was probably screaming by now and Hutch would be hot
on his trail. Starsky unlocked the car and slipped inside, though
he made no move to start the engine. Who was he trying to kid?
After his little performance with Ed "tell me all the sordid details"
Randall, Dobey would undoubtedly be asking for his gun and his

Black despair, barely kept in check throughout the cab
ride, bubbled to the surface. Suspension. It was the last straw,
the one that broke the proverbial camel's back. Everything in his
life seemed to be splintering into tiny pieces, and the tighter he
closed his fist, the more they slipped between his fingers. The job
was all he had left, the only thing keeping him moderately sane.

The job and Hutch.

And he was about to lose them both.

Starsky folded his arms over the steering wheel and
dropped his forehead onto them, ignoring the twinge as his ribs
protested the position. He was tired—more tired than he'd ever
felt in his life. A weariness that settled into his bones and left his
brain feeling sluggish and uncooperative. Yet sleep had become
the enemy, something to be feared rather than embraced. Like a
record player needle stuck in a groove, his life had settled into a
pattern that he couldn't seem to change or break. Late night
movies, countless cups of strong coffee, long walks around the
neighborhood—he'd tried all the tricks, fighting to hold sleep at
bay for as long as possible until finally succumbing to sheer
exhaustion. Inevitably, the nightmares followed, vivid images
burned into his brain, forcing him to relive what he'd tried so hard
to forget, until he thought he'd go crazy. Only the booze managed
to blur them, to pad their sharp edges so he could fall into an all-
too-brief but dreamless sleep.

And in the cold, bleak light of morning, eyes burning, head
pounding and stomach churning, he'd drag himself out into the
world to face another day. Ignoring the overwhelming
hopelessness. The feeling he was moving down a long, dark
tunnel with no light at the end.

Refusing to lie down. Refusing to quit.

For the job.

For Hutch.

Take that away and...

When is enough, enough?

The soldiers toss him onto the hard ground like last week's
trash, and he can't suppress an involuntary cry as pain knifes
through his ribs. Hands tug him upward until he can slump
against the wall, then hold a canteen to his lips. He gulps the
stale, warm water as if it were champagne, squinting to identify
the face with eyes grown unaccustomed to light.

"You okay, Bronx?"

Only one person calls him that. "J.T.?"

"The one and only."

He musters a weak smile. Jack "J.T." Tucker—worst
soldier in the group, best man to have at your back. He might
flaunt every rule, thumbing his nose at authority every chance he
got, but no one equaled his skill with firearms, and his wry sense
of humor had kept them all sane.

"How long?"

J.T. understands without explanation. "Four days." He
arches a dark eyebrow. "We were beginning to think you weren't
coming back."

"Nah. 'M like a bad penny—keep turnin' up." He tries to
look around the room, but his eyes are still tearing from the
sunlight. "Everyone okay?"

J.T.'s silence and skittering eyes plunge his stomach to his

"J.T.? What is it? What's wrong?" He tries to scramble to
his feet, but his legs are like rubber.

J.T.'s hand in the middle of his chest presses him back
down. "Hold on. I'll tell you."

He sags back against the wall, blinking furiously. J.T.
remains crouched in front of him, his face missing its trademark
smirk, and for the first time he notices the fresh cut running from
cheekbone to jaw.

"After they took you, they came back for the kid."

Fury, pure and blinding, temporarily banishes all his aches
and pains. "They came back for him? But I thought... Damn it!
Where is he? How bad...?"

The palm on his chest again, holding him in place. "I know
what you thought. So did they. That's why they came back.
Jonny..." J.T. scrubs his free hand over his face, wincing when his
fingers brush the cut. "He went nuts, kicking, screaming, biting...
Took three of them to carry him out. I thought sure they were
gonna kill him, but they brought him back day before yesterday."

He studies J.T.'s face, sees the truth written in dark,
grieving eyes and clenched jaw. Asks anyway. "How bad?"

"I don't know what they did to him, but he's...he's all broken
inside. Kept puking up blood at first; now he just lays there and
cries." J.T.'s voice trembles and he sucks in a deep breath to
steady it. "They snapped one of his legs and the bone was
sticking out. We tried to wrap it up, but..."

He swallows his own tears, refusing to break down.
"We've heard choppers, they could find us soon. If he can hold
on, we can get him to a doctor and..."

J.T. slowly moves aside so he can see the sad bundle of
rags lying along the far wall. Even from a distance, his eyes
register the flushed face and sweat-drenched brow, his nose the
unmistakable odor of sickness.

J.T.'s hand moves to his shoulder, his voice thick. "He's
dead already, Bronx. His body just doesn't know it."

He stares at J.T., then struggles to push himself onto his
feet. This time J.T. extends a hand, steadying him on his trek
over to the sick man, but backing off once he gets there. He
drops to his knees, wanting to scream, wanting to curse, wanting
to weep. Instead he reaches out a shaking hand to smooth back
a lock of sweat-dampened blond hair. Blue eyes fly open, vague
and panicky until recognition sets in.


Gossamer thin, barely more than a whisper. He motions
for the canteen and holds it to dry, cracked lips. Jon manages two
small sips before he breaks into harsh, wracking coughs. Water
and dark blood dribble from the corner of his mouth, and tears
leak uncontrollably from his eyes.

"Easy, Jonny. Easy. Breathe."

He watches, overcome by helplessness, as the kid fights to
regain some composure. His eyes catalogue damage—
blackened flesh over Jon's chest and ribs, a rigid and distended
belly, and the leg, swollen to nearly three times its normal girth
and emitting the gassy smell of gangrene.

Fingers scrabbling at his shirt bring his focus back to Jon's

"Hurts, Dave. Hurts."

He bites his lip hard enough to draw blood, the ache in his
ribs nothing compared to the shredding of his heart. He feels the
others' eyes watching, waiting. As if somehow he has the magic
to make it right. He tries to swallow the boulder in his throat,
searching for words to say. To be who they think he is, the man
who speaks of hope and hanging on. Who tells them never to
give up.

They don't know that four days in the pit, beaten half to
death, no light, no food and barely any water, got rid of that man
as efficiently as a bullet. That sometime during the endless blur of
darkness, pain and fear, he'd been broken inside, too, in a spot far
deeper and less visible than Jonny. That he'd begun to accept the

They were all going to die here. It was just a matter of

"Shh. I know it hurts, kid. You gotta hang in there.
Remember your folks, your girl." He feels like a parrot—the
words no longer hold meaning.

More coughing. More blood. Jon's hand tightens on his
own, leaving bloody fingerprints. "Don't care. Ju...just want it
stop. Please, Dave. Ma...make it stop."

Shaking his head. "Jonny, I..."

J.T.'s hand on his shoulder, gripping hard enough to cause
pain. "Heads up, Bronx. Soldiers coming."

By the time the words sink in, Jonny begins to scream, a
breathless, gaspy sound. "Dave, d...don't. Enough...had enough.
Please, Dave...please..."

The raucous sound of an angry horn coupled with the
squeal of rubber on pavement jerked Starsky out of the memory
with all the finesse of a bucket of ice water. The interior of the
Torino felt stifling, oppressive, and with a small moan he turned
the key in the ignition and rolled down a window. He had to go.
Now. The where didn't matter, just so he was moving. Maybe if
he drove far enough, and fast enough, he could leave Nam

Dear God, just for a little while.

He'd had enough.

* * *

When he left Metro, Hutch drove around the block a few
times, hoping to see his partner walking the streets or sitting on a
bench. By the time he gave in and drove to Starsky's place, the
Torino was gone. Hutch cursed as he jogged up the stairs and let
himself inside. The apartment was dark and cluttered, still no
evidence that Starsky was eating, but more than enough that he'd
been drinking. His partner hadn't bothered to raise the blinds or
open the windows, and the oppressive air reeked of sickness,
sweat and tears. Hutch strode across the bedroom, kicking aside
a discarded tee-shirt. He jerked the shade so it retracted with a
clatter, shoved up the window, and drew in a deep, calming

As he turned to walk out of the room, something in the
closet caught his eye. He eased the louvered door the rest of the
way open, worry, guilt and curiosity warring with each other in his

The object that had captured his attention lay on the floor,
slightly protruding from the closet's murky depths. It was, in fact,
the reason the door had not shut completely. Hutch crouched
down and lifted it, turning and inspecting it with careful fingers.

It was a small, hinged box, not unlike the type that would
hold a watch or a necklace. Hutch pried the top open,
disappointed to find it empty; though when he ran his thumb over
the smooth velvet inside, he could feel two small holes as if
something had once been pinned there.

Casting a quick look over his shoulder, Hutch stood and
flicked on the light, sharp eyes roaming over every inch of the
closet's interior. He was just about to give up, guilt beginning to
win the upper hand, when he spied one corner of a battered
cardboard box where it peeked out from beneath a pile of old
magazines on the floor. Stuffed in the very back. Not so unusual,
except that the box looked to have been deliberately buried, yet
now lay partially excavated.

Hutch stared at the box for a long time, his rapid
respiration sounding like a hurricane in the utter stillness. He
couldn't have explained how he knew the box was important. It
was a sudden electric charge in the air, a prickling at the nape of
his neck.

"I should go." He didn't even realize he'd spoken aloud
until the sound of his own voice made him jump. Belying his own
words, he dropped back down to his knees, never breaking eye
contact with the box.

"What are you doing, Hutchinson?" he muttered to himself.
"Nothing like sneaking around behind his back, going through his
things." Hands reaching, then recoiling.

"It shoulda been me, Hutch! Me! I wish to God it had

Forgive me, Starsk. You're slipping away, and I don't know
what else to do.

Hutch carefully extracted the box and scooted backward
until he could prop himself against Starsky's bed with it cradled in
his lap. He pulled off the lid and set it aside, first wrinkling his
nose and then smothering a sneeze as a little puff of dust wafted
upward. He peered inside...and sucked in a sharp breath. One
by one, he lifted out the items with trembling fingers.

A set of dogtags for Sergeant David Michael Starsky. A
packet of letters from his mother. A worn photo of an impossibly
young Starsky, his trademark curls cropped short, but still wearing
the blinding grin. Standing with several other young men, arms
slung across each other's shoulders. All wore army fatigues, a
jeep parked in the background.

Reluctantly setting aside the photo, Hutch pulled the final
item from the box—a letter of commendation awarding David
Michael Starsky a Purple Heart for injuries received in the line of
duty. Frowning, Hutch picked up the hinged box and ran his
thumb back and forth over the empty holes.

With a weary sigh, he began putting things away, taking
care to replace each item as he'd found it. When he picked up the
pack of letters one slipped from his hand and fluttered to the floor
like a wounded bird. As Hutch scooped it up from the carpet, he
noticed the handwriting differed from the rest of the letters, as did
the return address.

"Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Harper," he read aloud. The line
between his eyes deepened and, after only a brief hesitation, he
pulled a single sheet of pale blue notepaper from the envelope
and unfolded it.

The handwriting was neat, feminine. Hutch smoothed the
creases so the letter would lie flat and began to read.

April 14, 1967

Nineteen-sixty-seven. From the little Starsky had
mentioned about the army, he knew that his partner would have
been back in the States for less than a month.

Dear David,

I hope this letter finds you well. Captain
Jessup tells us you are on the mend, getting
stronger every day. He was kind enough to give
me your mother's address. She must be so
thrilled to have you home again, safe and
sound. I hope you're letting her baby you a bit,
even if you feel you don't need it. A mother's
eyes never stop seeing a little boy, even if he's
grown into a man.

We are healing, too. I know how much
you wanted to come to the funeral, David, just
as I know you were in no condition to do so.
Please don't feel bad. We know what you
meant to Jon — his letters to us were filled with
stories of you, the way you looked out for him,
took him under your wing. You were there for
him when he needed you in life, the big brother
he never had.

I guess what I'm trying to say is thank
you. You were with Jonny when we couldn't be,
when he was hurt and scared. You'll never know
how much that means to us. Never.

Take care of yourself, David. Be well. Be
happy. And if there's ever anything you need,
anything we can do for you, you know where to
find us.

All our love,

Bev & Joe

Hutch retrieved the photo from the box and studied each of
the grinning faces.


On Starsky's left. Deep blue eyes in a round face framed
by white-blond hair. All of them young, but this one with an aura
of wide-eyed innocence the others lacked—or, more likely, had
shed along the way. While the others were mugging for the
camera, his eyes were fixed on Starsky, an almost worshipful
expression on his face.

"No, better me than him, he can't handle it! I'm stronger,
I...I...c...can take it!"

Ah, Starsk.

Hutch tipped his head back and stared at the ceiling.
Thought about the times he'd teased Starsky, smugly superior as
the college boy half of the partnership. What a crock. While
Hutch had been taking exams and chasing pretty coeds, Starsky
was fighting for his country. For his life. Surrounded by blood and
death and unimaginable horrors, but able to put aside his own
fears to ease the way for friend.

To protect and serve. Starsky'd had the heart of a cop
long before he'd earned the badge.

With a sigh, Hutch levered himself upright, replaced the
photo and letter, and tucked the box back into the closet. When
he couldn't remove the sooty dust streaks from his hands by
brushing them on his jeans, he detoured into Starsky's bathroom
for some soap and water. He stared into the mirror, face pale and
haggard under the unforgiving fluorescent lights, and tried to
hypothesize where his partner might have gone. Normally, he and
Starsky had an uncanny sense of what each other would do under
any given set of circumstances. But this situation was about as
far from normal as east from west, and Hutch found he had no
idea where his distraught partner might have gone.

"When in doubt, try Huggy's," he murmured, reaching for a
towel. "I hope to God I find you in a back booth trying to drink
yourself into oblivion. At least then I'd know you were safe."

He leaned over to drape the towel on the rack and froze,
eyes zeroing in on an object shining starkly against the white
porcelain at the bottom of Starsky's toilet. He swallowed hard, his
throat making a dry click, and plunged his hand into the bowl to
fish it out. Stood there, oblivious to the water running down his
arm and pattering onto the tile, his brain laboring to catch up with
what his eyes were seeing.

Starsky's Purple Heart.

Several minutes later, he was out the door, headed for
Huggy's place with the medal washed, dried and tucked into his
jacket pocket for safekeeping.

* * *

"Well, if it ain't one of Bay City's finest come to grace my
lowly establishment," Huggy drawled, leaning on the bar as he
wiped it down.

Hutch walked over to perch on a stool. "Knock it off,

Huggy dropped the rag and held up both hands in
surrender. "Be cool, m'man. Don't know who's been rainin' on
your parade, but it sure ain't me."

Hutch folded his arms on the bar, wincing as tense
shoulder muscles protested. "Sorry, Hug. Been a helluva day
and it's not over yet. You seen Starsky this morning?"

Huggy stared at him, then picked up the cloth and
continued polishing with a shake of his head. "Haven't seen Curly
for more than a week—you, either, for that matter." He smirked.
"I was beginnin' to feel unloved."

Hutch ignored the theatrics. "Look, if he comes by, I want
you to call me. Do whatever it takes, but make him stay put until I
can get here." He slid off the stool.

"Whoa, hold on a minute! This is the Bear you're talkin' to.
You don't really expect to lay that on me and just walk away, do
you?" When Hutch hesitated, he drew up a glass of orange juice
and set it on the bar with a flourish.

Hutch eased himself back onto the stool, cradling the glass
between his palms, but not drinking from it. "I just need to talk to
him. Got a few things to work out."

Huggy walked around the bar and sat down beside him.
"Last time I saw Starsky...he was lookin' a bit rough around the
edges, if you take my meanin'."

Hutch swiveled to face him. "Hug... Has Starsky ever
talked to you about being in the Army?"

Huggy ran long fingers over his chin. "You mean 'bout
when he was in Nam? Yeah, he's mentioned it a time or two." He
shook his head. "Man, Starsky is one tough dude to survive all

Hutch's jaw dropped, and the juice very nearly joined it.
"He told you about Vietnam? About what it was like?" He knew he
must sound ridiculous, like a jealous child, but he couldn't seem to
keep hurt from seeping into his voice.

Huggy plucked the glass from his hand and sat it back on
the bar. "Only once, and he was drunk as a skunk at the time."

"What exactly did he say?" Hutch worked to keep his
voice mildly curious.

Huggy shrugged. "You probably heard it all already."

"If I had, I wouldn't be asking you, now would I?" Hutch

Huggy looked as if he were waiting for a punchline. When
Hutch just glared at him, his expression turned contrite. "Sorry,
Hutch. I just assumed, you two bein' so tight, an' all..."

Hutch braced an elbow on the bar and massaged his
aching neck. "Yeah. Well, he hasn't. And I'm pretty sure that in
order to help him now, I've got to understand what happened back

Huggy looked quizzical, but something in Hutch's face
must have warned him not to ask questions. "Lemme see...
Guess it was over a year ago—right after your run-in with that cat
that was after your girl."

Hutch frowned. "Gillian?"

"Naw, not Gillian. Jeanie." He shook a finger at Hutch.
"Best waitress I ever had."

"Forest," Hutch mumbled, hit with a rush of still painful
memories. "Ben Forest."

"The one and only. I'll never forget when Starsky showed
up on my doorstep with you. Man, you were hurtin'!"

Warm arms wrapped around his shivering body, making
him feel safe in spite of the pain. "It's okay, you're gonna make it.
I'm right here."

"Get to the point, Hug. What's this got to do with Starsky?"

"Starsky came in the night after you busted Forest. You
were at home, still in pretty rough shape. It was right before
closin' time. He sat over there in that corner booth all by his
lonesome and really tied one on. Finally had to cut him off."
When he saw Hutch's troubled expression, he shrugged. "The
man busted his hump to find you, then played nursemaid while
you was kickin' the monkey off your back. I guess it finally all
caught up with him."

"There's such a thing as a mercy killing."
"Yeah, well, I woulda let you slip off, except Huggy would
never've forgiven me."

Hutch pressed thumb and fingers to his temples for a
moment, then pulled the hand down his face. "Go on."

Huggy turned to lean back against the bar. "He started
talkin' 'bout what they'd done to you—tyin' you up, workin' you
over, the smack..." He sent Hutch an uncomfortable look. "He
just kept sayin' how no man should haveta go through somethin'
like that. How it made him crazy, knowin' what they'd done to
you." Huggy paused and his voice got quiet. "And then all of a
sudden, he started talkin' about Nam."

"He was captured by the Viet Cong—did you know that?"
It sounded more like Hutch was talking to himself than asking a
question. "They had him three weeks. His mom told me."

"He wasn't exactly rowin' with both oars." Huggy's
expression was unusually soft. "The stuff he described—he never
said it happened to him. But I had my suspicions." He shook his
head. "It ain't pretty."

"Tell me, Hug. I gotta know."

Huggy stood and walked back around the bar where he
could fiddle with some glasses. "There was the stuff you'd expect,
I guess. Interrogations. Beatings. Said they liked to hang ya up
by your wrists so's your feet could hardly touch the ground and go
at ya with a metal pipe."

Hutch closed his eyes, swallowing the queasy feeling in his
gut. Saw Starsky in a long, black robe with his hands tied above
his head, surrounded by cultists holding knives and chains.

My God, Starsk. No wonder it's all come back at you.

"What else?"

Huggy grimaced. "Weird stuff. Tyin' you to a stool and
leavin' you in the sun all day long with no water. Makin' you kneel
for maybe four, six hours at a time. Said if you tried to move
they'd beat the shit outta ya. And somethin' about a pit in the
ground—'cept he got all pale and clammed up."

"I've always been a little scared of the dark—I ever tell you

All the blood left Hutch's head and he swayed a little.

"Whoa. Yeah, just like that. Take it easy, Hutch. You
want I get you somethin' a little stronger than that OJ?" Huggy's
hand was on his shoulder, bracing him.

Hutch waved him off. "No. I'm okay, thanks, Hug."

Huggy rolled his eyes. "Sure you are." He straightened up
and went back to his glasses, but his movements were jerky and
distracted. After a moment, he set down the mug in his hands and
planted his palms on the bar. "Hutch...Starsky was wasted when
he told me that stuff, dig it? I'm pretty sure he didn't mean to, and
once he sobered up, I don't think he remembered that he did."

Hutch nodded. "I understand." He slid off the stool, but
hesitated, one hand still on the counter. "You ever wonder what
makes one man a hero, Hug? Why one guy can survive that kind
of...of horror, while another falls to pieces?"

Huggy folded his arms. "Ain't no mystery there, my
brother. 'S called heart. Some got it, and some don't. Starsky
happens to fall into the first category."

Hutch's lips curved in spite of his worry. "Yeah." He
feigned surprise. "You know, my friend, you're a lot smarter than
you look."

"Can I help it if most folks don't look past my devastating
good looks to see the genius within?"

Hutch shook his head. "Just call me if you see him."

Huggy was still expounding on the curse of beauty when
he walked out the door.

* * *

Even though he'd been looking for it, the splash of red and
white in Starsky's driveway surprised him. Hutch pulled to the
curb and killed the engine, staring bemusedly at the Torino. It was
nearly nine o'clock, twelve hours since Starsky had stormed out of
Metro, and his worry for his partner had reached critical mass.
One more pass by Starsky's apartment, he'd told himself, and then
he would ask Dobey to put out an APB on a missing officer.Starsky
would be furious, but, frankly, Hutch was long past caring.

But there it was, parked innocuously in its usual slot, the
sheer normality of the picture making Hutch's fears seem
ridiculous. He struggled to quell a burst of irritation. All day long
he'd searched, visiting every conceivable haunt that might attract
his partner—from Merle's garage to the park where Starsky used
to picnic with Helen. Every time he'd come up dry, the worry
within Hutch had ratcheted up another notch, until he was
imagining Starsky in any number of horrible predicaments. Now,
presented with evidence that suggested his partner was safe and
sound, the fear turned to annoyance.

Hutch got out of the car, pausing for a moment to draw in a
breath of the cool evening air before heading toward the stairs.
When he slid his hand into his pocket to deposit the keys, his
fingers brushed the smooth surface of the medal and he faltered,
staring up at the dark windows. Whatever Starsky had been up to
all day, it hadn't been joyriding.

He ran his hand over the Torino's hood as he walked past,
able to detect lingering warmth from the engine. Not home long,
then. He climbed the steps, pausing with his knuckles just inches
from the door. No lights appeared to be lit, and the apartment was
silent. If Starsky was actually in bed, getting some real sleep...

He pulled out his key and let himself inside.

"Starsky?" He pitched his voice low, hovering by the door
as he listened for a reply.

Nothing, not a sound. Hutch moved silently through the
living room, past the empty couch and mute television, and
peeked into the kitchen. Everything appeared exactly as it had
been earlier that morning, no indication that Starsky had returned.
Heart speeding up a bit, he crossed to the bedroom, stopping just
inside the doorway. With the shades drawn, the light was nearly
nonexistent, and he could just make out the bed among the deep

Sheets rumpled and twisted, pillows askew, comforter
falling off the end.


The breath whooshed from Hutch's lungs and he turned,
sticking his head briefly in the bathroom before dropping onto the
living room couch. He propped his elbows on his knees and
cradled his throbbing head in his hands, overcome by frustration
and worry.

Gone. But where? Starsky was a city rat who believed
any form of transportation was superior to one's feet. Hard to
imagine him wandering around in the dark no matter how
distraught he might be. Still, in spite of the Torino's presence, it
didn't appear his partner had even come inside. Nothing moved,
no lights, shades drawn...

Wait a minute.

Hutch saw himself in Starsky's bedroom that morning.
Raising the shade and opening the window to let the cool breeze
circulate. Distracted by the medal, he'd left without closing things
back up. Yet just now he'd barely been able to see, the lowered
shade effectively blocking any moonlight from aiding him in his

Someone had been there after all.

Heart thudding, Hutch stood and walked slowly back to the
bedroom. Stepping inside, he froze, listening. This time he heard
it—the faint soughing of breath.


"Go away, Hutch."

He barely recognized the voice, so toneless and pale.
Hutch's ears tracked it to the vicinity of the closet where he could
just distinguish a dark form huddled on the floor, back propped
against the wall.

Slowly, carefully, as if he were approaching a wounded
animal, Hutch crept closer. "Can't, buddy. You know that."

A laugh that was more of a sob. "Yeah. A regular pit bull."

Hutch wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean, but
the ragged, nearly hysterical tone to Starsky's voice scared him
more than the fact that his partner was sitting alone in the dark.
He reached toward the small corner lamp, then changed his mind
and crossed to the window.

"Need a little light," he said by way of warning, and lifted
the shade before his partner could object.

A clear night and a nearly full moon provided a colorless
spill of light that pushed back the shadows. Starsky's knees were
drawn up toward his chest, his head bowed as he contemplated
something in his hands. Hutch took a step closer, craning his
neck to get a good look at the object, and froze.

Starsky's gun.

Unholstered. Clip loaded. Safety off.

His partner turned the weapon over and over, fingers
running across the smooth metallic surface of the barrel. Staring
at it as if hypnotized, seemingly oblivious while Hutch's heart
lurched into his throat, a cold sweat breaking out on his forehead
and palms.

Slowly, so slowly, Hutch inched closer. "What are you
doing, Starsk?"

Slight quirk of one shoulder. "Thinkin'."

"In the corner with no lights? Thought you didn't like the
dark." Hutch kept an iron hold on his voice, the tone soft, casual.
He eased a little closer. If he could just get one hand on the

"Don't come any nearer."

A warning without anger, but he could hear that Starsky
meant business. Hutch sank to a crouch.

Starsky continued speaking, his fingers easily curling
around the grip like shaking hands with an old friend. "Don't make
no difference how many lights you turn on if you're carryin' around
darkness inside you."

The words, and the resignation in Starsky's voice, made
Hutch want to weep. He wanted to pull his friend into a comforting
embrace, to tell him there was no problem they couldn't solve
together, but he knew the physical contact would be rebuffed and
the reassurances would ring hollow.

He licked his lips. "Starsky, I know you're hurting. Give
me a chance to help you, to understand. You don't want..."

"What I want, is for you to leave me alone."

Just a hint of anger, but it was the first normal emotion
Hutch had seen. He decided to push, praying he wasn't making a
deadly mistake.

"Well, you can forget it. I'm not going anywhere."

Starsky's head came up for the first time, and Hutch nearly
gasped at the despair and grief in the blue eyes. The gun turned
until the muzzle was leveled at Hutch's chest.

"Get out, Hutch."

Perspiration trickled between his shoulderblades like ice
water and he barely suppressed a shiver. Though he knew
without a doubt Starsky would never deliberately pull the trigger,
the fact that he was pointing a loaded gun with such casual
disregard spoke volumes about his state of mind.

"You gonna shoot me, huh, Starsk?" Quietly, calmly, but
allowing hurt and reproach to come through his eyes. And the

I know you're bluffing and so do you. Why don't you just
put the gun down?

Starsky stared at him, his breath accelerating to shallow
pants. His eyes went impossibly wide, then slammed shut, and
the gun swung up to nuzzle his own temple. Hutch's legs slid out
from under him and he landed on his ass. His mouth moved, but
at first nothing came out.

"Starsky... Starsky, don't. Please."

"Have to. 'S no other way." Lost. Broken.

"That's ridiculous, Starsky! There's always another way!"
Hutch's voice was high, panicked. The voice of a stranger.

Tears slipped from beneath Starsky's eyelids and trailed
down his cheeks. His voice was blurry. "I can't do it anymore. I'm
tired, Hutch. I just want it to stop."

"Then quit trying to do it alone. Talk to me, damn it!'s
like're hanging off the side of a cliff and you won't take my
hand!" His breath caught in a sob as he leaned forward,
extending his hand. "Give me the gun, Starsk."

His fingertips brushed Starsky's knee, and his partner
jerked away, finger twitching on the trigger. "No! Can't you get it
through your thick skull? You're not the White Knight, Hutch, and I
sure as hell ain't some damsel in distress! You can't fix this."

"You think blowing yourself away while I watch is the
answer? You selfish bastard! You might as well point that gun
back at me, it'll hurt less." Hutch's voice cracked and he looked
away, futilely trying to blink back tears.

It got to Starsky when perhaps nothing else could. He
didn't lower the Beretta, but it wavered a little. "I don't mean to
hurt you, Hutch. God, it's the last thing I want! But you got no
idea..." His breath hitched in his chest and he tightened his grip
on the gun. "There's parts of me you don't know, and if you did...
I can't live with it, how the hell do you think you could? Better to
end it now than watch you walk away. Because you will, Hutch.
You will."

The heart-wrenching despondency in Starsky flipped a
switch within Hutch, and a grave sense of calm blanketed his
emotions. "You think you know me so well? Try me, Starsk.
Share whatever deep, dark secret has been eating you alive." He
paused. "Tell me about Jon."

Starsky's face went deathly pale. "Wh...what did you say?"

"I want you to shake the monkey off your back, once and
for all. I want you to tell me about what happened to Jon." Hutch
moved in close, but didn't attempt to touch Starsky.

"No!" Starsky's face contorted, and he pressed the Beretta
so tightly to his temple that it left a ring of white flesh around the
muzzle. "Please back off, Hutch! If you're my friend, leave it

"So, I'm supposed to make it easy for you? Just turn away
and let you check out in peace? The hell I will, Starsky! You want
to end it? Then have the guts to tell me why."

"I can't!" The words were something between a sob and a
moan. "Don'tcha see? I spent ten years tryin' to forget it ever
happened, to make sure no one ever knew."

"Maybe I should tell you about him, how about that?" Hutch
continued, smoothly relentless. "Jon Harper. You met him in
Nam—or maybe in the States before you shipped out. He was
younger than you, eighteen, maybe nineteen. Never been away
from home before, real naïve, but a good kid."

"Eighteen," Starsky whispered. "He turned eighteen a few
months before basic training." Unnoticed, the gun slipped down
until the barrel rested against his shoulder.

"He was like a little brother, reminded you of Nick—except
Nick would've been able to take care of himself. So you made it
your job to watch out for him, make sure he didn't get in over his
head." Hutch searched Starsky's face, his voice gentle. "Then
you were captured by the Viet Cong. Interrogated. Tortured. You
could barely hold it together yourself, let alone help the kid. But
you tried, Starsk. You tried."

Starsky's eyes locked desperately onto his and his entire
body trembled. "I told him I'd get us both out. I promised." The
gun dropped to his lap.

Hutch swallowed, his throat tight. "You were stronger,
buddy. You went through hell and came out the other side. It
wasn't Jon's fault he couldn't hang on. And it's not your fault that
you did."

The pendulum swung and Starsky was abruptly furious.
"You don't know what you're talking about! You know nothing,
Hutch! Nothing!"

"I know about something called survivor guilt!" Hutch
retorted. He didn't want to feel anger, but it was so much easier
than the other emotions churning inside him. "It's not your fault,
Starsky! So you promised him you'd both make it out, so what?
You can't blame yourself for not saving him."

Starsky lunged for him, the gun clattering to the floor,
forgotten. He twisted his fingers in Hutch's shirt, nearly hauling
him across the carpet as Hutch struggled to break the grip.

"I don't blame myself for not saving him, damn it! I blame
myself for killing him!"

Silence, and Hutch went limp. He searched Starsky's face,
the features twisted with grief and rage, and read the truth. Starsky
released him with a shove that nearly toppled him over backwards
and scooted back against the wall. His eyes, behind a veil of
tears, were distant, unfocused.

"I tried to stop them from taking him, I tried to get them to
take me instead. Four days in that hole, no light, no air, no idea
how long you been there or how long before they'll come let you
out. And it didn't mean shit because they took him, anyway."
Starsky's voice broke and he swiped angrily at his face with the
back of one hand. Hutch could only watch, mute.

"It musta really pissed 'em off when he fought them, 'cause
they beat him until his insides were all messed up. Busted up his
leg so bad the bone came through the skin and gangrene set in.
They brought him back and dumped him like a piece of garbage,
left him to die slowly, in agony. There wasn't a damn thing we
could do about it but watch him suffer."

Hutch swallowed, managed a hoarse croak. "Starsky..."

"You wanted to hear it, so hear it!" he snarled. "It wasn't
enough for them, I guess. The bastards came for him again,
though God only knows what more they thought they could do to
him. I wouldn't let them have him, made a few suggestions in
Vietnamese 'bout what they could do to themselves." He paused,
shivered. "So they took us both."

Starsky scrambled to his feet, started pacing. Hutch shook
off the numbness and picked up his partner's gun, tucking it into
his pants at the small of his back. His eyes never left Starsky.

"Most of 'em were dumb as posts." Starsky's laugh was
like nails on a chalkboard. "Mean as hell, but dumb. But the one
in charge..." He shuddered again, wrapping his arms tightly
around his middle. "He was a master at figurin' out your
weaknesses, what would send you over the edge. They dragged
us in front of him and told him what was going on. Jonny..."
Rapid, uneven breaths for a moment. "Jonny screamed when
they first picked him up, but he wasn't strong enough to keep
going. He just kept making this little whimper, like a kicked puppy
or somethin'."

Hutch closed his eyes, unable to watch the memory play
out on Starsky's face.

"The captain looked at us for a minute and then ordered
the guards to..." He trailed off, staring out the window, seeing not
the starlit sky but a cinderblock room. "There...there was this rope
and pulley. They liked to tie you up and haul you off the ground
before they worked you over." His mouth twisted into a bitter
grimace. "Added to the helplessness, the fear."

Hutch sensed Starsky turn; opened his eyes to find himself
pinned by a frighteningly intense gaze. "The son of a bitch
ordered them to string Jonny up. I went ballistic, started
screaming and cursing at him, anything to make him focus on me
instead. He held up his hand—" Starsky imitated the motion, "—
for them to wait. And he...he smiled at me. Told me I had a

Hutch sensed where Starsky was headed. He rose slowly
to his feet, not even realizing he was shaking his head.

"He pulled out his piece and discharged all the bullets. All
except one. Then he handed it to me. Said Jonny was gonna way or the other. Fast, by my hand...or slow, by theirs."

Hutch sucked in a sharp breath of air. "My God."

Starsky was so far down into the memory he didn't notice.
"I threw down the gun, told him I wouldn't play his sick little game.
He didn't get pissed, just nodded at the guards to tie Jonny up.
He screamed..." Starsky buried his face in his hands, shoulders
hunched. "God, I wouldn't've thought he had any screams left.
Sounded like they ripped it out of him. I begged 'em to stop." He
pulled his hands down his face, smearing tears across his cheeks.
"The bastard picked up the gun and handed it back to me. I
walked over to where they were holding Jonny. He...he was like
some kinda rag doll, he could barely lift his head. I stood there
holding the gun, bawlin' like a baby, and he...he..." Starsky
pressed a fist to trembling lips. "He took the barrel in his hand and
he p...put it against the s...side of his head. And he said...he"

"He said 'please,'" Hutch finished, voice choked with
emotion. "Didn't he, Starsk." It wasn't a question.

Starsky's eyes darted to his and his face crumpled. "I
c...covered his eyes with hand and I...I..."

Hutch caught him when he started to sag, pulling him into
a hug as Starsky's body shook with wracking sobs. "Shh, shh. I
know what you did, babe. Maybe better than you. You kept your
promise. It just wasn't the way you intended."

"You d...don't understand! We were re...rescued two days
later. T...two days! If I hadn't...hadn't... I shoulda been the one
laying in that grave, Hutch!" Starsky clutched at him like a
drowning man, tears as hot and hard as bullets scalding the flesh
of Hutch's neck.

Hutch tightened his hold, blinking furiously. "It's okay. Let
it out, Starsk. I'm still here, and I'm not going anywhere.
Everything's gonna be all right. I promise."

Thirty minutes later, Hutch was seated at the kitchen table,
a shotglass of whiskey cupped in his hands. Starsky was
sprawled across his bed, out like a light. Breaking his self-
imposed silence, sharing the events surrounding Jon's death had
left him nearly catatonic with exhaustion, literally asleep on his
feet. Hutch had eased him onto the mattress, tugged off his
shoes and covered him with a blanket, then methodically raided
the kitchen until he located Starsky's stash of booze.

Not a fan of hard liquor, he sipped the amber liquid slowly,
grateful for the warmth that spread through his chilled body and
steadied his trembling hands. Still struggling to come to terms
with a burden Starsky had carried alone for nearly ten years.

He'd never really seen Starsky cry. Oh, he'd seen him
near tears, emotions on the jagged edge. Lonnie Craig. Helen.
Gillian. Starsky tended to spend his tears on others, not himself.
When he did grieve, it was controlled, private. For him to break
down so completely...

Hutch shoved the glass aside and stood, wandering
aimlessly through the darkened apartment until he somehow
found himself leaning in the doorway to Starsky's bedroom. He
watched the steady rise and fall of his partner's chest, his hand
reflexively touching the gun at the small of his back.

"I can't do it anymore. I'm tired, Hutch. I just want it to

Too damn close.

We'll find a way, Starsk. I think maybe we finally took the
first step.

* * *


Hutch bolted to his feet, scrabbling for a gun that wasn't
there. Before finally lying down on the couch and succumbing to
sleep, he'd locked his own weapon and Starsky's in the trunk of
the LTD. His feet moved, taking him toward the bedroom before
he'd managed to pry his eyes all the way open.

Starsky was thrashing on the bed, the blanket tangled
around his legs. He moaned and mumbled in his sleep, parts of it
in a foreign language that Hutch assumed to be Vietnamese.
Feeling an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, Hutch flipped on the
small table lamp and sat down on the side of the bed.

"Starsky. Starsky, wake up."

His partner's whole body jerked as if zapped with
electricity, then went still. Hutch watched his eyes fly open and
dart around the room, clarity gradually seeping in.

Starsky scooted back against the headboard, swiping an
unsteady hand over his sweaty face. "Sorry."

"You okay?" Hutch chased Starsky's evasive gaze but
couldn't quite catch it.

A nod was his only reply. He let Starsky be for a few
minutes, watched the violent trembling gradually ease.


Starsky looked at him, dryly amused. "Not quite what I had
in mind."

Hutch stood and walked over to the chest of drawers,
rooting around until he found a clean tee shirt. He tossed it to
Starsky before heading out the door.

"I'll be in the kitchen. Why don't you join me?"

He rummaged through Starsky's refrigerator and
cupboards, finding a quart of milk that still smelled fresh and a
bottle of the chocolate syrup his partner seemed to squirt over
everything from ice cream to cold cereal. By the time Starsky
appeared in the doorway, having exchanged his rumpled clothing
for sweatpants and the tee shirt, Hutch had combined the milk and
syrup in a saucepan and was heating it on the stove.

"What's that supposed to be?" Starsky's voice was still
rusty from his earlier tears.

"Hot chocolate. It'll help you get back to sleep." Hutch
eyed him surreptitiously, not liking what he saw. Starsky was a
rubberband stretched to the limit, ready to snap.

"You gonna read me a bedtime story and tuck me in, too?"

Hutch's head swiveled at the bitter venom in the jibe, but
he merely tightened his jaw and went back to stirring. From the
corner of his eye, he saw Starsky's shoulders slump.

"Sorry. You didn't deserve that." Starsky shuffled over to
the table and sat, resting his head in his hands.

Hutch tested the cocoa with his pinky finger, and finding it
warmed to his satisfaction, poured it into two mugs. He set one
near his partner's elbow and claimed the other chair. Sipping his
own drink, he watched Starsky absently swirl the liquid before
taking an apathetic swallow.

"How long has it been since you've really slept, Starsk?"

The guarded expression that spread across his friend's
face broke Hutch's heart. One shoulder twitched. "Dunno. Guess
it depends how you define 'slept.'"

The weak attempt to joke didn't deflect Hutch. "Through
the night. At least six hours straight."

Starsky tipped his chin up. "Ah. Well, you know, I'm not
too big on sleepin' lately." He took another sip of the cocoa and
continued to play with the cup, making no attempt to answer the

"Yeah. I noticed."

Starsky looked up through narrowed eyes. "You don't
have to stay. I'm not gonna try and off myself again, so you don't
need to babysit me. You could be home in your own bed, gettin'
those six hours."

"That's not what I meant, and you know it," Hutch growled.
"And if you think for one minute I'm leaving you alone after what
happened tonight, you're..."

Starsky's lip curled in a sneer. "Crazy?" he finished.

Hutch set down his mug and folded his arms. "It's not
gonna work, Starsk. I'm not walking away, and I'm not letting you
push me away. And for what it's worth, no, I don't think you're

Starsky's bravado evaporated, leaving a frightened child in
its wake. "I'm not so sure, Hutch."

Hutch leaned forward, bracing his arms on the table. "I
am. You're not crazy, Starsky. You're traumatized. There's a
difference. You just need some help dealing with what's

Starsky stared at him in disbelief. "Did you even hear what
I told you? I killed a man, Hutch!" His voice rose. "Shot him, in
cold blood! How can you sit there so calmly and act like nothin's
changed?" He ran trembling fingers through his unruly hair.

Hutch grasped his wrist. "Listen to me, buddy. You were
in an impossible situation, forced to make an impossible choice.
As far as I'm concerned, the Viet Cong killed Jon."

Starsky yanked his arm away, eyes blazing. He raised his
left hand, and for a brief instant Hutch though his partner was
going to strike him. "Yeah? Well, let me tell you something,
buddy, it was this hand that held the gun and this finger that pulled
the trigger. Ain't no way to change that or pretty it up."

Hutch heard the grief beneath the anger. "And if the
situation had been reversed, Starsk? If you'd been dying and Jon
had the gun?"

Starsky's eyes cut away to the wall clock. "You don't know
how many times I wished it had been."

Hutch drew in a long, slow breath and released it before
replying, emotion coloring his words. "Call me selfish, but I'm glad
it wasn't."

Starsky didn't look at him, but his hand crept across the
table, palm up. Hutch laid his own hand in it. He sensed his
partner struggling to speak, and waited him out.

"What you said before..." So quiet Hutch could hardly
make out the words. "When you ...when you said I kept my
promise. What did you mean?" Starsky's eyes slid slowly over to
Hutch's face.

Hutch met them head on. "You told Jon he could count on
you. That you'd get him out of there. Right?"

A barely perceptible dip of Starsky's head.

"Well...didn't you?" Hutch held up a hand when Starsky
began to protest. "I know it's not what you planned, Starsk. But
you didn't let him down, not even when the price was almost more
than you could stand to pay. You couldn't bring him home alive.
But you freed him."

Starsky stared at him, his throat working soundlessly. Like
a dam giving way, the tears began as a trickle that escalated to a
torrent. He dropped his head onto his folded arms, shoulders
shaking with the force of his weeping.

Hutch laid his hand on Starsky's head, stroking the tousled
curls. "You kept your promise, babe," he murmured roughly.
"You took care of him. Now it's time to take care of yourself."

The muffled reply tore his heart. "It hurts so bad, Hutch."

Hutch closed his eyes, took a deep breath. "I know. But
you don't have to deal with the hurt alone anymore, Starsk. And
it's going to get better."

The shuddering gradually tapered off until Starsky curled
limply over the table. When his partner's breathing began to
deepen, Hutch moved his hand to a shoulder and squeezed.
"Hey. You still with me?"


"You fall asleep like that and your ribs'll hate you in the
morning. Go to bed, Starsk."

It was as if he'd shouted "fire." Starsky's head popped up
and he straightened, smothering a yawn that slipped out.

"Nah, I'm not tired. You take the bed if you want. I'm
gonna watch a little TV."

Hutch collected their mugs and took them to the sink. "It's
one o'clock in the morning, Starsky."

He heard Starsky rise stiffly to his feet. "Hey, they got
great old movies on in the middle of the night. Real classics."
The unspoken plea came through—Don't push me on this.

Hutch deliberately continued to rinse the mugs, keeping
his tone light and offhanded. "Yeah? Mind some company?" The
only thing he really wanted was someplace he could get horizontal
and close his eyes, but he sensed it was crucial not to leave
Starsky alone. His partner had already spent far too many long
nights with his solitary thoughts.

A hesitation. "Suit yourself."

But he heard raw emotion behind the words, and it wasn't

Incredibly, the late, late movie turned out to be Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, one of Starsky's favorites. Three
quarters of the movie passed before Starsky curled onto his side,
eyes beginning to droop. When the credits rolled, Hutch flicked off
the set and pulled the afghan from the back of the couch to cover
his slumbering partner. He was almost to the bedroom when
Starsky spoke.

"We're kinda like Butch and Sundance, aren't we, Hutch?"
The words were slow, slurred with sleep.

Hutch turned back, only able to detect Starsky's outline in
the darkness. "Yeah, buddy. I guess we are."

A long pause, and he was just about to move when
Starsky spoke again. "Wouldja jump off a cliff with me?"

He considered it. "Nah. I'd be there to pull you back up."

Very, very soft. "'S a long drop, Hutch."

Hutch's lips curved. "That's okay, Starsk. I won't let go."

* * *


"In the kitchen."

Hutch stepped all the way into the apartment and shut the
door. He headed for the kitchen, pausing for a moment to pan his
eyes around the neat-as-a-pin living room. A small sign of
Starsky's continuing recovery, but a sign nonetheless.

Six months had passed since the night he'd found his
partner poised on the edge of the abyss. In that time, Starsky had
made real progress toward coming to terms with his memories—
not only of Vietnam, but of his abuse at the hands of Simon's
followers. With a lot of prodding from Hutch, he'd found a
psychiatrist who specialized in treating veterans. Dan Gardner
broke every one of Starsky's preconceived notions for a "typical
shrink," first winning his respect, and with time, his trust. He'd
even put a name to Starsky's condition—Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder, a common malady among POWs.

The often grueling therapy had required Starsky to relive
each trauma while Dan taught him to cope with the memories
rather than bury them. It had been a rocky road, but gradually the
good days began to outnumber the bad. The depression and
flashbacks grew less intense, the nightmares infrequent, and in
the last week Hutch had glimpsed the bounce return to his friend's
stride. Hutch knew the pain hadn't completely gone away, and
probably never would. But Starsky was healing.

"What's this?"

Hutch toed a crumpled ball of notebook paper so it
skittered across the linoleum to join the pile erupting from the
trashcan. Starsky sat at the table, head propped on one fist, teeth
clamped around a pen, hunched over a pad of the same paper.

"'S nothin'. What bringsh you here?" Starsky replied
without removing the pen.

Hutch shrugged. "It's a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and
for once we're not on duty. I thought maybe you'd like to get out
for a while, take a drive up the coast. I'll even spring for dinner at
that place you're always raving about."

Starsky's face lit up like a candle, and he yanked the pen
from his lips. "Gianelli's? Yeah?"

Deep inside Hutch, something like a tightly clenched fist
loosened, and for a moment he felt nearly giddy with happiness
and relief. It must have shown on his face, because Starsky's
expression switched immediately from gleeful to concerned.

"Hutch? You okay?"

Way past okay, buddy. Darn near perfect.

Hutch crossed to the counter and leaned against it, giving
Starsky a reassuring smile. "Yeah. It's just... It's good to have
you back, Starsk."

Starsky ducked his head, flushing. "Yeah. Guess it musta
felt like I went away, even though I was right here, huh?"

Hutch nodded slowly. They could talk about it now, but
cautiously, carefully. Mindful that although the wound had
scabbed over, there was still deep hurt just beneath. "Something
like that. Is that what it was like for you?"

Starsky traced a fingertip over the words on the pad before
him. His voice was very, very soft. "More like fallin' down a deep,
dark hole. At first, I could see you at the edge, looking down at
me. But after a while..." He sighed, scrubbed a hand over his
face. "After a while there was only the hole. Only it was inside of
me, 'steada the other way 'round."

Hutch closed suddenly blurry eyes, saw a desperate, pain-
riddled face.

"I can't do it anymore. I'm tired, Hutch. I just want it to

Amazingly, it was Starsky who pulled them back from the
somber mood.

"Hey. Hope you aren't tryin' to distract me so's you can
weasel outta that dinner you just promised me."

The grin came easily to his lips. "Offer still stands, Gordo.
You've earned it. What is that you've been working on, anyway?
Looks like you've gone through a couple trees."

Starsky grimaced. "It's a letter."

When he didn't volunteer further information, Hutch raised
an eyebrow. "To?"

"Jon's folks." He made another face. "It was Dan's idea.

"Hard letter to write."

Starsky snorted. "You got a way with words, Blondie." He
looked up from the paper, expression guarded. " want to
hear it?"

Hutch inclined his head. "Only if you want me to."

Starsky studied his face for a minute, then bobbed his
head. He lifted the single sheet of paper, running one hand
nervously over his chin.

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Harper,

"I suppose this letter is going to come as
a shock. Ten years is an awful long time to
take to answer your mail, even for a lousy
letter writer like me. Hearing from you back
then did mean a lot to me. I was just in too
much pain to let you know.

"For a long time I tried very hard to
forget I ever knew Jonny. Thinking about
him, remembering everything we went
through together, hurt too much. I told
myself I had to move forward, to get on with
my life. I graduated from the police
academy, and for the last seven years I've
been a detective for the Bay City Police
Department. After some of the stunts we
pulled on the MPs, Jonny must be laughing
his head off!

"The reason I'm telling you this, is
because I've been through some difficult
times lately, times that made me realize I'd
never forgotten Jonny after all. That I've
been carrying him with me all these years,
but not in a good way. Not out of love, but
out of guilt. Jonny deserves better than that."

Starsky swallowed, took a deep breath.

"You see, I promised Jonny I'd get us
both out of Nam alive. And somehow it
didn't seem right, or fair, when I came home
and he didn't. I couldn't stop feeling guilty.
I guess I still do. I think maybe that's part of
the reason why I became a cop, even though
I didn't understand it at the time. I couldn't
protect Jon, but I could do my best to protect
the people on my beat. To get it right.

"Anyway, I think I'm finally starting to
accept that Jon's death was something I
couldn't change. But I need you both to
know a few things. First, that you should be
proud of your son. He was a good man, and
a good soldier. I was so very lucky to call
him my friend. Second, that I did..."

Starsky's voice wavered, and he cleared his throat,
blinking hard.

"...I did everything I could to save Jon. And
he...he did everything he could to hang on for
you. He was very brave, and he loved you
both very much."

Hutch had wandered over to stand beside Starsky. As his
friend paused to suck in another deep breath, he laid a hand on
his shoulder.

"Finally, I need you to believe how
terribly sorry I am about Jon's death. That
I'd have given anything to be able to bring
him home to you, safe and sound. And that I
promise to honor his memory in the job I do
every day. That's what he would have
expected. That's what he deserves.

"I hope you both have been able to
reach a sense of peace about Jon's death.
I'm not there yet, but I think I'm finding my

Silence descended over the kitchen. Starsky carefully
placed the letter back on the table and smoothed his fingers over
it. "That's about it," he said with forced levity. "Only took me
about twenty-four tries."

Hutch squeezed the shoulder beneath his hand and sank
into the chair beside his partner. "It was worth the trees, buddy.
You did good."

Starsky's head swung up. "Yeah?"

Hutch leaned back, shoving his hands into his pockets,
fingering the object still tucked into the left one. "Yeah. I know
how tough these last few months have been for you. Facing it
head on the way you have, not letting it beat you—it took a lot of
guts, Starsk."

Starsky looked away, but not before Hutch detected the
pleasure beneath the embarrassment. "Thanks, Hutch. That
means a lot."

Hutch pulled his hands from his pockets and leaned onto
the table, tapping Starsky's arm to get his attention. His partner
turned, eyes widening when he spied the medal in Hutch's fingers.

"That's... H-How did you get that?"

Hutch twitched a shoulder, a small smile playing about his
lips. "A friend of mine misplaced it. Thought maybe I should hang
on to it for safekeeping until he was ready to take it back." He
reached out and gently pried open Starsky's hand, dropping the
medal into the palm and curling the fingers back over it.

Starsky closed his eyes, swallowed hard. "It got so I
couldn't stand to look at it. I never felt like I deserved it, and it was
just another reminder of everything I wanted to forget."

"You earned it, Starsk. Injured in the line of duty? Hell,
you earned it ten times over!" He put his hand over Starsky's arm.
"Don't look at it and think about death. Look at it and think about
life. Yes, you were wounded—about as badly as a man can be
and still draw breath. But you survived, buddy. You made it
through, stronger than ever. You should be proud of yourself. I

Starsky's eyes searched his face as if looking for the truth.
He finally tucked the medal into his own pocket and swiped at his
eyes with the back of his hand. "So, we gonna get outta here or

Hutch shoved back his chair and stood. "Car's right out

"Oh, no! No way am I goin' for a long drive in that junkyard
on wheels. I'll drive," Starsky protested, scrambling to his feet.

"It was my idea," Hutch persisted, not because he really
cared, but because it felt so good to argue with his partner.

"But it's my party," Starsky pointed out. "If I recall, you said
I earned it—remember?"

Hutch followed him to the front door, feigning irritation.
"Oh, all right. If it's that important to you, we'll take the tomato."

Starsky tugged open the door, halting him with an
outstretched arm as he started to pass. His eyes sparkled, but his
face was still, intent. "Hutch, the last few weeks... I...uh...I want
you to know..."

Hutch let the smile spread unchecked across his face. "I
already do, Starsk." He swatted his still too-thin partner in the
stomach. "Come on, Gordo. Let's get you that dinner. I heard
they've got great vegetarian lasagna."

Starsky's answering groan was worthy of an Oscar.
"Vegetarian? Aw, Hutch, you're not gonna be pushin' that health
food crap at me, are ya? How do you expect me to..."

The slam of the front door punctuated his partner's
ongoing tirade as they headed down the steps, but Hutch tuned
him out. He slipped on his sunglasses and grinned to himself. It
really was a perfect day.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: "Resonance" originally appeared in the gen
Starsky and Hutch zine "Seasoned Timber," which can be ordered
here: Many, many thanks to Barb D. for
her thorough and insightful editing, and to Lin P., cheerleader
extraordinaire, for providing terrific motivation and support. This
story was quite a journey for me. I'd love to hear your thoughts if
you have time to drop me a line.
---Dawn (SunnyD)