Author's note: These characters are not mine. I love themdearly, though.

This is my second S & H story It will be multiple chapters. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I liked writing it!

"This is Zebra Three. We are responding."

When Starsky looked back on it all, it had started with the kid. They were responding to a domestic abuse/disturbing the peace call on an early Tuesday morning and as soon as they pulled up, they heard shots from inside the apartment building. With only a quick glance that communicated all they needed to know, they jumped from the car and headed in, covering each other on their way to the apartment. Several frightened citizens in the hallway pointed them toward the right door and Starsky went first.

A leap took him into the man holding the gun, and they both fell to the floor. It wasn't long before Starsky wrestled the suspect into cuffs. When done, he looked up and saw Hutch returning from clearing the rest of the rooms. His partner checked the woman on the floor, then met Starky's questioning gaze. He shook his head to indicate that she was dead. Then he turned to the little blond-haired boy who was standing over to the side, eyes like large pools of dark water. "Close your eyes, kiddo." Hutch murmured, and swept the kid into his arms and out of the room, away from the slaughter.

A few minutes later the uniforms arrived and Starsky turned the father over to them gladly. If he stayed in the same room with the man any longer, he knew he was likely to kill him, or send him to the hospital at the very least. The creep had given a rage-filled confession, exclaiming what a "bitch" his wife was and how "no woman was going to give him an ultimatum and if he couldn't have her, nobody could." Starsky had finally thrown him into the wall to shut him up, and the bully had crumpled like a piece of aluminum foil. They always did.

He saw that a crowd of people had gathered and were standing in the entrance, watching Hutch who was kneeling by the little boy. The blond had taken off his jacket and was using the edge of it to wipe as much of the blood and gore off of the kid's face as he could. Jesus, the kid must have been right there when his father blew his mother's brains out, Starsky realized with horror, his mind still processing the scene. The child's blue eyes were locked onto Hutch and the detective's tenderness in dealing with the kid seemed to be working to keep him calm. Starsky didn't miss noticing the trembling in Hutch's hands, however. The cases that dealt with children were always some of the hardest on the two cops.

"Look at me. That's good. Just look at me, kiddo." Hutch's voice shook for a moment and his eyes darted briefly to Starsky. The brunet came over and knelt beside the little boy as well, putting a hand on his shoulder and smoothing back his sweaty hair. The kid wasn't crying at all, until he heard his father's voice rising in volume again from the apartment. Apparently the son-of-a-bitch didn't like the treatment the uniforms were giving him either and he'd recovered enough to complain. Tough shit, Starsky thought. He was clenching his fists, thinking of ways to shut the bastard up, but he forced himself to calm down and focus on the situation at hand.

"My mommy. She got hurt." The boy's eyes, now luminous with tears, searched Starsky's own. It was as if the little one could pick up on the rolling emotions in the tide of Starsky's own soul.

The detective's heart lurched. The kid's eyes reminded him of being in 'Nam, and memories of that place were never good for Starsky. Soldiers fresh off the truck had the same shell-shocked look after caught in their first firefight. Seeing a child like this was unbearable. All his words seeped away, and he looked at Hutch helplessly.

Hutch wasn't doing much better, but he wrapped the kid in his strong arms, intending to carry him towards the paramedics outside. "Don't worry, you're safe, fella. I got you." Over the kid's little blond head, he met Starsky's eyes. "I'm gonna get him to the paramedics and stay with him until..." until a relative or child protective services comes. That part was understood between the two of them. Even though the situations were not usually as severe as this one, children were taken from their homes far too often in their world.

"Go." Starsky had said, nodding. "I got it here."

He continued to meet the little one's eyes over Hutch's shoulder as he carried the child through the maze of cars. Tears slipped down the little boy's cheeks. Just like 'Nam, Starsky thought. It would take a long while for that face and this horrible day to fade from his memory.

It had taken six long hours to close the case and finish the preliminary paperwork. Starsky had found that the father's name was Jack Ray. The asshole and his wife had collected quite a number of citations for disturbing the peace throughout their tumultuous 5 years of marriage. It was the same old tired, depressing story.

When the little boy, Billy, was two, he had been taken from the home and sent to live with a grandmother after a short stint in foster care. Starsky had learned most of this from Ray and what he hadn't learned from Ray, he found out by searching the records. By five that afternoon, he had formally arrested Jack Ray for murder, along with a few other charges. After filling in Hutch on what he'd missed, the two of them sat across from each other, completing the paperwork.

"The kid's grandmother seems like a standup woman." Hutch said, running his hands through his disheveled blond hair. "I think he'll be taken care of, but…" Hutch trailed off and pressed his fingers against his closed eyes. His friend knew the gesture and it made the bleak day feel even more miserable.

Starsky finished Hutch's thought quietly. "He's never gonna be the same again. But at least he's alive." He met Hutch's eyes and said what they both knew. "It could have been worse."

Hutch didn't reply.

Starsky continued to work silently for a while. Silence between them had never been uncomfortable, but this silence seemed omnious. "I think this is about it for this report," he finally said. "Whatcha say we go to Huggy's and get shitfaced drunk?"

Hutch looked down at his clothes. He had tossed his bloody jacket in the nearest garbage can, knowing that he would never want to look at it again, and the blood wouldn't come out anyway. His favorite green tee had little fist sized smears on it as well. "Starsk, I need a shower first. Then I'm up for as much booze as Hug can throw at us."

Starsky grabbed his keys. "Sounds like a plan, partner. I'll drive."

Over the next two weeks, things with Hutch went into a tailspin. Starsky felt powerless as he watched each tragic case unfold and weigh down his best friend. Usually they were able to shake it off, to approach the next day and let the previous one go without feeling the effects. It didn't mean they didn't care…they solved each case like it was the most important one in the world. They simply had to take each case for what it was, do their absolute best at solving it and move on to the next one. You couldn't survive out there if you couldn't do that. There were just so many cases-never a shortage of work for the two of them. However, it seemed as if Hutch had begun to be sucked down into a whirlpool of despondency as soon as he had grabbed onto that little boy. There seemed to be no escape, either.

The latest cases had been particularly rough to deal with. After little Billy Ray, there was the murder of an eight year old girl. She'd been snatched, and with no leads during the first two days, time had run out. They'd found her murdered in a vacant lot on Central. She had been sexually assaulted. It had hit them both hard, especially Hutch. Before the eight year old, there had been the 17 year old prostitute who had been forced, by her pimp, to down a milkshake of Drano and bleach because she'd tried to hold on to ten dollars of her earnings. That had not been a picnic either. It was enough to make you hide your head in a hole and give up on the whole human race.

The thing that bothered Starsky the most about his friend was the silence. If Hutch was talking, it was all ok. He'd complain and rant and get his anger and frustration out in that manner. The brunet knew it was the usual way they both dealt with some of the more inhuman aspects of the job. This time was different, however. Hutch had begun to withdraw, especially over the past week. Lines of tension on his face seemed carved in ancient stone and unlikely to fade any time soon. When asked, he simply said nothing, or he just stared at Starsky and made the minimal reply.

Today was their day off, however. He'd talked to Hutch earlier that day and they'd made plans to grab dinner at Huggy's, their favorite watering hole. Maybe he would be able to get Hutch to talk today, he had thought. All day he had turned different scenarios in his mind. But his partner hadn't shown up by six, as he'd promised.

The phone rang hollowly again for the ninth time. Starsky's jaw tightened, and he muttered "Shit!" through clenched teeth. Huggy watched as the cop slammed the receiver down on the payphone. There was a growl of frustration, then Starsky closed his eyes and laid his head against the phone receiver.

"No Hutch tonight?" Huggy raised an eyebrow as he picked up Starsky's empty beer mug from the counter running along the wall.

"No. He's not answering. I've called three times." Starsky said, then raised his head, tapping the phone receiver thoughtfully. "Something's wrong. We had plans." He muttered. "Hug, I've had this bad feeling all day. All week, really."

Usually Huggy was smooth talking and offhanded with his comments. Today, however, he grew serious. He knew many people on the streets, but was only friends with a very few of them. He counted Starsky and Hutch among that number. "You had a bad feeling about Hutch, you mean?"

"Yeah. He's been real quiet. It ain't like him, Hug. The last few cases have been for shit, and I think it's getting to him."

"You know, ya'll usually ain't wrong when the other's got a problem." Huggy narrowed his eyes, remembering many times when one of the cops would have a "hunch" about something going on with the other one. "You guys are like twins—you always right when you get one of them feelings. I had these two cousins like that. They were twins…and could tell when the other one was hurtin' or in danger." He looked thoughtfully at Starsky. "Maybe you better get over there and check on the tall, blond one. Give me a call when you know he's okay."

"Yeah." Starsky said, clapping Huggy on the shoulder. "Put the bill on my tab!" He called over his shoulder as he headed for the front entrance, and the Torino beyond.

"Yep." Huggy nodded, not even bothering to complain this time.