He opened his eyes, but it made no difference. Still dark. The back of his head throbbed like a sore tooth. He tried to sit up, pain wrenching his back as he pulled upward and met resistance. What the hell? Something held his wrists down.

Tied. His hands were pulled back behind his body on a chair. The slats that made up the back support pressed uncomfortably against his shoulder blades.

Behind the blindfold came a shadowy vision. Three men, awaiting his arrival, swarming from the dark corners of his home. They attacked him. He tried to fight, but one of them hit him from behind. Then blackness.

Adrenaline shot through his body at the memory, heart leaping in his chest like a fish caught on a hook. He surged outward from the chair, panting, trying to escape. Someone laughed, and he whipped his head towards the sound.

A hard blow slammed his jaw. "Where is she?" a voice asked, and Hutch knew immediately why he was here. Jeanie. He'd hidden her away from her former mobster boyfriend, Ben Forest, who'd evidently decided it was time she came home. Thank God these assholes didn't know where she was.

But Hutch knew.

Coney stood before his captive in an open stance, feet flat on the ground, anchoring himself firmly to put more power behind the blows. His knuckles were wrapped for protection. This was his job, and he was a professional. He took pride in the damage he could inflict.

He drew back in a full swing and backhanded the detective. Hutch's head snapped sideways, then rolled slowly back. Another blow. Hutch heard the dull whump in his ears. Again.

His head felt like a water balloon perched on his neck, filling with hot pain, wobbling. Then there was silence. His head fell back. Couldn't make it stay upright.

Coney stepped away, joining a blond named Morrisey who stood to one side of Hutch. Monk stood opposite, looking first bored, then irritated. Tiny drops of the cop's blood had rained upon his brown vest. Monk flicked at it, then looked at the cop. "Where is she, Hutchinson?"

"I'm Starsky," Hutch answered, slurring. The blood in his mouth made it hard to speak clearly. He fought to clear his head. Think. Find a way out of this. An image of his partner flashed in his head. But Starsky thought he was with Jeanie.

Monk grabbed a fistful of Hutchinson's hair at the crown, jerking him upright. "Don't be stupid. She's only a broad. You tell us where she is, you wake up in your own bed tomorrow morning like nothing happened." If the cop had any brains he'd see the light, but Monk sincerely doubted the cop's good sense.

"I don't know what you're talking about," came the answer in a low, sluggish voice. Monk flung Hutch's head aside in disgust and strode from the room. Coney stood to the side, flexed his arm, and then nodded to Morrisey, deciding to hand off to him. If this cop wanted to learn the hard way, fine. In the end they all broke.

A fist landed in Hutch's gut, his breath flying from him in a woosh. He tried to curl around the pain, but the restraints prevented it. "Guess what, pal. I'm the new guy up to bat. That way we don't ever let up, capisce? You're gonna tell us what we want to know." Hutch jerked away from the voice breathing in his ear. He'd heard it in the room earlier, but this was the first time it addressed him. This voice made him afraid. It held an edge of excitement. It liked hurting him.

There was a pause, then another blow to the face. Hutch's ears rang, and the copper blood washed over his mouth. "Bastard," he muttered, and regretted it immediately.

The fists smashed into Hutch's face over and over, until there was nothing left in the world but pain, piling on top of itself in crashing waves. He tried to push the fear aside, trying to prepare himself for the next blow, and the next and the next. He knew what he was facing, but it didn't matter. He'd never betray Jeannie.

So he thought.

Horse swirled in the spoon, cooked over candle-flame. Hoping to catch their prisoner by surprise, the three men were quiet, the only noise the clink of the spoon laid upon the wooden table. The dirty brown liquid was suctioned up from the spoon to fill the needle. Coney's finger tapped the barrel of the hypo, knocking any air bubbles to the surface, then sprayed a small amount of the stuff from the tip before handing the hypo to Monk.

Hutch's eyes opened. Where—? The blindfold was still on, and he saw nothing but blackness. Everything hurt. Blood leaked from the corner of his mouth. Someone grabbed his left arm up and outwards, yanking at the shirtsleeve. He looked up in a stupor, beginning to remember, realizing his hands were no longer tied. An elbow wedged beneath his chin, forcing his head to the right. He couldn't move, his other arm held securely by the man who took so much pleasure in beating him. Monk snapped a rubber tourniquet over Hutch's arm and the detective finally came alert, panicking. Morrisey yanked Hutch's head backwards viciously so that he couldn't struggle.

"You got one more chance, where is she?" asked Monk. He didn't expect an answer.

Hutch's body tensed, the chords of his throat straining in sharp relief. "Stuff it!" he rasped. Monk shrugged, unsurprised. He didn't like any of this. Too risky, messing with a cop. But Ben Forest was obsessed with finding Jeanie, and nothing was going to stand in his way. In Monk's opinion, allowing a woman to overcome good business sense was the mistake of a rank amateur, and it should have been beneath Ben Forest. But what Monk thought didn't amount to a hill of beans.

Monk leaned over Hutch and inserted the needle in a vein. Hutch opened his mouth, gasping, body arching out from the chair as the smack entered his veins and fled deeper. He froze in place. Slowly, slowly the muscles in his neck relaxed. His mouth slackened, warmth flushing through his body. His head rolled back and his limbs grew heavy.

"There you go, cop, " said Monk, the word sounding like a curse. "First mile in a long, long trip." His blue eyes stared contemptuously at Hutch's sagging body. "The minute he starts to come down, call me. I want him flying high," Monk directed the two men.

Starsky picked up his date, a petite girl with honey-brown hair named Cassandra, and they headed out for the movies. Double creature-feature. The fact that Cassandra was up for monster movies shot his opinion of her skyward. Nothing like a girl who enjoyed being scared at a drive-in. It had all the makings of a great date. And it had been years since he made out in a car.

Now he just couldn't see Jeanie enjoying a creature feature. But then, he couldn't imagine Hutch enjoying it, either. He knew just what Hutch would say, as a matter of fact. Okay, actually, he and Hutch had discussed monster movies before, and Blondie informed him that he wasn't interested in babysitting Starsk after he saw one of those things.

Like he ever had to, Starsky thought. Where did the guy get these ideas? Well, okay. Maybe after that vampire flick six months ago. But that was different. It was a really really scary movie. 'Sides that, after the movie Hutch had jumped out at him from a dark corner, yelling, then laughed when Starsky jumped out of his skin. The man was a nut.

Hey, maybe if he got scared this time, Cassandra could babysit. Starsky's smile was a bit lecherous.

His partner had fallen big-time for Jeanie, and no wonder. She was definitely Hutch's type, though Starsky sometimes thought privately that Hutch's 'type' wasn't exactly conducive to lasting relationships. The big turkey. He grinned, knowing that Hutch was going to come back to work so tired he'd be worthless. The price to pay for screwing yourself blind over a long weekend.

Wished he could be as lucky.

Who knows? Maybe he would be, he thought, and smiled again. Cassy smiled back.

No, no. God. Not again. I…gimme some time. Hutch felt the presence of the men in the room. His instincts told him they were watching, gauging his trip, whether or not it was safe to dose him again. He was high, always high, but there came a time when he came off the euphoria and began to notice his surroundings, and somehow Monk knew, even when he tried to fake it. Then they'd shove another needle in his arm.

Sometimes he dreamed about needles, bristling from his body in a hundred different places at once, shooting him up for one last hellacious ride, up and away, never coming back. He'd wake up, making panicky noises deep in his throat.

He never had a chance to think. His mind, his strength and willpower flew high above him, losing touch, disappearing somewhere up in the clouds. Sometimes he forgot why he was here, or what started all this.

Worse than anything else was how bad he wanted the needle. It was a death sentence, but the part of him that cared about that little fact was also disappearing. So you're just gonna lie here and let them finish you? he thought, trying to make himself move, react, but his mind was white noise and everything slipped away. He drifted.

Hutch, came a voice, sometime later. It whispered in his ear. His eyelids dragged open. What the hell are you doing? Givin' up?

Starsk? Hutch struggled to sit up, full of wild hope, and surprised himself when he made it.

That's it. Get up.

Coney stood, dropping the magazine onto the floor. "Time for your medicine, big guy?" Hutch didn't even look his way. He was listening.

Up. You can do it. I got faith in you, buddy. Hutch leaned with his hands on the mattress and pushed up to stand, swaying, his hands still tied loosely before him. Coney watched with an amused smile, then walked over in front of Hutch.

Now. C'mon, now!

Hutch swung his fists around together, slamming a roundhouse into Coney's jaw. Coney fell, a look of shocked surprise on his face. Hutch nearly fell with him, but grabbed the bedpost to steady himself.

Now find a way out. Something, damnit! There's gotta be a way out of here! Hutch lurched towards the bathroom.

Morrisey walked in the room. His eyes widened. Coney was rising from the floor and the cop was nowhere in sight. "In there!" Coney yelled, gesturing at the bathroom door, running for it, but Morrisey was already there.

Unbelievable. The cop was halfway out the window. Morrisey grabbed his long legs and pulled, dragging the suddenly dead weight back in, towards the bedroom.

Teeth sank into his arm, right above the crook of his elbow. Morrisey's back stiffened in shock. He howled, letting go of Hutch with one hand, slapping at him, and nearly dropped the son of a bitch in the process. The bastard just sank his teeth in deeper.

Then Coney was there, wedging the cop's mouth open with considerable difficulty, forcing him off Morrisey's arm. The crazy cop smiled. His teeth were red. "Goddammit!" Morrisey shrieked, stumbling away, nearly weeping. Coney slammed the cop's head against the bedpost. He went down like a felled tree.

Morrisey turned back, full of rage, drawing his foot backwards, ready to kick the cop's brains out of his ears and splash them all over the carpet. Coney grabbed his arm, a strange expression on his face. "What what what?" Morrisey yelled.

"Settle down. I told you, he's a tough monkey. You got a job to do. Get back to it."

"What the hell was that?" Morrisey asked, unnerved and furious. He swore, staring at the imprint of teeth in his arm, bleeding dashes gouged in the shape of an oval. It needed disinfecting and quick.

"Never seen anything like it," Coney murmured, looking down at Hutch. Morrisey glanced at him, and suddenly knew what the look on Coney's face was.

Admiration.

Judging the amount of juice to feed their captive was a delicate job—if they OD'd him, Mr. Forest would kill them all. Literally. But Monk was forced to up the cop's dosage after yesterday's performance when the asshole went rabid.

The needle bit into Hutch's arm again. Warmth radiated through him. It felt so good. His body, his breathing... expanded. No more barriers, just the limitless horizons of the mind. It didn't matter that he wore the same clothes for three days, stained with sweat and blood. Didn't matter his face was so swollen as to be nearly unrecognizable, or that it hurt to move, or that his torso was laced with deep blue-purple bruises the color of pain, stark against pale skin. All that mattered to Hutch, as they lowered him onto the bed, was that he could fly.

Morrisey stood over the prone man and took a deep drag from his cigarette. He was alone with the cop, and the place was silent. Morrisey leaned over Hutch. "Dream while you can," he whispered. "Real soon all you'll have left are nightmares." He chuckled at his own wit and sat down on the bed. Extending the cigarette, Morrisey tapped ashes over the detective's chest. Hutch was oblivious.

The detective they'd kidnapped was nearly gone. All Hutch's fear, the bravado, the determination... disappeared. He tried to think of something, anything that might help him get out of here, but most of the time he barely knew his name. Hard to plan an escape when you were stoned. Hard to care. Jeanie, Starsky... his lover and his best friend, both pleasant memories, but removed. Everything came in a distant second behind the euphoria singing in his body from the end of a needle.

An idea occurred to Morrisey and he grinned again, jerking the hem of Hutch's shirt upwards. Morrisey took a last, long drag and exhaled, smoke streaming from his nose. Calmly and deliberately he placed the burning tip of the cigarette on Hutch's bare stomach.

Sweat popped out on Hutch's forehead and he twitched like a horse shaking off a fly. Morrisey leaned closer, absorbed, leaning on the supine form as skin crackled around the fading ember. Hutch moaned softly, eyebrows knitting. The heavy smell of singed flesh rose in the room.

Morrisey removed the blackened butt from Hutch's skin. A small, dark circle with bright red edges swelled on the flat stomach. He stared at the wound, his eyes strangely like his captive's, focused inward. He put his finger on the weeping circle of flesh and pressed deeply.

A soft, hurt sound came from Hutch, and he opened his eyes, the pupils mere pinpricks. He looked around as if blind, gradually blinking into focus the form leaning over him. Morrisey watched the detective without expression, his finger still digging in Hutch's wound. "It hurts," Hutch whispered. He twisted, trying to get away, and fumbled with Morrisey's hand.

Morrisey smiled. "We're gonna have some fun together," he said low, patting the cop's hand with his free one. "Watch and see." The smile turned into something sinister. "Did you really think you could get away from us? Think sinking your teeth into me was worth this?" and he jabbed his finger at the burned flesh again. Hutch moaned. Blue eyes stared up at their captor, uncomprehending, then fled behind closed eyelids.

Where the hell are Monk and Coney, wondered Morrisey later. They'd been gone for hours.

Morrisey was fairly new on the job, here because he was sadistic bastard who could perform almost any task required without hesitation. It just didn't get too nasty for him. And he was also here because he was Monk's cousin, twice removed, and the mob utilized family.

The cop's legs were trembling. He made a strangled moaning sound, down deep. Morrisey watched him, not saying anything. The asshole was clearly in need –agitated and shivering, goose bumps standing out on his skin. They weren't supposed to let Hutch come down, but Monk was in charge; he would decide when to cut the cop off from his junk, he'd supervise the withdrawal, and when the time was right, he'd call Mr. Forest in. Monk wasn't here, so Detective Kenneth Hutchinson, one of Bay City's finest, was coming down cold turkey. Morrisey smirked at the thought.

It was kind of funny, because earlier Morrisey thought Monk had maybe OD'd their captive. While he waited on the others to return, Morrisey had burned a couple more holes in the man, but Hutch never reacted after the first time. How much high-grade smack could the human body withstand in such a short time? Apparently plenty. More than Morrisey would have guessed.

Yeah, he thought maybe the cop was going bye-bye from an over-dose, all right, just this morning. Now look at him.

"I—I need—" said Hutch, mumbling. Morrisey watched the dirty, disheveled form leaning against the headboard of the bed, eyes threaded bright red. His pupils were enlarged, and his fingers drummed restlessly on his jumping leg.

"Yeah, yah. They'll be back soon, and you'll be on Cloud 9 again," said Morrisey. "Just shut up, willya?"

Skag was infamous for quick addiction, the craving for more of the drug coming back to bite you in the ass within hours of the last dose. Fucking junkies, Morrisey thought. He watched the cop closely, finally deciding he'd better tie him up again, after what happened yesterday. He walked over to the bed. "Get up," he said. Hutch didn't move, and Morrisey slapped his face. "I said up!"

"GET YOUR GODDAMNED HANDS OFF ME!" Hutch screamed. He kicked at Morrisey, who moved back just in time. The thug's first inclination was to beat the shit out of Mr. Detective. But not until he was safely tied.

"You want some juice, pig, or you want to sit there and burn up inside?" Morrisey asked, modulating his voice with effort. "Get your ass up."

Hutch stilled and looked up at his torturer for a long moment. Morrisey didn't move a muscle, just met his eyes. I got what you need and you know it. Defeated, Hutch pushed himself out of the bed. Morrisey smiled and led him to the hated chair. As soon as Hutch was secure, Morrisey slammed him a few good blows. The cop's eyes shouted his hatred, but Morrisey kept hitting 'till those baby blues closed.

Tires crunched on the gravel outside, and then came the sound of car doors slamming shut. The front door opened. "What's he doing in the chair?" asked Coney as he entered the room. He ran his hand through his hair, slicking it back.

"He's strung out. I had to tie him. Where've you been? He's coming down fast."

"We checked out Hutchinson's apartment again," said Coney.

"Any luck?"

"Yeah. All of it bad. That partner of his was there. We waited until he cleared out, then searched the place."

"And?" prompted Morrisey.

"And we got nothing," Coney answered. "Then we're on the freeway back here and got behind an accident. Traffic at a stand-still, a damned nightmare."

Monk bent over Hutch, whose face was swelling again. "What's wrong with him?"

"Had to show him who's boss, that's all," answered Morrisey, and Monk's eyes narrowed.

"You watch what the hell you're doing. This is a job, not playtime. You don't do anything unless you're told," Monk warned. It pissed Morrisey off, but he nodded.

He sincerely hoped, when the time came, that he 'd be the one to kill this cop.

Monk took off his jacket, revealing a blue vest and shirt, white tie. He didn't want the jacket to get dirty while he worked on Hutchinson.

"You lousy creeps," Hutch said, while Morrisey pulled up his shirtsleeve.

Monk tightened the tourniquet. "Yeah, yeah," he said, looking over Hutch's arm. At least they didn't have to hold the cop down anymore. More like they had to hold him up. He'd been flying high since yesterday—by the time Monk had gotten the needle in his vein then, the cop was ready to kiss him. But today he was showing a little backbone.

"I'm not gonna tell you anything," Hutch swore, his voice slurred. He sounded like a resentful child, but it was the only resistance he could offer.

"I can't find a vein!" Monk said, exasperated. He thwacked Hutch's arm with his fingers to encourage a blood vessel to rise. "There we go." The cop made a sound somewhere between a sob and a sigh as the smack started to circulate. Morrisey slapped his cheeks in a jovial manner, then released Hutch to slump across the end of the bed.

The cop groaned in stoner bliss, and Coney laughed. "Look at him, he took to that stuff like a baby to a bottle." He bent over Hutch and slapped his cheeks playfully. "Hey, come on baby, wanna tell us where little mommy is, huh?" He slapped him again, not hard, just rattling the cage.

"It's when he doesn't get it, is when he'll talk," said Monk, staring down at the helpless figure on the bed. He used a flashlight to peer into Hutch's eyes. The pupils were small and reacted very little. The cop blinked, but didn't move.

"I figure another day oughta do it," said Monk, satisfaction in his voice.

Starsky gave in to the nagging voice of worry and headed over to his partner's house after Hutch hadn't shown for work. He walked in and it was strange, like he could smell it in the air. Something was wrong.

He wandered through the house, letting the familiar sensory inputs sink into his brain. He didn't know what he was looking for, exactly –maybe just something to confirm his gut instinct.

Hutch's jacket on the bed. Sun coming in through the window. He opened the closet door, Hutch's gun and holster swinging out and banging against it. Everything slowed and stilled around Starsky for a moment before all the alarm bells in his head rose to a shriek.

He drove like a maniac to the police station and Captain Dobey.

"Hutch doesn't visit his mother without his gun," Starsky said hotly to Dobey. The Captain took Hutch's disappearance with a grain of salt, figuring he was playing hooky with his new lady. A second look at Starsky convinced him otherwise—his whole body thrummed with leashed tension.

"Settle down, Starsky. What do you want to do about it?" Dobey asked, his chocolate eyes watchful. He trusted this man's instincts, with good reason.

"Missing persons," Starsky answered with no hesitation.

"That's a missing officer."

"No, I mean missing partner," answered Starsky. His blue eyes blazed with the need to do something, anything. Captain Dobey considered him for a long moment, then picked up the phone and put out an APB on Starsky's partner.

Hutch's girlfriend, Jeanie Walden, had disappeared too. How long has he been gone—days? thought Starsky. And he'd done nothing, known nothing, while his partner was in trouble. He could be dead for all I know. Where were my instincts then?

His own thoughts accused him until he couldn't sit still. Quickly he stood, almost knocking over the chair, and headed out on the streets.

Somebody had to know something. He was gonna find that somebody.

The bedroom was dim. Hutch perched on the high-backed chair, leaning his arms and head over the back. He was a mess—dirty, sweaty, bruised, a black eye. Monk held a flashlight and pointed it at him. He didn't react, comprehending of little except the need gnawing from inside.

Behind Monk stood his boss—Ben Forest, dark, hawk-faced. Morrisey stood against the wall behind Hutch, Coney to the side.

"Hey, cop," said Forest, "what's your name?"

Cop? thought Hutch, muzzily. No cop here. Not anymore. He played restlessly with the rope still around his wrist. "Gimme some help. Smhelp," he slurred, red eyes looking up to where the voice came from. Monk stared at him, transfixed.

Forest slapped Hutch's face, hard. "What's your name?" he asked, steel in his voice.

"HUTCHINSON! What's yours, you lousy creep," he snapped, but what was supposedly a display of bravado faded to misery before it finished leaving his mouth. He rubbed the crook of his arm, riddled with needle tracks, visible even in the darkened room. "Gimme some help?" he muttered again.

Monk stood in front of his boss, keeping the flashlight trained on the cop. Forest laughed, shaking his head. "That's fantastic, what a little change in body chemistry can do."

Monk watched the detective. His mouth twitched. He wouldn't have admitted it, but the shit was getting to him. This wasn't the same man they'd kidnapped just a few days ago. Hell, he wasn't even a man anymore, just a car accident you couldn't drag your eyes from.

Hutch listened to Forest talk about him as if he were a science experiment. He found a moment's pride and turned away, eyes sullen. "Get out of here. Get out of here and leave me alone," he said, mouth tightening. His voice was thick, boggy. Couldn't clear his throat.

"Sure, baby," Forest replied, grinning like a Cheshire cat. "We'll get out of here." Monk turned off the flashlight and they both turned to go.

Eyes flaring wide, Hutch pushed the chair aside, slid quickly to the floor and crawled after them like a man possessed. "Don't go, you gotta help me." He grabbed Forest's legs and held on.

Forest grabbed Hutch and flung him away. "Where's Jeanie Walden? Huh? Where's Jeanie Walden?" Hutch crawled back to him. Forest pinned him to the ground, wanting to grind this bastard's face into a pulp. The piece of shit thought he could do anything he wanted because he was a cop.

Hutch saw the look on Forest's face and huddled away from it, then reached out again, desperate. Oh God he needed help. He couldn't think, he couldn't breathe, couldn't live until he got some help.

"Jeanie Walden, what'd you do with her? Jeanie Walden, where is she?" Forest asked again. The cop was so fucked up it was like talking to an idiot.

Hutch lay on the floor, panting shallow breaths through his mouth. Fascinated, repulsed, Monk looked at the cop and thought about the man they'd beaten and starved for days, who still managed to bust Coney in the chops and very nearly escape. That man was gone, buried alive beneath the addiction. This man was about to sell Jeanie out for another hit of smack.

"I don't know, I don't know," Hutch said miserably. Everything hurt and he was losing his mind to the need tearing his body apart, this fire in the veins. Nothing else mattered.

"You think you're bad now, sucker—in a couple of hours, you're gonna be banging your head on the floor," Forest said, and grabbed the cop's arm and hit him, saying the magic name once again, the one he obsessed over day and night: "Jeanie Walden."

"I.. I don't know where." Just a dream. All a bad dream, Hutch. It doesn't matter what you say. "The... the beach," he said, mumbling.

Forest hit the cop, keeping his attention. He was close. So close. "What beach?" The cop mumbled again, and Forest blinked back a violent urge to crack the skull of this pig in two. Nobody took something from Ben Forest until he was ready to let it go. Nobody.

"What beach, where'd you take her?" Forest slammed his fist into the cop, who huddled up more.

"Seaview. Seaview Point... Point," Hutch said, repeating it, as if just figuring it out himself.

"Seaview Point," said Forest. He snarled at Hutch, slapping him with all his force behind it. Hutch flinched backwards and Forest stood up.

"Don't go." Hutch was all reaction now, no real ability to reason. Climbing to his knees, he reached for the two men. Forest slung his arms away, throwing him backwards, disgust for the shambles of what had once been a man written plainly over his features.

"DON'T LEAVE ME!" Hutch screamed after him. He sank to the floor as the door closed, and stayed there. Nowhere to go. No way out. Starsky's face flashed through his mind. My partner.

No, no partner. Couldn't have a partner when he wasn't a cop, and the cop he used to be was dead.

Long live the junkie.

It was a nightmare. Or Starsky wished it were a nightmare. Everywhere he looked, everyone he asked, or threatened, gave him nothing. Zilch. The hours kept ticking down and he was no closer to finding Hutch. Starsky was very conscious of that ticking sound –the longer it went on, the bigger the odds against him.

He shrugged off the fear impatiently. Keep looking. Whatever was going down was either very secret or people were scared of someone else more than of him. But even Huggy had nothing to give him.

He went to Mickey the stoolie. The old drunk would sell his soul for a drink. But Mickey had nothing, not even when Starsky offered him enough money to keep him in booze for a month.

Dammit Hutch, where are you?

A willowy blond walked into the bedroom where Hutch lay. Jeanie knew Hutch would never have willingly betrayed her, and all the pieces clicked into place when she saw him propped up against the headboard stoned out of his mind, staring as if rapt at the rope still loosely wrapped around his wrists. His face was luridly colored, features swollen, his suffering so apparent that for a moment her mind tried to backpedal into denial.

"Hutch… oh my God." She sank down beside him on the bed and ran her hands over his chest and face, petting and holding him, trying to absorb the shock of what had happened.

"Whoops, somebody must have tied me up," Hutch said, his voice slow and removed. Jeanie, his mind registered. Nice.

Jeanie half smiled, half sobbed, and unwound the rope. "You gonna untie me?" asked Hutch.

"Oh Hutch, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she said. She couldn't stop running her hands over his skin, touching him, making sure he was real. This was all her fault. She should have known she couldn't escape her past. Jeanie cradled Hutch's head in her arms, willing him to know she never meant for him to get hurt.

Hutch just smiled. He had only the vaguest notion that Jeanie was upset.

"All right baby, that's enough," came Forest's voice from the doorway. Jeanie didn't even look at him, her eyes glued to Hutch's face.

"You let him go," she said.

"Sure baby, didn't I promise you? It'll be just like old times. He'll stay alive," said Forest, his dark face bland.

"You let him go!" Now she did look at him, afraid. Forest nodded, assuring her.

"Beautiful," murmured Hutch, and Jeanie sobbed again at the sound of that far-away voice. She stood and walked towards Forest, her face wiped magically clean of expression. "I'll be anything you want,' she said to Forest. Just please let him live, she added silently, and walked through the doorway. Forest followed her into the living room.

Monk and his cronies were there, and Forest met Monk's eyes, exchanging a long look with his right-hand man. Then he and his newly reclaimed prized possession walked out the front door.

Monk waited in silence for the sound of their car to recede. "Let's get this over with." Morrisey went after the cop in the bedroom.

Monk came out the door first, scouting the area for anyone out and about. Coney came next, then Morrisey, almost carrying the sagging cop. The day was bright and clear. It made Monk nervous –he preferred the dark for the job they had to do.

"He ain't gonna know what hit him, even when he hits the water," Coney observed. The cop was higher than a kite. Monk opened the driver's side door of the maroon LTD.

"Get in," said Monk, waving Coney to the passenger side. His voice was somber, preoccupied.

"What's the matter, Monk? It ain't like we never iced nobody before," asked Coney, moving to the opposite side of the car.

"We never killed a cop," Monk said, his voice growing angry. He couldn't shake a sense of foreboding. From day one, this operation had been a mistake, but he'd never been able to get that through to Forest. Ben had tunnel vision when it came to Jeanie.

Morrisey pushed Hutch before him, the detective's body slamming bonelessly into the side of the car. Morrisey stuffed him into the back seat, then slid in beside him.

"If you take Ninth, you can hit the freeway to the harbor," Coney said, glancing over at Monk.

"I'll drive, you just keep your eye on him," Monk replied, jerking his thumb back at the cop.

Coney craned his neck to look at Hutch who lay in the back seat, staring off into nothing. He snorted. "Like a baby." Morrisey slouched down in his seat. This was gonna be too easy. He'd have preferred something a little more drawn out. Fun.

"What do you figure, Monk?" asked Coney.

Hutch heard the question, but it faded. He remembered that Jeanie came to see him. She was… upset? And now they were taking him somewhere.

They always did one of two things to him. They got him high, or they hurt him.

He was already high.

"Off the point, the water's deep. Current oughta carry that body out about two hundred miles," Monk answered.

Hutch heard the words, floating from over the front seat. …water… body…. When he was a cop, they called it a 'body' when someone got killed. No longer a person. A body.

"By then he oughta be shark's bait."

Blue eyes stared glassily at the back of the car seat. Shark's bait? He turned the phrase over in his mind. Morrisey stared out the window, ignoring him.

Fueled by sudden panic, Hutch picked up his foot and slammed it into Morrisey's face, which smashed against the window. Monk threw the steering wheel sharply to the right and slammed on the brakes, the car coming to a stop. Hutch threw the back door open, Coney's fingers stretching out behind him, grabbing only air.

Run run— Hutch ran down the sidewalk behind the car and into something. Someone. Disoriented, he turned in a circle, trying not to fall. His arms dragged, slumping down from the shoulders. So heavy.

No, move. Run. He heard the screeching of car brakes, felt wind and warm metal brush his palms. He fell to his hands and knees. He'd run into the road.

Get up. He ran across the lanes of traffic. More brakes screeching. He got to the other side and ran away, up the sidewalk.

They'd underestimated the cop again. Monk surged out of the car, ran across two lanes and stopped as a police car pulled up on the corner of the street Hutchinson ran towards. Damn. This cop meant bad luck all the way around. Monk stood in the street, tracking the fleeing man with his eyes, knowing the shit had suddenly gotten very deep.

No choice. He jumped into the LTD and took off.

Hutch barreled down the sidewalk, barely keeping to his feet. A couple moved just ahead of him, their arms full of groceries. He crashed into them, fell. Groceries rained down everywhere. The man fell off to the left; the woman stumbled into someone's yard on the right.

Movemovemove— Hutch crabbed forward on his elbows, then made it to his feet again, though his knees threatened to collapse.

Two middle-aged policemen had pulled up in a patrol car as Hutch raced down the sidewalk. The one on the passenger side leaned forward over the other. "Isn't that that detective?… Yeah, Hutchinson! There's a missing officer out on him, call it in!"

Patrolman Bernie Glassman opened the passenger door and got out, his partner calling in on the car radio: "All units, missing officer sighted, Detective Hutchinson, corner of Elm and Second. We are in pursuit." Glassman went after their quarry. Hutchinson ran as if shot out of a cannon, yet he could barely keep to his feet.

Starsky heard the call come over the radio from only a few blocks away. He floored the Torino.

Hutch lurched across the entrance of an alleyway, grabbing at hedges to stop his headlong flight. He turned back across the alley and started down it, careening into a fence. A cramp snagged his gut, so he held his guts in with his elbows and kept running. He flung his head back, trying to capture more oxygen, and his surroundings went on a crazy tilt-a-whirl. He fell to his knees. Don't want to die. He crawled on them until another cramp took him down, jack-knifing, helpless against the pain. Couldn't get up.

Starsky pulled up with a screech of tires beside the patrol car at Elm and Second, flipped his badge open and held it up for the patrolman to see. "Where is he?"

The officer pointed down the alley. "In there." Starsky roared off down the alleyway towards Glassman, bent over a huddled figure. Tires squealing, Starsky stopped the Torino and leapt out of the vehicle.

"Hutch, great," he muttered as the bottom dropped out of his stomach, trying to resolve the sight of the filthy, shaking form curled on the ground with his normally fastidious partner. Starsky knelt and pulled Hutch upright. The bright, slanting sunlight only magnified the contrast between the two—Starsky's clear, direct gaze, his vitality in every way opposite of the ruin Hutch had somehow become. Starsky palmed his partner's face, looking in the glassy, staring eyes, as familiar to him as his own. Hutch's sides bellowed in and out, short, hard pants, like some injured wild thing.

Did Hutch even recognize him?

"He's your partner, isn't he?" asked Glassman.

"Yeah," answered Starsky, distracted. What the hell happened to you? He kept coming back to the eyes. Something... his shoulders sagged, instinct coalescing into realization. He grabbed Hutch's arm and yanked up his shirtsleeve. The bright sunlight was pitiless, hiding nothing of the reddened needle marks peppered across the crook of Hutch's arm.

Starsky stared at the marks. His ears roared white noise.

"My God. He's a junkie," said Glassman, his face shocked. Hutch made a miserable, wretched sound and reached out blindly to Starsky. It galvanized him. He grabbed Hutch and pulled him closer. His partner fell forward, Starsky wrapping both arms across him, holding him across his lap.

"Shut up, huh. I'll handle it," said Starsky. His voice was flat, trying to get a handle on his emotions.

"I gotta make a report," said Glassman. His eyes were worried.

Quick as a snake, Starsky's right hand whipped out, grabbing a healthy bunch of Glassman's uniform and undershirt. "No report. This didn't happen, Bernie. Understand…" and he shook the beat cop for emphasis, "This didn't happen." It was a mantra and a plea, and Glassman couldn't refuse it. "I'll take full responsibility." Bernie nodded slowly.

"Thanks," Starsky breathed. He meant it more than Glassman would ever realize.

The three men in the maroon LTD were silent as Monk drove to give Mr. Forest the bad news. Coney was morose. He'd screwed up, taking the cop's condition at face value. Monk had told him to keep an eye on the asshole, and he'd laughed him off. Hell, the man couldn't even walk out to the car under his own power.

Didn't keep him from running like a bat out of hell, however. Coney figured the cop had understood more than they gave him credit, and panic had fueled his escape. Funny. Their asses were in a sling, but he still held an odd, grudging respect for the man.

Morrisey's jaw ached, his head too, where Hutchinson had rammed it into the window. He rubbed his jaw and struggled to keep his eyes blank. Monk knew him too well, and if he saw half of the rage Morrisey felt, he'd keep an eye on him. And Morrisey didn't want an eye on him.

Not once, but twice the pig had surprised him. Struck out at him. Twice. That made Hutchinson a piece of dead meat.

Morrisey was going after the cop. On his own if need be.

Huggy Bear grabbed a pot of freshly made coffee, placed it on a tray and started up the stairs, asking his bartender, Diane, to mind the bar. He opened the door and backed into the room upstairs, setting the tray onto a hard-backed chair.

Hutch was balled up on the bed, the same as he'd been since they'd brought him upstairs from the back of the building. Huggy had thrown his customers out briefly, claiming a pipe had burst in the kitchen, so as to get the detectives inside with no one the wiser. At least that's what they hoped.

Hutch was freezing. His muscles cramped and jerked. Starsky turned him over and tried to straighten his legs, but they were like steel bands. He leaned against the wall, pulling Hutch's upper body in his lap, willing his touch to soothe his partner and maybe himself.

"Need some help. Please, Starsk. Need some help," Hutch muttered, his body shaking uncontrollably.

"Man, he's hurtin' bad!" Huggy said, his face twisting with sympathy.

Starsky beckoned for the coffee and leaned over his partner. "It's all right. It's all right," he said, low, trying to believe it himself.

"Gimme some medicine. Need some medicine," Hutch pleaded. Starsky felt as if someone had gut-punched him.

"Here, take this," said Huggy, rounding the end of the bed and handing a cup of coffee to Starsky. Hutch's body curled tight against the muscle cramps. He couldn't get warm. Felt like he was shaking apart.

"Hutch, it's hot," said Starsky as a caution, and his partner reached out with trembling fingers for the cup, clutching it. "C'mon, easy, easy.. easy." Huggy pulled off Hutch's shoes as Hutch gulped at the coffee like it was a lifeline. It wasn't. The hot coffee cramped his stomach even worse, and his insides tried to crawl out his throat.

"Hold on to it, Hutch, hold on to it," Starsky urged. His hand curled around Hutch's neck, stroking, trying to comfort. His partner glared up at him from a mask of purple bruises, and Starsky was overtaken with an instant of unreality. This isn't Hutch. Sweat popped out on his brow. Another thought, not from his head but from his heart, immediately replaced the other. He's in there, I just gotta bring him back.

"Another cup of coffee for you," Starsky said, and gently nudged his partner, trying to get him to drink.

Hutch was having none of it. "No, no coffee," he muttered. "Give me some help." Huggy wiped his face with a dishtowel, his own expression constricted and tense.

"How about another cup of coffee," Starsky replied. Hutch flung out his hand, the coffee flying from Starsky's grasp. The picture behind Starsky's back slanted precariously, nearly falling from the wall.

"Nothing but sweat and pain for the next forty-eight hours," Huggy said. His voice rose, agitated. "Tell me how, who?"

"They tied his wrists. Pumped him full of stuff," Starsky answered. He shook his head slowly. "Somehow, he got away." Hutch jerked helplessly in his lap. "Okay boy, it's okay." He looked up at Huggy, sweat dotting his face. "They're gonna come lookin' for him, whoever they are. For now, nobody knows where he is except for you and me, got that?"

"What about Captain Dobey?" asked Huggy.

Starsky wrapped a blanket around Hutch's shivering body. "I'll call Dobey. Bring me some coffee, huh? Lots of sugar." He rubbed Hutch's back and spoke in a gentle voice. "It's okay, it's okay. I'm right here." For a bare moment he couldn't look at his partner's face. The enormity of the change in him was almost too much to bear.

"Starsky, give me some help," Hutch whispered, reaching to grasp his partner's arm. Hutch looked up, beseeching with watery blue eyes. Make this go away, I can't do this.

"I'm right here boy, right here," Starsky said, a catch in his throat, knowing it wasn't enough.

Hutch's eyes clung to him. It was all Starsky could do not to flinch. "You're gonna make it, huh? You big lummox." He laughed when he never felt less like laughing. Hutch was suffering and there was nothing he could do other than forcing distance between him and the addiction, minute by excruciating minute. It's all I got, buddy. I'd give anything.

As if sensing Starsky's turmoil, the real Hutch surfaced at last, trying out a ghost of a smile. His partner looked up at the ceiling, hiding his anguish. God let it be okay.

The sun was high and hot overhead. Monk sat poolside with Ben Forest, Jeanie drifting silently on a float in the warm water.

"You got the girl, why don't you let it go?" asked Monk.

"A cop is out there running around, you want me to let him go?" Forest countered, disbelief on his features.

Monk leaned forward. "He didn't SEE or HEAR anything."

"He knows about Jeanie, doesn't he?" Forest asked, voice growing louder.

"He was so far gone, he doesn't remember his own name," Monk replied in what he thought was a reasonable tone.

Anger distorted Ben Forest's features. "I'm not talking about his memory. I WANT YOU TO TAKE HIM OUT!" he yelled hoarsely. Monk stared at his boss. He'd never seen Ben lose his temper this way. "If you can't do it, I'm gonna find somebody who can," Forest continued, struggling to collect himself.

Monk gave him a smile that didn't touch the cold eyes, finally understanding that Forest's mind was made up, that there would be no more discussions, no more reasoning or persuading. There was only the task Monk was to accomplish, if he wished to remain in Ben Forest's good graces.

The murder of Detective Kenneth Hutchinson.

Morrisey sat in a booth, watching the patrons come and go. He ordered a sandwich and a beer and was about halfway through it when Coney appeared, walking around the bar, asking his questions about Starsky and Hutch, waving money around. For good measure, he stopped at Morrisey's table and asked him, too. Morrisey acted the part, then Coney moved on to other patrons. Looked like he wasn't getting any information, though.

When the order had come down to snatch the cop, they'd done a little fact gathering. Huggy's Bar was the partners' favorite hangout after work. That's why Morrisey was there now, hoping to overhear something while Coney finished canvassing the neighborhood.

Morrisey noticed Huggy hot-footing it up the stairs again. In fact, he'd gone up earlier with a pot of fresh coffee. For who? The business was first floor only.

He let that fact stew while he finished his sandwich. Then he stepped outside and waited for Coney to pick him up in the car.

Hutch's head bobbed as if he were falling asleep, but he roused and leaned over the checkerboard to make a move. Any move, he didn't care. He looked up at Starsky, his eyes bleak.

Starsky looked down at the board, then back at Hutch. He shrugged slightly and made his own move, jumping three of Hutch's checkers. His partner rose suddenly, swept the board off the table and jumped up. His skin crawled and he couldn't bear to sit still. He paced the floor. "You wanna help me, help me! DO SOMETHING!"

Casually, Starsky walked over to the door. Checked the lock and looked down, gathering strength. Hutch grabbed Starsky's jacket. "You know where the stuff is," he said, his voice low, cajoling.

Starsky met his demands with a hooded gaze. He'd never heard that note in his partner's voice before—a note that said Hutch was desperate enough to do anything, anything at all to get what he wanted.

Hutch slammed the wall next to his partner's head. Starsky gave him a stony look. This rock was not going to move. Pacing, Hutch crossed the room, picked up an empty wrapper, balled it up and threw it. "Got another candy bar?" he asked, sounding defeated. Starsky dug it from his pocket and brought it to him.

"You're not gonna be able to keep it down," Starsky said, reaching out and clasping Hutch's arms. Starsky looked him in the eyes, then clapped his shoulder affectionately and turned away.

Hutch threw it up in the bathroom, making miserable, retching sounds. When he finally felt he could speak again, he asked Starsky if someone had brought clothes over. Huggy had. Hutch stripped off the godawful filthy shirt and black pants he'd worn for days and stood in the shower, the water sluicing down his body. He stayed there until the hot water ran out and goose-bumps broke out over his skin. Finally he sat down in the corner. It didn't matter how still he sat—his skin still jumped and crawled. The water ran over his head, blinding him, and rolled off his chin.

"Hutch?" came Starsky's voice. He didn't respond. "You okay?"

"Yeah."

Starsky whipped the plastic curtain aside. "Aw, Hutch." Hutch didn't move. "C'mon, you're cold."

"Yeah, yeah, that's right—my skin's crawling, my stomach's full of live snakes and I need some DAMNED MEDICINE!" said Hutch, words piling on top of the other, the last of them landing somewhere in the range of a full-throated yell.

"Hutch. Get out of there." Hutch just sat, staring up at Starsky's stern face through the cascading water. He looked so normal. Blue jacket, blue jeans, curly head of dark hair, cocked to the side. Endearing, irritating as hell. Thank God Starsky was still the same. Hutch had a sudden urge to cry. It pissed him off.

"You want me to come in there and get you?" Nothing. "Shit," said Starsky, and stuck a foot in the shower.

"Get out of here, Starsky!"

"You comin' out?" returned Starsky, seemingly unfazed.

"Yeah. Get out of my way." He stood, uncurling himself. Starsky's eyes fastened onto the ugly circular marks on Hutch's stomach and chest. They were a deep red, three of them.

"What the HELL-!" Starsky exclaimed, and stepped in the shower, clothes and all. It hurt to look at.

Hutch pushed him roughly out of the shower and followed. "Let me see," his partner demanded. Hutch sank wearily against the sink while Starsky bent to examine the wounds.

"Who." It was a command, not a question. Starsky's face was pale and set.

"I don't know," Hutch replied, wearily, and wished desperately to be high again. "Can I have a towel?" It didn't bother him to be naked in front of his partner, but Starsk looking at the wounds the way he did, then at Hutch's face – that made him feel naked.

"WHY—!" Starsky yelled, then got hold of himself. Hutch said nothing, just grabbed for a towel. "You listen to me. Whoever did this is gonna pay." His voice was grim, and a little hoarse. Hutch averted his eyes. He's ashamed, Starsky thought numbly, and then suddenly he was in a white fury. He couldn't move, couldn't speak, for fear of it breaking loose.

"Starsk. Clothes," said Hutch, and walked out of the bathroom. When Starsky was able to move, he went to the drawer where Huggy had stashed his partner's clothes and threw them on the bed, and Hutch began to dress.

Huggy tapped at the door and Starsky answered, it glancing back at Hutch. "How's my patient?" asked Huggy in a jovial voice as he entered, looking at Hutch a moment. "Dig," he added to Starsky in a lower voice, "There was a John downstairs asking about Jeanie and Hutch, waving fifties around like a flag."

"Did you get the car make? License plate?"

"Diane saw the dude, not me. He was gone when I went to look."

"Diane knows?" Starsky demanded.

"She'd be missing some serious gray matter not to know what's going down, my man. I had to fill her in or she'd ask questions. Anyway, you know Diane's cool," Huggy said. He folded his arms across his skinny chest.

Starsky sighed. "Yeah." He gripped Huggy's shoulder, and the Bear's stiffness evaporated. Huggy's posturing hid the fact that he was a softie, and everyone who really knew him wasn't fooled in the slightest.

Hutch finished dressing, pulling a shirt on over his head, and headed straight for the door as Huggy left. Not fast enough. Starsky barred his way again. Hutch tried to barrel his way through his partner, to no effect.

"I just want some candy," Hutch said, hands open in supplication. It was if Starsky hadn't heard him. "I just want some candy." He reached for the doorknob, but Starsky blocked him. "Just let me out!"

"I can remember a man who hated candy," his partner answered, holding him back.

Hutch flailed at the arms restraining him. "Oh shut up!" He hated Starsk, planted in front of that door. Immovable, blocking his every attempt to get what he had to have.

"Now that's the Hutch I know, huh," Starsky murmured, refusing to be bated. They stared at each other, Starsky's blue gaze giving no quarter. Beneath that protective stance, a tired detective ached for his partner, and Hutch saw it. The blond sagged, head drooping. Starsky's hand went around the back of his neck and pulled until Hutch's head rested on his shoulder. "Got a ways to go," Starsky soothed, rubbing his partner's shoulder in a circular motion.

Finally Hutch heaved himself up, renewing the endless pacing. The craving gnawed deep within his belly, ratcheting his nerves higher. His head pounded. Back and forth, back and forth he walked, until the table along the wall caught his attention. He swept everything off it to the floor. Starsky didn't say a word, just started picking up the mess.

Hutch grabbed a chair, turned it around and dropped into it. Starsky drew up a chair in front of him and sat. "Feel like talkin'?"

Hutch rubbed his legs in long strokes. "No." His legs were cramping miserably.

"Good. Who were they?" Starsky's face was intent.

"I don't know," answered Hutch. Leave me alone.

"What'd they want?"

"I don't know! You want to help me, be my friend, help me!" Hutch burst out, the words tumbling from his mouth.

"What'd they want?" asked Starsky again. The two men stared at each other.

"Jeanie…" said Hutch, finally, as if Starsky's strength of will alone compelled him to speak. He sagged in his chair. "They wanted Jeanie." Hutch kept his eyes on his partner, even with the shame spreading over him like a dull blush. "And I… I think I told them where she was. I don't know."

"Okay," Starsky said. At least he had something to go on now, some reason as to why this had happened. Hutch folded in on himself after his confession. He could barely sit up. "It's okay, it's okay," Starsky repeated, softer, reaching out. Hutch shook his head.

"Hey. How many different voices did you hear?"

"Three or four," Hutch answered. I was high, for Christ's sake!

"Names."

"I don't know," said Hutch, his voice weary. Pissed.

"Names." Firmer.

"I don't KNOW. C'mon, Starsky!" Hutch shouted.

"NAMES," Starsky repeated, biting down on the word.

"Monk," said Hutch, after a pause.

"Who?"

"Monk," Hutch repeated, remembering. That was it. "Monk."

Coney let Morrisey off at his house. Morrisey turned right around and headed back to Huggy's, driving his own car this time. He walked in the door, studying the bar, then slid into a seat next to an older guy with stringy gray hair who looked like he'd grown roots, sitting there on his stool. Morrisey bought him a drink, passed a few bucks his way. They talked a little and Morrisey found out more of the same —Huggy had been traipsing up and down the stairs, sometimes carrying more coffee, sometimes empty-handed.

Morrisey figured he'd found the detectives' hiding place, and that fact was gonna get him and the others out of the deep shit they were in with Forest. All he had to do was to report what he'd found to Monk. But Morrisey didn't move. There was a reason he'd said nothing to Coney earlier. Time for him to decide what to do with the information he had.

Scenes flashed through his head. Bloody tooth marks ringing his flesh. The cop's foot, slamming into his jaw. A lit cigarette, descending to pale skin.

It hurts.

Morrisey hid behind the guy he'd bought the drink for as Huggy descended the stairs again. The bar owner moved into the back of the kitchen. Taking a deep breath, Morrisey headed quietly but surely up the stairs, as if he had every right.

His luck was turning. Time for him to play… and time for the junkie to pay. And when he was done, he'd make sure Ben Forest knew who to thank.

There was a quiet knocking at the door upstairs, and Starsky got up to answer. He reached for the lock. The door flew open and hit him in his face. Blood trickled from his nose as he crashed into the wall.

Hutch sat slumped on the chair. He looked up slowly. In two long strides, Morrisey was behind him. He put his gun to Hutch's head and knelt to the side and back of him. Starsky's gun was leveled at Morrisey, but he didn't present much of a target in his position. "Wouldn't do that," said Morrisey, tightening his finger on the trigger. He pushed the barrel of the gun harder into Hutch's head, forcing it to one side. "So here's where you've been, pal," he added, grinning, to Hutch. "Been looking for you."

"You ain't goin' nowhere," Starsky warned, his gun on Morrisey.

"I'll blow his brains all over the place." Starsky didn't lower the gun, but he didn't move, either. "Get up," said Morrisey to Hutch. He pushed the gun still harder into his temple. Hutch's neck was taut and corded. He didn't move. Morrisey's finger tightened on the trigger. "You want it to go down right here?"

"You think you'll make it out of here alive if it does?" Hutch whispered, hatred in his blue eyes.

"Let's find out," Morrisey said, meeting Hutch's gaze.

"You listen to me, shithead. You hurt so much as a hair on his head and what's left of you will fit in a tackle box," Starsky promised.

"Aw now, that's real touching. Tell you what, let's let the junkie decide. Sounds fair, don't it," Morrisey said, his nerve strange and high. He was convinced he could do no wrong. He jabbed the gun into Hutch's forehead, and Hutch bit back a groan. "You come with me and we'll play a game, okay? My choice. And when the game's over and you've earned it, I'll shoot you up so high all of this will be just one big bad dream. What'dya say, cop?"

Hutch stood up, Morrisey with him.

Starsky stared at his partner, unbelieving. His blood ran cold. "This is the psycho who burned you, right? What kind of a sicko game you volunteering for, Hutch?"

Hutch heard the frustration and fear. He looked at Starsky. "He's operating on his own." It's personal now. Won't leave here without me. Hutch didn't resist as Morrisey led him to the door, using the detective's body as a shield.

Starsky tracked Morrisey with his eyes. A high and constant noise rang in his ears. Rage. Fear for his partner. He sighted. Hutch saw it at the same time Morrisey's hand tensed on his arm. Morrisey was ready for whatever came down.

Hutch moved just enough to obstruct their sight. "Put the gun down, Starsky."

"Don't do this," Starsky said. His face was dead white.

"You come after me now, he's going to kill somebody. You. Maybe one of Huggy's customers," Hutch said. He had an eerie feeling, almost as if he could read Morrisey's mind. He wants out of here. Wants me. Nothing else means much. "I figure you oughta get the chance to kill this asshole later. Okay?" Hutch encouraged, his voice soft. Morrisey grinned at the comment.

Put down the gun, Hutch urged his partner lowered the weapon to the floor, but his fingers had their own mind. They didn't want to let go. His eyes sought out his partner's, held onto them.

"Last chance, hero," Morrisey whispered, and something in the voice made Starsky decide, something that wanted Starsky to go for it. He put down the gun. "Good. Now kick it over here." Starsky did, all the while aching to blow a hole through the bastard.

"I'm not a cop anymore," said Hutch, strangely, staring at the gun as it slid over the floor. Starsky swallowed against the lump in his throat.

Morrisey laughed. "That's right. You're a stinkin' junkie." He picked up Starsky's gun.

Starsky still held Hutch's eyes. He willed him to understand. I'll find you. Believe it.

Hutch looked at him and smiled tiredly. The door shut behind them. Starsky ran to it and opened it a crack, peering out. He made himself wait. Hutch had seemed so certain, and much as Starsky wanted to, he couldn't ignore the warning his friend had telegraphed. But just because he had no gun did not mean he was going to abandon Hutch. The day that happened, he'd be cold in his grave.

The instant before the outside door to the bar swung shut behind Hutch and his captor, Starsky flew down the stairs. It was strange how the patrons of the bar were acting just like normal, as if they didn't know his partner and best friend had been forced out of the bar at gun point. Then he realized that they didn't. Hutch had made up his mind to go peaceably with the nut case, and the weapon had been pressed up against Hutch's back.

Starsky slammed out the bar door and looked quickly up and down the block. They were gone. Vanished. No way, no way. In desperation, Starsky looked again. Just a block away, a brown car slowed behind another vehicle, idling at a red light. If the crazy nut job had parked in front of the bar.. it was possible. Starsky started running. He ran as if his life depended on it.

With a squeal of tires, the car swung around the vehicle in front and ran the red light. Starsky yelled after it, pelting down the sidewalk. He tried to read the license plate, but the numbers were obscured by dirt. He kept running until Hutch was long gone.

Then he ran some more, unable to accept it.

Morrisey looked around quickly, then dug his gun into Hutch's side. "Get out." They'd driven fifteen minutes and pulled into a gravel drive before a small, nondescript white house. Hutch made a note of the address on the mailbox as they drove in.

His bones felt like jagged glass, slipping around in his skin. His whole body clamored for the drugs he'd been on for days, but even through the hurt and the longing, he was aware that Morrisey made no effort to keep the location of the house secret. Which meant Hutch wasn't leaving this place alive.

Maybe. Or the guy was unraveling, getting careless.

"You're on the edge. You know that, don't you?" asked Hutch in a conversational tone.

Morrisey surveyed the neighborhood again. "Get OUT," he repeated, and jabbed the gun hard into Hutch's side. Hutch opened the door, Morrisey climbing out right behind him. After what the cop had pulled in Monk's car, Morrisey was on high alert.

Inside, the house was very neat, almost austere, the living room merging into the dining room at one end. "This is where you're bringing me? Your place?" asked Hutch, his voice disbelieving.

Smart-ass cop. Morrisey hooked his foot around Hutch's ankle from behind. Hutch tripped and fell hard. Morrisey moved in front of him and knelt down, grabbing Hutch's hair at the crown and pulling his face up to look at him. "You want to play twenty questions? Why don't you start by telling me how bad you want a fix right now, huh?" His voice was jovial. "C'mon. Look, I'll go first, answer your question. I don't know about being on no edge. I just knew the second you sank your teeth into me, you were gonna to pay."

"Somebody's had to have gotten to you before," said Hutch. "Where are they? Dead? Or am I special?"

"Get up." Morrisey stood, kicking him in the side. Again. Hutch grunted, the breath driven out of him. He climbed to his knees, got to his feet with aching slowness.

"Here you go," said Morrisey, pulling a high-backed, wooden chair from the dining room to the living room. He gestured at it and grinned. "Familiar, ain't it? Home, sweet home. "Sit." Hutch stood still, swaying where he stood. Morrisey grabbed him by the collar and pushed him into the chair. Hutch closed his eyes, gathering strength, as his arms were jerked backwards and tied behind him. It was the same nightmare, playing all over again.

Hutch opened his eyes. "I answered your question. What about you?"

"I told you, I ain't on no edge."

"Sure," said Hutch, trying to make his voice soft, reasonable. You could have scored big with your boss, finding me the way you did. But I'm here with you. Alone. It doesn't make any sense. What do you want from me?"

Morrisey's mind flashed onto Hutch's face when he pressed the lit cigarette into his skin; remembered the worry line that deepened between the cop's eyes as the pain registered. "How bad do you want a fix?" Morrisey countered. No answer. Morrisey slapped him so hard the blood flew.

"I WANT IT!" Hutch yelled, galvanized, sounding more miserable than anything. God I want it. His cheek reddened over the older, purple bruising.

"Not good enough. I want you to tell me how it feels," Morrisey said, and stepped still closer. "How your stomach keeps clenching up when you think about it. The way your legs keep wantin' to jerk. You can feel it, can't you?" Morrisey's voice deepened. He touched the barrel of his gun to Hutch's head.

"You lousy psycho—" Hutch spat. Morrisey pointed the gun between Hutch's eyes. Hutch stared up at it and grew still.

"Tell me."

Hutch's gaze dropped, and he stared at the floor, concentrating. A thin trickle of blood ran from his lip. "There's... the same words, over and over, running a constant loop in my head. Medicine, help, drugs—whatever you want to call it. Driving me nuts. I want..." he trailed off. His hands quivered.

"What?"

Hutch glared up at the psycho. Morrisey's hand whitened on the gun, and Hutch's breath hitched in his chest. Give him what he wants, or it's the last answer you'll ever give. He looked down again, pushing aside the fear, letting himself sink fully into the need, knowing how much it would cost. "There's this craving... all the damn coffee, the sugar.. couldn't make a dent in it." His voice slowed, grew husky. "It's like your skin... everything opens up, your pores open. You're exposed, shaking. You know what you need, everybody around you knows, but it doesn't matter." He looked up at Morrisey like a drowning man. "I'm sick of puking, hurting, wanting…just want to float."

The hand holding the gun fell to Morrisey's side. "I got what you need."

Hutch didn't answer. More than anything, he wanted to beg Morrisey for the smack. If it was Starsky, he would have. But Starsky only wanted to help. This animal wanted to kill him. Hutch knew he was in the fight of his life.

Morrisey's eyebrows rose. "Ask. That's all you have to do. You earned it." He waited.

That's all I have to do. But will I wake up?

Morrisey bent to meet his gaze. "I'm not understandin' this at all, cop. Don't you want to fly?" He smiled. His eyes were ice chips. Hutch's eyes dropped to the floor. His body tensed, knowing what it needed, but Hutch said nothing. The silence in the room stretched on. "I'll let you go. You hear me? Ask for what you need, you'll go free." Hutch snorted, but couldn't stop himself from imagining walking out of this house. He longed for it almost as much as he longed for the drug.

When the calloused hand came down over his face, he jerked back, taken by surprise. Too late. Fingers pinched his nostrils shut. Morrisey's other hand came down over Hutch's mouth, pressing firmly against his lips. He loomed over Hutch, straddling him. Hutch tried to pull air in, but it was like sucking wind through a brick wall. Panicked, his eyes rolled upwards, staring at his captor. Morrisey's expression was soft, out of focus. Hutch tried to whip his head from side to side, but Morrisey held him too tightly. Hutch's chest filled with something heavy, solid, replacing the oxygen he needed to live.

"You thought you needed the smack. How's this, cop? What do you need now?" Above him, Morrisey's face broke into pieces, black space filling the spaces between. The black crept over everything, and Hutch slipped away.

When he opened his eyes, seconds, minutes, or hours later, Morrisey was in a chair facing him. Hutch flashed back to Starsky sitting across from him. He wished he could see his face again.

"One more chance," said Morrisey. His expression was wiped clean of any emotion. That fact scared Hutch more than anything.

"I… I…" Hutch stumbled over his words. Morrisey stood. "I want…" he said, and squeezed his eyes shut, feeling suddenly dizzy. "Give me the stuff!" he screamed, almost sobbed it.

Morrisey nodded, bemused. He untied Hutch's left arm but kept the right one secured at the back of the chair. "This ride is over if you try anything, got it?" He pulled the paraphernalia from his jacket pocket and tied a tourniquet tightly around Hutch's arm. Hutch watched Morrisey like a greedy child. Morrisey popped a bulging vein with the needle, and time began moving in slow motion. His head fell back against his chair, the pain leaving him in a slow, sweet tide, but he fought to keep his eyes open. "Now you. Tell me why I'm really here. Tell me.. how it feels," he murmured, unconsciously imitating Morrisey's words.

Morrisey nodded. Hutch's words relaxed him. Both of them were on their drug of choice. "I like your pain," he admitted, his voice soft. His eyes were vague, roaming over Hutch. "I ain't never seen anyone suffer that way, before."

Hutch laughed drunkenly. "You got a thing for me?" he taunted. He knew he was asking for trouble, but somehow it didn't matter. Morrisey's face drained of color. He backed away stiffly, as if his limbs had lost all fluidity. And suddenly Hutch remembered what he'd known before: that he'd never felt pain like Morrisey was capable of giving out.

He closed his eyes again, bracing himself, and waited for the blows.

Starsky had seen all he needed to know about the psycho who had come after Hutch upstairs. The dirtbag was a warped pervert, and his partner was going to die alone and in agony if he couldn't find him soon. Starsky's gut twisted, but he shut that thought down almost immediately. None of this helped Hutch.

He'd called Captain Dobey, his own miserable guilt at what had happened tightly reined in. Dobey responded with silence on the other end of the line, absorbing the news. When he spoke, there was no hint of the usual blustering, no recriminations. Instead, he said, "We'll find him." Starsky held the phone, his eyes closed, long after Dobey had hung up.

What was obvious was that the dickhead had gone AWOL from the mobster who'd hired him. He was a lone gun now, a wild card. Hutch had confirmed that. And seeing what the bastard had done to Hutch meant only that he was ruled by nothing and no one but his own sick whims. The guy had gone off the deep end and he was gonna take Hutch with him.

Starsky shook his head, trying to clear it of images that terrified him. Think. Hutch had given him one name: Monk. If Starsky found Monk, Monk could lead him to this psycho bastard.

Starsky enlisted Huggy's help. The Bear got to work, calling all his sources. And Starsky hit the streets, that last tired smile on his partner's face haunting his every move.

Hutch's face throbbed and burned. The skin, the muscles, everything was sore, causing pain whenever he flinched, or sighed, or opened his mouth. So sensitized, so tender that a crazy conviction told hold of Hutch: that nothing much was left keeping his face attached to the rest of his head. Nothing much at all— maybe a few tendons. And if Morrisey hit him just one more time, wasn't it possible that his face might slide right off onto the floor? Hutch was horrified in a nightmarish, far-off way, but it was funny, too. He snickered, and the movement sent pain burrowing deeper. Oh God.

"Something funny?" Morrisey asked. "Quite a cop, aren't you? Look where you're at, what's happening to you.. and you still got something to laugh at. Why don't you tell me what's so funny."

His voice sounded so ordinary. How did he do that? Hutch closed his eyes and shut out the sight of Morrisey. But the voice kept coming. "Here I thought you'd learned your lesson by now. When I speak, you jump." A gun pressed in under Hutch's chin.

"It, uh, I'm just ... " Hutch stammered. The gun moved away, then slammed across his face. Hutch's head rocked to the side, then settled slowly back. He closed his eyes again. Such a simple thing made Morrisey disappear.

The voice, however, took on a life of its own. Couldn't be shut out. "You're lying, cop."

It occurred to Hutch that he'd been wrong about his face. Morrisey had slammed him a good one just now. Still there, he mused. It was pure suicide, but he smiled. A sick smile, but there it was. The junk in his system wasn't helping any.

The gun nested back under his chin, the barrel pressing so deeply into the flesh that he had an urge to puke. "Any last words?" asked Morrisey.

Shut your eyes. Just a voice. Voices can't pull triggers. Can't kill.

"Fuck you," Hutch said in the silence. He opened his eyes. Morrisey stared at him, that expressionless look. Hutch stared back, the realization of what he'd done roaring over him. He froze, his heart trip-hammering, beating back the complacence the drug imparted.

Don't let Starsky be the one to find me, Hutch prayed. His eyelids fluttered down and shut out the sight of the maniac who was going to kill him. He took in a last convulsive breath, held it, and the world stopped turning.

Morrisey pulled the trigger.

The gun clicked on an empty chamber. Morrisey had finally found something to laugh over, but by then Hutch was gone. Gone in darkness, far below the surface of reality. How long he stayed there he'd never know. It endured until a voice came after him.

Wake up. Hutch's eyes dragged open and Morrisey was there, towering over him. He would always be there. The perspective was all off—the man's face was too close, distorted, while his body stretched away behind him. Warm colors washed around the edges of the Hutch's vision, and his eyelids slowly closed down. Hutch was on the nod.

You gotta wake up. Right now.

But he didn't want to wake up. To wake up was to hurt, and Hutch was through with that if he could help it.

The tourniquet snapped around his arm. Hutch, his friend said urgently. This bastard is done with you, understand? He tried to move, but a dark ocean of soothing warmth blocked Hutch's efforts to open his eyes and surface. He didn't know how to cross the expanse.

I'm sorry, he told the voice.

Me and thee, partner. The intensity roused him against his will.

I'm so tired, Starsk, Hutch protested.

Don't leave me behind. The warmth and fierceness of it tightened his chest.

Hutch forced his eyes open, a part of him mourning the warm darkness. He balled his left hand in a fist and swung it at Morrisey. To Hutch if felt like slinging a limp noodle, but it was the last thing Morrisey expected. Taken by surprise, he lost his balance. Hutch lunged forward and felt a sharp, hot pain as the weight of the chair yanked his right arm backwards into a position no arm was meant to be. He grabbed a rung with the tied hand anyway and slung the chair around in a loop from the floor. It hurt like hell, but the thing flew up in the air to crash into Morrisey's head. He went down like a felled tree. Hutch fell after him, landing on his back next to his captor, still gripping the rung of the chair.

Morrisey didn't move. Blood trickled from a gash at his temple. Hutch saw the blood and grinned, filled with a fierce glee. He crawled unsteadily to his feet and dragged the damned chair behind him, yelling incoherently when it snagged on the coffee table. He freed the chair leg in a sluggish haze that took forever. When it caught again he didn't even look back, just kept pulling until his arm felt like fire ants were chewing at the socket. Turning, he glared at the stereo, kicked it. Kicked it some more, and pushed it until the thing moved to free a path wide enough for the dragging chair. Picking up the phone, he tried dialing the police station but got the wrong number. He cursed and hung up, tried again, reaching the police station after what seemed an eternity had passed. He finally managed to make enough sense so that he was connected to Dobey.

"Cap'n," Hutch mumbled. "Sme. Shutch." The phone slipped from his grip. He pulled it up by the line with sweaty fingers.

"….Hutchinson, can you hear me! Where are you? Are you all right?" Dobey yelled.

"Hurry, 'fore he wakes up."

"Ken. Listen to me. Tell me where you are, I'll send help."

There was a pause while Hutch mused dazedly on being called Ken by Dobey. Then Hutch mumbled an address to his captain. He dropped the phone and sank to the floor.

"Zebra Three, come in, this is Captain Dobey."

Starsky picked up the mike. "Go ahead."

The Captain's voice came over the speaker. "We've got him. The address is 2521 Marconis. Be careful—the kidnapper is still in there with him." Starsky slammed the mike down and gunned the Torino. It took him ten minutes to get to Marconis Street, but it seemed like ten days, with another ten tacked on while he searched for the right house. Finding it, Starsky thrust the Torino's gear in park, yanked the car door open and ran for the front door.

Hutch was still tied to the chair and he couldn't work the knot loose. He couldn't do anything, as a matter of fact. He lay on the floor, the worn carpet coarse against his fingertips, wondering if the nut case would wake up. He knew he had to restrain him somehow, but in spite of himself Hutch's eyes closed, and he slipped into one bad dream after another. None, however, as bad as what he saw the next time his eyes opened.

Morrisey was crawling towards him, gun in hand. "I'm coming for you, cop," he said. Dried blood caked the side of his face. Hutch could only watch and curse himself for failing to get back over to the psycho in time to restrain him. If he moved now, Morrisey would blow him away.

"Nothing left but you, me, and some unfinished business," Morrisey said, his face a fright-mask of blood and promised death.

You're fucking sick," Hutch breathed. He couldn't look away from the gun.

The front door crashed open and flew against the wall. Morrisey didn't even turn. He aimed at Hutch. "Nothin's gonna save you this time."

Gun in hand, Starsky crouched, aimed and fired. Morrisey's weapon flew from his grasp. "Wrong," Starsky said, loud and harsh. Morrisey grabbed his injured hand with the other and moaned. Hutch kept his eyes fixed on Morrisey, wishing his partner had killed him.

Starsky stood over Morrisey, lips thinned, pointing the gun at the man's head. "Who were you workin' for?" he demanded. Morrisey clutched his injured hand and said nothing. Starsky aimed a hard kick at the man's ribs. "I said who." His pulse beat in his temples. He wanted nothing more than to beat this psycho into a bloody pulp—he could almost taste it. He glanced over at his partner and what he saw in Hutch's face tamped down the urge for violence, replaced with concern for his partner. Starsky hauled Morrisey's arms behind his back and cuffed him, then strode quickly to Hutch's side.

"Hey," he said, pulling Hutch to sit up. "You with me?"

Something flickered over Hutch's face, and his gaze moved slowly from Morrisey to his partner. His body relaxed. "Yeah."

Starsky patted his arm, then froze, staring into Hutch's eyes. "He shot you up. The goddamned piece of SHIT."

Hutch met his gaze, his eyes angry and miserable at the same time. "Yeah. Got any more of the stuff?"

The words rooted Starsky to the spot, but he forced himself to think rationally. He wants me to know how bad it is. Maybe thinks I can't take it. "Nice try, Hutch," he said, patting his friend's face. "You of all people ought to know—I don't scare easy."

"Face it, I'm not your partner anymore, I'm a junkie. Nothing is gonna change what happened," Hutch yelled, hours later. His face was pale and his eyes dilated, staring holes in his partner. They were back in the room above Huggy's. Morrisey was in the hospital, having fallen unconscious before the ambulance arrived. He'd apparently suffered an internal head injury. Assuming he ever woke up, his next scheduled stop was an interrogation room, then a jail cell.

Hutch was wild, being back in this place. It meant withdrawal again, and he didn't think he could bear to face it. But Starsky figured no one but Morrisey knew their whereabouts. It looked like Morrisey had gone off on his own crazy tangent without his cronies knowing, otherwise someone else would have come after them. They hadn't, and Starsky wanted to know if anybody came canvassing the block again.

"You're coming off the junk. Period," Starsky said flatly. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been this tired. Didn't matter, though. He had more important things to worry about.

Hutch sat on the bed, holding his stomach. His face had new bruises, and his lip was swollen. "I can't do this again. You gotta let me out of here."

Starsky sat down beside him. "I can't do that. You know I can't." He reached for his partner.

"Get outta here!" Hutch erupted, pushing Starsky away. He curled up against the wall, his body shaking.

Why in God's name does he have to go through this again? "I know it doesn't feel like you can do this again, I know it, but you can. You got no choice." Starsky's voice was gentle.

Forest's voice trickled in through the cravings that drove Hutch. You think you hurt now, sucker…. He smashed the back of his head into the wall. Then again, trying to drive out the need, replace it with anything, even more pain. Starsky's breath hissed between his teeth, and he reached out to grab his partner, to stop him. Hutch flinched away.

Starsky's hands dropped. "Hutch. Don't. I'm not gonna hurt you."

Hutch's eyes opened. Drowning blue pain. "You're hurting me now. Help me." He wanted to puke, to cry, or beg. He was nauseous. His nose ran. He hurt all over, and his limbs jerked helplessly. The addiction rode him, monstrous in its need.

Starsky tried to reach out again, for himself as much as his partner, but Hutch struck out at him and dropped his head into his hands, shivering. He spoke behind them, using them as a shield. "Starsk."

Starsky waited.

"No matter what I say... it's not really me." And now it was Hutch who reached out, blindly. "Not me, Starsk."

Starsky's warm hand covered his, thumb making soothing circles over the skin. "Shhh. I know, I know. It's okay. We're gonna get through this."

Hutch laughed, the sound rasping like a dried cornhusk. Then his shoulders hitched, and Starsky pulled his partner forward into his arms.

Coney called Morrisey's house. No answer. Where the hell was he? Morrisey might be good at meting out punishment, but he wasn't stable enough for the work. Coney knew it in his gut, and he bet Monk did, too, even if the guy was related to him. But Coney couldn't say exactly why he had such a nagging unease about Monk's cousin. And now the asshole wasn't home when he knew they had to work the streets 24/7. Their futures were non-existent if they didn't locate the junkie detective by the time Mr. Forest returned.

Huggy Bear's was the last place they'd hit yesterday. Coney remembered how quiet Morrisey was on the ride home. Too damned quiet. That bothered him, but he didn't know exactly why on that score, either. Coney was operating on instinct. He shrugged to himself, deciding he'd stop at Huggy's again sometime during his search today.

There was a rap on the door. "It's me," said Huggy, and Starsky let him in. "Where's my man?"

"In the bathroom," Starsky said. "Trying to throw up his stomach."

Huggy glanced at the bathroom door. "Oh, yeah. I hear him. Damn," he said, wincing. "Well, I got some news to brighten your day. That dude that was around here yesterday is makin' the rounds again. There was another dude outside waitin' for him in a LTD Sedan, dark color. Here's the license number," and he handed Starsky a piece of paper. The toilet flushed, and Hutch came out of the bathroom. He leaned on the sideboard, head down.

"Okay," said Starsky, glad to finally have something to go on. "Look, get Dobey at home, huh? His number is 555-6772."

"You're not looking so good yourself," said Huggy, thinking, whoever did this got two into hell for the price of one.

"Go ahead," was Starsky's only answer. Huggy grabbed the phone from the nightstand and dialed.

Starsky went to Hutch's side, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You okay?"

"Peachy," Hutch said, voice roughened.

"Starsky, his son says that Captain Dobey and his wife went out for the evening," Huggy said, holding the phone. "You wanna leave a message?"

"Tell him I'll call back later," Starsky said.

"Anything else?" Huggy asked.

"Yeah. Bring me some coffee and some more candy."

"Right," Huggy answered, and circled around the bed, heading for the door. Starsky patted his arm as he left.

Coney walked into the entryway of the restaurant. He and Monk had split up earlier, trying to more ground quicker. They'd agreed to meet here afterwards.

The place looked expensive. Coney looked out of place in his checked brown jacket, but he didn't know or care about that. Monk liked to cater to his proclivities for the finer things in life.

Sometimes Coney thought Monk spent too much time with Mr. Forest.

Monk sat at a table in the middle of the room, awaiting his order. Coney crossed over to his boss and took the chair beside him.

"Well?" Monk asked.

"Big fat zero. And I been up and down the street twice." Coney shook his head in disgust.

Monk unfolded his napkin. "Starsky?"

"Nobody's seen him." The waiter came with Monk's food and set it down before him on the pristine white tablecloth. "He was makin' the streets, lookin' for Hutch. Since then.." Coney shook his head again and drank a sip of wine. Monk placed his silverware precisely to the right, thinking.

"I tell you, if Starsky found him, he could be anywheres," Coney continued. "Maybe in a hospital. Even a police station."

"No, no, Starsky'd never let anyone know his partner's strung out. Probably helping him kick it somewhere," Monk said reflectively, and scratched his nose. "It's a cinch he knows somebody is lookin' for Hutch…. and Starsky's looking for us. I tell you what. We're gonna help him." Monk took a bite of his food as everything clicked into place. "And here's how. I want you to nose it around on the street that you know who strung his partner out."

"What're you, crazy, Monk?" Coney couldn't help but ask.

"No listen, I know what I'm doing. I want you to get ahold of that…"

"Mickey," Coney supplied.

"Yeah, Mickey. That street stoolie.. sell his old lady for ten bucks."

Coney looked amused. "Okay."

"And maybe, just maybe we ice both Starsky and Hutch and Mr. Forest will give us a Christmas bonus, huh?" Monk asked, smiling. He took another drink of wine. "Where's Morrisey?"

Coney looked down at the white tablecloth, then up to Monk's face. "I don't know. Not answering the phone."

Monk frowned, then nodded. "I'll check on him. First things first."

Starsky awoke the next morning on a chair beside the bed, hugging a pillow. A yellow towel that sufficed for a blanket draped over his lap.

Damn, he was stiff. Checking his watch, he looked over at his partner. Hutch sat up in bed, propped against the wall, a pillow held against his stomach. His head hung down and his eyes were closed. His leg twitched.

Quietly Starsky walked to the nightstand and picked up the phone. He took it to the end of the bed and sat down on the floor, dialing the police station. "Starsky. Captain Dobey, please," he said, fishing in his pocket for the paper with the license number written on it.

The Captain was looking at some paperwork when the phone rang. "Dobey," he answered, clearing his throat.

"Mawnin. Well, I think the patient is gonna survive," said Starsky, trying not to yawn. It was hard to be coherent. Probably should have waited till he'd woken up a little more. He looked up at Hutch.

"Well, Starsky," Dobey answered, pleased to hear his detective's voice. He smiled. "'S good. Maybe I oughta recommend you for a transfer. To rescue."

"Yeah," said Starsky, a faint smile on his face. "Well, it's gonna be another 24 hours, he's weak as a kitten right now." He propped his leg up on the foot of the bed. "Look Captain, I need a DMV read on license JMJ322. Belongs to some fink who came around askin' about Hutch. I had it last night but I didn't want to talk to anybody in the department except you." Starsky blinked. His eyes felt like sandpaper.

Dobey wrote the number down. "You want me to have an officer run that down?"

"No thanks, I just wanta find out who owns it," Starsky said. His voice grew soft and intense, holding a promise of retribution. "Captain, it's important, but it's mine."

"I'm gonna put you on hold," Dobey replied. He tapped another line on the phone. "DMV, please. Readout," he said, tapping his pen on the desk, his expression thoughtful. He'd known Starsky would want to run this license down personally, but it was a measure of Dobey's concern that he'd asked if someone else could do it. Starsky was a hot-head on a good day. By no stretch of the imagination could a day when someone nearly killed his partner be called a good day. The owner of the LTD better have good life insurance.

As Starsky waited for Dobey to come back on the line, Huggy entered the room, carrying a tray. The rich smell of coffee wafted from it, and Hutch's eyes opened. "Mornin'. Nectar... or is it ambrosia?" Huggy asked with a flourish, bowing slightly. "I can never remember which." Hutch carefully lowered both legs from the bed onto the floor.

"Huggy, you're beautiful," said Starsky, holding the phone.

"I know, but you and Hutch look awful."

Captain Dobey came back on the line. "Starsky, on your John Nelly John 322, that's Alan Monk Phivos. Nine— NINER, one five, Wichammer Street."

Starsky wrote down the name and address. "Thanks, Captain."

"Starsky."

"Yeah," Starsky murmured, his eyes red and fatigued.

"Good work."

Starsky smiled. "Yeah." He hung up the phone. "Welcome back," he said to Hutch.

"Is there such a thing as a mercy killing?" Hutch murmured, trying a weak joke.

Starsky laughed. "I would have let you slip off except Huggy would never have forgiven me."

"That's right," Huggy agreed genially, sipping coffee. He stood up. "Hey, you feel like a wash-up? I went by your place and picked up more clothes. They're in the bathroom."

Hutch climbed off the bed, groaning. "Thanks." He went into the bathroom and closed the door. Starsky sat on the end of the bed and pulled his Adidas on.

"Where do you think you're going?" Huggy demanded.

"Hunting," Starsky said shortly.

"HUNTIN'? A bear gets a look at you, he'll die of fright," Huggy answered, indignant.

"Yeah. Keep an eye on him. I'll check in later," said Starsky, moving fast. He patted Huggy's stomach on his way out. Huggy snorted, plopping down on the bed.

The phone rang. It was Dobey, with a message for Starsky. "Well, I don't how this guy figures in this, but tell him Mickey called," Dobey said. "By the way, Huggy, do you know him?"

"Yeah I know him," Huggy answered, disdain in his voice. "Starsky's fink, but he's not above playing both ends, you know?"

"Well, Mickey says he has information regarding Hutch. Tell Starsky that, huh?" Dobey said, fidgeting with his pencil.

"All right, Captain. I'll tell him as soon as he comes in."

"And also, Huggy... I appreciate what you're doing for my boys." It was a odd juxtaposition allowing for a moment of mutual respect—one man in authority working from within the system, conveying his gratitude to a man who was comfortable with the streets, not concerned so much with law as with an internal sense of right and wrong. Their mutual relationship with Starsky and Hutch bridged a large gap.

"Well well well," said Huggy as Hutch exited the bathroom, bare-chested, blond hair mussed. At least he's clean, Huggy thought, but there ain't no hidin' the fact he's had the shit beaten out of 'im. Dark rings surrounded Hutch's eyes, and his swollen face was a mass of bruises.

Hutch tossed his damp bath towel to Huggy. "Thanks for the razor," he said, throwing his dirty clothes aside. "It was dull."

"Dull?" Huggy said, affably. "Sure." He slung the towel over his shoulder and began to pick up the mess off the floor.

"Where's Starsky?" Hutch asked. His voice was flat, weak.

Huggy folded a shirt. "He split. Then I got a call from Captain Dobey saying that cat named Micky's trying to get in touch with him."

"Mickey," Hutch mulled, yanking on a green pull-over shirt.

"Yeah, claiming he has some words to do with you."

"Well, he's usually reliable," Hutch said, sitting on the chair Starsky had slept so fitfully on. He began to put his shoes on. "Huggy, you wanna call me a cab."

"You're not going nowhere."

"Huggy, do you mind calling me a cab?" Hutch asked in a firmer voice.

"Okay. You're a cab, but you're still not leaving here," Huggy replied, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

Hutch stood, ignoring him. "I'm gonna need to borrow some money, and I'll take a gun if you got one."

"Hutch, you out your mind?" Huggy asked, his voice high and exasperated. "You can't even tie your own shoes, and you KNOW I don't keep no gun."

"Huggy – the cab," said Hutch, holding his hand out. For a man who couldn't tie his own shoes, he brooked no argument. Disgusted, Huggy dug in his pocket, slapping money into the open hand. Hutch patted him on the back.

"Cab," muttered Huggy, shaking his head. He picked up the phone and started dialing.

Coney sat on a barstool beside the small, dark-haired Mickey. They were at the stoolie's frequent hangout, and the place that Starsky would expect him for a meet. Mickey sipped a beer.

"Doesn't look like he's coming," Coney said, chin resting on his hand.

"You don't know Starsky. He'll be here, believe it," Mickey replied. He took a drag from his cigarette.

"Okay," said Coney. He sounded skeptical. He glanced at his watch. I better call Monk." He walked down the length of the long, narrow bar to the phone on the wall. Mickey picked up his drink. His hands shook. They always did unless he was well and truly tanked.

Outside the entrance, a cab pulled up to the curb. Hutch got out and paid the cabby, then entered the bar. Spotting Mickey at a table, Hutch sat down heavily in the chair across him, picking listlessly at the corner of the red-and-white checkered tablecloth. "Hey Mickey." Coney saw the detective and did an about-face, turning back to the phone.

"Hey, Hutch, what happened to you?" Mickey asked uneasily, squinting through cigarette smoke.

Hutch made an effort to look Mickey in the eyes but could barely keep his head straight. "The word is that you can tell me."

"Yeah? Well, you look okay," Mickey said, gesturing at Hutch, "but something about you…you look sick." At the back of the bar, Coney hung up the phone and walked over to the jukebox, keeping an eye on Hutchinson.

"You had something to tell my partner," Hutch said, sitting forward. His voice was low and exhausted. "I'm listening."

"Yeah, yeah. Here's the scam," said Mickey, trying to stall.

Miles away, Starsky pulled up, idling in front of the address Dobey had gotten from DMV. Monk's residence, with the LTD parked out front. Putting the Torino in reverse, Starsky backed around the corner and squinted up at the house in the strong sunlight. Whoever these people were, they'd planned Hutch's kidnap perfectly, worked him over, hooked him on junk and tried their damnedest to kill him. It was an understatement to say that Starsky wanted everyone involved nailed to the wall.

His gut tightened, everything in him preparing to act when Monk hurried out of the house and got in the car. Something was up, the guy was in too much of a hurry. Monk's tires chewed up the road, dust flying everywhere, and Starsky followed.

A front loader charged unexpectedly around the corner Monk had just taken. Son of a bitch. Starsky couldn't believe his bad luck. He gunned the Torino in reverse before the thing hit him. The driver's hard-hat fell forward into his lap as he lurched over the uneven pavement, coming fast. Since when did a city road worker ever do anything in a hurry? Phivos was his only lead and this idiot was keeping him from it. It royally pissed Starsky off. He thrust his head out of the car window, yelling, "Back up, get that thing out of the way!"

"How 'bout taking a flying jump at the moon?" the driver yelled back, still stepping on the gas.

"Police!" Starsky bellowed. He extended his arm out the window, flashing his badge. His voice grew faster with each word, finger jabbing repeatedly at the obstinate road worker. "Now get that thing out of here or I'll haul you in for obstructing justice and creating a public nuisance!"

Without another word, the driver backed up, but it was too late. Monk's LTD had disappeared. Starsky stopped the car at the next intersection, drumming the steering wheel with his fingers.

"Zebra 3, Zebra 3, this is Dobey. Starsky, what's happening with Mickey?"

Starsky picked up the mike. "Say again, Captain, I lost you."

I sent word to Huggy's that Mickey had a message for you, did you get it? The captain said, ending in a near shout.

"Got it now," said Starsky, ignoring Dobey's ire. He slapped the Mars light on the roof of the car and roared off, siren wailing.

"Hutch," Mickey said, "you don't look so good." He flicked spilled ash from his striped gray suit.

Hutch clutched the tablecloth as if it were a lifeline. His vision blurred and his head wouldn't stay upright.

"Tell you what, lemme call a doctor," Mickey said. He stood, swallowing a mouthful of beer. Coney strode quickly over to the table and grabbed Hutch beneath the arms, pulling him up from the seat.

"Let me help you, huh," said Mickey, as Coney pulled Hutch away from the table. Hutch dragged the checkered tablecloth off, spilling salt and pepper shakers, an ashtray. Mickey rescued his beer glass just in time. Several of the bar's customers turned in unison at the commotion, gaping as Hutch's tall, limp body was dragged bodily out of the room and out the back door.

Hutch opened his eyes but couldn't make them stay open. Hell, he couldn't even stand up –somebody else hauled him outside. Mickey's doctor? He heard traffic noises, but muted. Must have taken him out the back. "I'm all right," Hutch said, slurring, sounding belligerent.

"Sure, sure," Coney answered, placating. He walked the detective a few steps down the alleyway and shoved him back against a cinder block wall.

"Let me go," Hutch mumbled. He couldn't seem to get his feet coordinated beneath him.

"We're gonna fix you right up," Coney said, his voice jovial yet somehow ominous. "One beautiful pop and your troubles'll be over." Hutch sagged forward, and Coney pushed him back against the wall. Damned cop wouldn't stay put. Coney reached for the goodies in his pocket.

"Where we goin?" muttered Hutch, Coney's words rolling foggily over in his mind. His brain refused to make any connections.

"Dream land, pally. Dream land," answered Coney, still fumbling for the juice.

Dream land. Hutch leaned against the wall, head lolling. He flashed back to darkness and warmth and utter ease. It turned rapidly into a nightmare. Morrisey looming over him. Threatening.

I got what you need.

I'm coming for you, cop.

Fingers over his mouth and nose. Can't breathe

The sound of a siren echoed down the alleyway.

Open your eyes!

Hutch lowered his head and charged at Coney, butting him in the stomach with desperate strength. Coney was taken off guard and fell to the ground as Hutch staggered headlong down the alley. Don't fall. You won't get another chance. With a screech of tires, Monk's LTD flew into the alleyway, eating up the distance between them with terrifying speed. Hutch touched the wall to his right to steady himself, then took a few steps backward, trying to force his groggy brain to find some escape.

Behind him, Coney climbed to his feet. He yanked his gun from its holster, cursing, as the siren drew closer. Hutch looked at Coney aiming his weapon at him, then forward at the LTD blocking the other end of the alley. Trapped. His stomach sank, and his legs wanted to collapse.

Nowhere to go but up. With his last reserve of strength, Hutch ran at the high wall to his right, scrambling upwards, clutching at the top with his fingers. His arms trembled with the strain, fighting to find the strength to support himself. He pulled himself on top of the wall as the LTD passed beneath, the engine sounding thunderous in Hutch's ears. It plowed into the garbage cans and cardboard boxes where he'd stood. Garbage flew through the air.

Starsky's Torino roared up the other end of the alley in a squealing rush of tires. Five more minutes, that's all I needed. The cop would be dead, Coney thought. He fired at the red bomb boring down upon him, kept firing, but the car never swerved, never slowed. It struck him, swatted him aside. Coney tumbled to the ground, unmoving.

Jumping out of the LTD, Monk crouched, taking a shot at the Torino skidding to a stop. Starsky ducked beneath the windshield. Thinking quickly, he stuck the toe of his blue tennis shoe behind the door handle of the passenger side and pulled. The door swung wide open, and Monk fired wildly at it.

Starsky opened the driver's side door and slid to the ground beneath, hoping like hell that Monk wouldn't anticipate his move. Monk fired at both of the open doors, trying to guess which side Starsky was on. Starsky fired once from below the door. Monk never saw it coming. He fell over the open car door, gun sliding from his suddenly lax hand and clattering on the ground.

Starsky ran, half-crouched, to the LTD blocking the narrow-alleyway. Keeping his gun trained on Monk, Starsky jumped on the hood and headed for Hutch. The tires sank beneath his weight and Monk's body slid slowly down to the ground.

Jumping off the LTD, Starsky holstered his weapon. He grinned up at his partner, the smile growing until his whole face lit up and his shoulders shook in silent laughter—partly exhaustion, partly because Hutch had somehow managed to end up in such a bizarre position, but mostly because his partner was alive. He'd made it.

"What's so funny?" Hutch asked, panting. The adrenaline had for the moment chased away the paralyzing exhaustion, and the glint in his eye dared Starsky to keep laughing.

Which he did. Couldn't help himself, with Hutch perched up there on the wall like a big, awkward bird.

"You want me to send out for lunch or you gonna come down from there, huh?" Starsky asked, shaking his head affectionately. "Come on, partner." Hutch slipped long legs down over the side of the wall. Grunts and groans came from his treed cohort as Starsky grabbed his butt, steadying him the rest of the way down. Hutch's feet touched ground and he turned, falling into his surprised partner's arms.

Starsky staggered back as Hutch catapulted into him, and he laughed again, a sound of pure joy. The solid feel of Hutch in his arms affirmed that the big lummox was still alive and in one piece. Hutch pulled himself upright, a small smile on his battered face. Starsky nodded. Yeah, Hutch was gonna be okay.

The thought sat wonderfully well on his tired shoulders.

The mansion was brick, covered in ivy. Bags sat on the grass next to the parked car. "You and me, we're not gonna change," Forest said, standing by the car with Jeanie. A simple explanation of fact, as far as he was concerned. Jeanie watched him, saying nothing. He thought he owned her, and had in fact beaten her down until she more than halfway believed it, too. But he was living in some past fantasy, long over. He just didn't know it yet. Ben wanted her love, or at least a pretense of devotion. He'd never have it. Both of them would learn to live with what was left to them.

As for her... pure and simple, she'd flown too close to the sun, trying to believe she could be someone else, to hope for happiness with someone good and kind, who believed she was equally good. Hutch. But Hutch's life may well have been ruined because of her. The fantasy had shattered.

Jeanie watched Ben, her mouth set in stubborn lines. She saw his lips move, but she didn't listen. She didn't care. This was her armor: apathy.

The red and white Torino charged suddenly up the winding drive, and Forest recognized it as the signature vehicle of that damned pair of cops. Loud, brassy, outrageous. The car symbolized those two with their in-your-face-show-no-fear attitude. Together, they seemed almost invincible. He hated the two of them almost as much as he hated Hutchinson alone.

Forest reached for a gun inside his yellow jacket, but Hutch's voice rang out. "C'mon, Forest, try it!" A sincere invitation, full of anger. Starsky's gun was already out and aimed at the mobster.

"Hey, what is this?" Forest yelled. Hutch walked up to Forest and stared at him silently. Take a good long look. I'm still here.

You lost.

Hutch yanked Forest's gun from his jacket and threw him face first over the hood of the gray car, nearly falling himself. Starsky took over, searching Forest for any other weapons.

"Hey, what are the charges here?" Forest demanded, blustering.

"Don't bore me with details, your man sung like a stuck canary," said Starsky in that rushed, inflectionless voice he used when furious. He flipped Forest around roughly to face him and searched his jacket.

"Hutch, you all right?" Jeanie asked, her voice soft.

"Hey Jeanie, tell him about Vegas. Tell him about everything. You think he'll want you then?" Forest yelled as Starsky pulled him to the car.

"C'mon," Starsky said in a voice of utter contempt. He pushed Forest inside the Torino.

Hutch watched Jeanie, his face gentle, blue eyes clear and guileless. Her arms went around him, long hair curling around his bruised face over her shoulder. "You stay here," Hutch said, with a small smile. "I'll be back after we book him."

"No, I won't be here," Jeanie answered, her voice quivering. There were tears in her lashes. "Forest… what I was before…"

"Jeanie," Hutch said, quiet. There was a silent entreaty in his voice. A simple one. Don't.

But she knew it needed to be said. "…what happened to you because of me," she said, watching him. He tried to hide it from her, but she saw his eyes harden for an instant and recognized the truth—a truth she doubted Hutch realized yet. It mattered. It sealed the end of their relationship.

Don't think about it. There'll be all the time in the world for that later. "Look, I'll be back," Jeanie said, trying to smile. Never mind the tears, the quiver in her voice. "You can't get rid of me."

"No," he said with a defenseless, almost childlike directness, "If we're gonna end it, we're gonna end it. You won't be back."

Hutch touched her cheek. Jeanie's eyes filled with tears. "And you won't come looking for me either, will you?" Her hand came up to touch his, still on her face.

"No," he said, his voice soft and sad. He shook his head. "No." Jeanie tilted her cheek into his hand, looking at Hutch's bright hair and thought numbly, too close to the sun. Then the numbness was pierced with a sudden anguish: How will I ever get used to living with two feet on the ground again? She hugged Hutch's hand, snuggling into it.

He nodded, a small nod, and pulled his hand from the warm, smooth skin, hesitating a moment. No turning back. He walked away from her and back to the car where his partner waited.

Hutch leaned against the vehicle tiredly. "You okay?" Starsky asked him.

Hutch thought about what Starsky was really asking. It wasn't a black and white question; it was about shades of gray. "Yeah," he decided.

"Wanna drive my car?" Starsky touched Hutch's shoulder and smiled like a kid. Hutch snorted laughter.

Which was a helluva lot better than crying.

Forest found himself booked and in jail in record time. There were still reports to be written, private discussions with Captain Dobey to be had, deals to be made, but first Hutch needed rest.

Neither Starsky nor Dobey wanted a black mark on Hutch's official record. If it happened, if the heroin addiction showed up on his records, it'd be a handicap holding him back for the rest of his career, no matter how blameless he might be. Sure, there would be support for him, within the ranks. But for the brass, it would all be show. Nobody wanted a drug addict for a cop, even a recovered one. The risk was too high.

As for Hutch, he hadn't thought that far. He hadn't thought at all, as a matter of fact. He was still busy trying to keep his eyelids propped open, even with the air from car's open window blowing a bracing wind all around. He kept his eyes focused on some far-away place on the ride home. Thinking of Jeanie and what might have been.

Starsky cleared his throat. "Hutch… I gotta go back to the station, take care of some things. I'll be back as soon as I can."

"Back?" Hutch mumbled.

"Sure. I'm staying with you," Starsky said cheerily.

Hutch opened his eyes wider with an effort and turned to look at his partner. "Starsky, I don't need a babysitter."

"Yeah you do." Hutch opened his mouth, but Starsky cut him off. "Don't argue, or I'll move in with you permanently."

"Okay," Hutch said, knowing Starsky wouldn't leave him by himself.

"Really?" Starsky asked, pleased at the sudden capitulation. "You want me to move in permanently?" Hutch shot him an irritable look, and Starsky grinned full-wattage. "Listen, I was thinking. Wouldn't you rather stay at my place?"

Hutch sighed. "Starsk, I just want to go home and get some sleep."

"Oh. Well…" Starsky's fingers tapped the steering wheel.

"What is it?" Hutch snapped.

"What's what?" Starsky asked innocently.

"I'm too damned tired for this, Starsk," Hutch warned.

"I was kind of worried how you'd feel going home. That's all."

"Because those goons jumped me in my house?" Starsky nodded, and Hutch shrugged. "If I avoided every place where something went down against us, I'd be in trouble."

"Yeah, but it happened in your home. Ya know?" Starsky insisted, giving Hutch that worried, scrunched-up-eyebrows look.

"Gimme a break. You'll drive me to drugs." In spite of himself, Hutch threw a weary grin at his partner.

Starsky glared at him. "That's not funny."

Hutch slept so deeply, he never heard his partner enter the cottage. Starsky tip-toed around the place, grabbing a drink, then a pillow and blanket from the closet to sleep with. He pulled off his tennis shoes and sighed, leaning back on the comfortable couch. He'd originally intended to stop at his apartment for clothes and a toothbrush, but didn't take the time. He wanted to check in on Hutch. Then sleep. He'd go by the apartment tomorrow.

He was out of it almost before his head hit the pillow.

Starsky awakened hours later with the first, pre-dawn light washing through the window in blue shadows. He had a terrible crick in his neck. The pillow had slipped off the couch onto the floor. He sat up, grunting a little, trying to massage the ache. He rolled his head and yelped when the muscles pulled. Not a good idea. Still rubbing his eyes, he looked up.

The dim light was cold and clear on the bed. The empty bed.

Sour acid climbed Starsky's throat. He leapt up, all his grogginess gone. Quickly he checked the cottage. It was empty. Running to the door, he threw it open, calling his partner's name. The tension in his chest eased somewhat when he saw Hutch's sorry excuse for a car parked in the drive out to the side. Okay, then. So where was Hutch?

He concentrated on even steps, even breaths. He saw a woman, coming toward him, walking a small dog. She took a long look at him, hastily crossing the road, and he suddenly remembered how he must look – face bruised and beaten, shambling along. Like a drunk on a very bad bender. He found he really didn't care.

She was the last person he saw walking on the street, because nobody really walked in LA. But Hutch was. No way could he jog, not yet, but he could walk. He'd gotten some sleep but not enough. His legs quivered with every step so that he occasionally stumbled like a drunk, but better to be moving then just sitting there, doing nothing but listening to his own mind betray him, whispering in his ear, plucking slyly at his sleeve, trying to con him that the heroin was a NEED, that he had no choice in the matter.

He'd gotten through the roughest part, hadn't he? Yeah, he still had some physical symptoms and they weren't going to oblige him by going away anytime soon, but they'd faded from agony to discomfort. It was his mind that was the problem, replaying powerful memories of the incredible, relaxed euphoria he had while high. He kept coming back to them, and to the craving, over and over and over, like a tongue prodding a sore tooth. It made him furious, he wanted to disown the thoughts, deny the longing that masqueraded so cleverly as something he had to have.

He imagined the cravings magically excised from his body. Like a tumor, cut out surgically. It would hurt like hell, but at least he'd be clean. He'd be free. Wishful thinking. But after all was said and done, as long as the craving was part of him, he was still a junkie. No matter he'd been force-fed the stuff, no matter how it came to be. He was going to have to tough it out and claim his victory minute by minute.

Too bad victory had more than a passing resemblance to living hell.

Hutch kept walking, had been walking for God knows how long, until all he felt was exhaustion. Seemed like forever. He was too busy trying to keep on his feet to listen to the heroin trying to seduce him again. If that's what it took, then that's what he had to do. The sun blazed down from high overhead and haloed his blond hair, outlining every strand in bright gold as he trudged on and on through a residential neighborhood. Normal, everything was still so normal. Except him. There was a pane of glass between him and the rest of the world. He could see through it to the other side but he couldn't touch it.

A familiar engine approached from several blocks away, but Hutch concentrated on yet another step, then another. Starsky pulled up in the Torino. "Hutch, where the hell are you going?" he yelled.

"I signed up for the Iron Man Triathlon, this is the first leg," Hutch said tersely, still walking.

"Yeah? How ya doin'?" asked Starsky, trying for an even tone. He took a deep breath.

"First place, but it's early."

"No, dummy. You doing okay?" Starsky asked, idling the Torino down the road beside his partner.

"I entered the Triathlon, didn't I?" Hutch answered. His eyes were fixed on the road in front of him.

This was going nowhere. "Hey," said Starsky, trying another tack.

"What."

"Will you just stop a minute?" said Starsky, exasperated. "You look like you went three rounds with Ali."

Hutch stopped. "What is it?" He looked off down the road.

"You scared the hell out of me, that's what. Leaving that way. I've been looking everywhere for you," Starsky said, and there was something in the voice that made Hutch want to shy away from it. Concern, whatever. It was crazy, after everything they'd been through together. Especially the last few days.

"What did you think I was gonna do, Starsk? C'mon, say it—what are you afraid of?" Hutch said, finding anger. It helped him to meet his partner's eyes.

"Hutch," Starsky said, looking unhappy and a little angry himself. "If it pisses you off, then it pisses you off, but I'm keeping an eye on you."

Hutch stared at him, blue eyes clashing with blue. Finally dropped his gaze. "Yeah, yeah. Look, you gonna follow me all the way in that—that tomato?" he asked, gesturing.

"All the way where? And no," Starsky replied, and pulled over abruptly to the curb in front of Hutch.

There was a thump at the back of the car. "Hey! Watch out with that thing!" Hutch yelped. He'd collided with the rear-end of the Ford. He bent to massage his shin.

Starsky jumped out of the driver's side. "Sorry, Hutch. Really. You okay?" He clapped his friend on the shoulder.

With a grunt, Hutch fell forward over the Torino's apple red trunk. "You trying to kill me or what?" Hutch yelled. Starsky tried to help his partner up but Hutch brushed him off and stalked away.

Starsky hurried after him. "I said I'm sorry. Don't have to get in a snit."

"I don't get into 'snits'," Hutch replied frostily.

"Sure ya don't." Starsky settled into an easy stride beside Hutch. "You know… I could get used to this." He stretched and took a deep breath.

"Right. Starsky, you hate walking. It's GOOD for you, remember?" said Hutch, dodging Starsky's flailing arms.

"I'm turning over a new leaf. So whenever you feel like walking, let me know, okay." Starsky patted his own chest, sighing in contentment.

Hutch wasn't fooled. He snorted. "Think you're exaggerating it a little? Buddy." He watched his partner's face. Starsky looked tired, deepened creases radiating from the corner of his eyes. Curls rioted over his head, warm brown. A wave of affection washed over Hutch.

"It's true," Starsky protested. "I'll get lonesome at your place. Might as well keep you company, get out in the fresh air, get some exercise. Right?"

There was an awful feeling of fear, helplessness, and exposure all churning around in Hutch's stomach. He kept his face smooth with an effort, but he had to look away. "Starsk, I can see right through this watch-dog routine, and it's rattling my cage."

"Won't be the last time," Starsky said, and dropped a hand companionably on Hutch's shoulder.

Hutch stopped and held up a warning finger to his partner. "If you're coming with me on this walk, there'll be no more slapping, no more stretching. No more ANYTHING. Got it?"

"Got it.. ya delicate flower," Starsky assured him, squeezing Hutch's shoulder. He winked and let go.

Over the next few days, Hutch walked and slept. Most of the time, Starsky accompanied him on his walks, a fact Hutch both dreaded and enjoyed. Dreaded because dammit, the drug addiction wanted privacy. It wanted to jabber in his head, cajole, persuade, tell him over and over of the need. It wanted isolation.

But Hutch always knew who he was with Starsky, and his mind and body didn't ask for heroin so much with his partner around. It was an added bonus, watching Starsky do something healthy like walking. Next up was a re-intro into health food. Never say die, Hutch thought. He grimaced. Be nice if he could get his own appetite back.

Starsky had taken a few days off to "nurse-maid" his partner, as Hutch derisively labeled it, going into the station only to huddle with Dobey about Forest and Coney. Coney had already ratted Forest out, so he had nothing left to lose, including making deals with cops who might have some weight with the DA's office. Forest was more difficult, but even he had his weaknesses, weaknesses that Starsky had no compunction about using. Even if not strictly above-board.

That left only that bastard Morrisey, who was still in a coma. Alan Monk was dead.

Back at the cottage, Starsky tried to broach the subject of Hutch's abduction more than once. Each time, Hutch brushed aside his questions, snapping at Starsky if he persisted. Aside from a police report Hutch filed with more questions posed than answered, he was adamant, refusing to talk. Starsky would've tried to force the issue in a heartbeat if he were convinced it would help. But there was some underlying stuff in Hutch's head that complicated matters. He felt it. Some things he held back.

Morrisey was a nut case with a sadistic streak a mile wide, and Hutch was gonna have to bite the bullet and talk about it for the case, and more importantly, before it ate into him anymore, and soon. Hutch had almost no interest in eating –in fact, it almost seemed distasteful to him. He still drank sugary coffee. And beer. The fifth day Hutch had left his lunch mostly untouched earned him some Starsky-style scolding.

Hutch clutched his head and sank down on the couch. "This isn't real. You are NOT lecturing me on how to stay healthy," he said.

"Hey, I read too, you know," said Starsky.

"Read anything on heroin addicts lately?" Hutch sniped.

"Yeah. As a matter of fact," Starsky replied, looking entirely too self-righteous.

Hutch shot him a look. "So now you're an expert on junkies," he grumbled, rubbing his forehead.

"Nah. But I DID read a book."

"You read a book," Hutch repeated in a flat voice. "When'd you have time to read a book?"

"Contrary to popular opinion, I am a very fast reader. Books are our friends," Starsky said with relish. Hutch rolled his eyes as Starsky went on to quote: " 'Withdrawal can cause depression lasting for weeks.' Not to mention the overwhelming urge to… well, you know."

"Well, I know," Hutch mimicked, hiding the fact that he was touched. "Score a fix. You don't have to be afraid to say it, okay?"

"Who says I'm afraid? I just don't want to sound insensitive."

"Ah. Of course," Hutch sighed. He closed his eyes and leaned back on the couch. The couch sank down as Starsky plopped down next to him. Eyes still closed, he grabbed Starsky's hand in his own and squeezed it, sighing again.

In the middle of the night, Starsky opened his eyes. The door, he'd heard the door. He jumped up from the couch and staggered, still half-asleep. Looked at the bed. Empty. Starsky cursed, grabbing his jeans from over the back of the chair. He struggled into them, nearly falling down before he got them up, slid into his shoes and stumbled outside.

"Huuutch!" he yelled, not caring how late it was, and ran out to the road. He saw the lone figure less than a block ahead in the glow of a streetlight and jogged after him.

"Dammit, Hutch, this shit isn't working for me, running off in the middle of the night," he said, panting. His head was still dizzy with sleep. He bent down to adjust the heel of his shoe.

"Nothing's working," Hutch mumbled, striding down the darkened road. His hair fluttered around his head as a breeze came up.

"What?" asked Starsky, hurrying to keep up. He shivered. Hutch ignored his partner, just put his head down and walked. "C'mon, Hutch. Talk to me," he said, struggling to keep his voice low.

"All the walks in the world. They don't work. Coffee. Nothing. That bastard Morrisey is in my head, always with a needle pointed at my arm. And I want it. What the hell am I supposed to do to get IT OUT OF MY HEAD!" Hutch wouldn't look at him. He watched his own slanting shadow instead.

"Talk to me. Tell me what happened," Starsky said, willing Hutch to listen.

"Talk doesn't help," said Hutch irritably.

"You wouldn't know. Haven't tried it," Starsky retorted. He put a hand on Hutch's arm, but Hutch twisted from his grasp. Starsky grabbed him again. "We're going back to talk about this. Now." Starsky stared at his partner with blue steel eyes, cool in the dim light from the street lamp above.

"What's the point?" Hutch said, half-whisper, half yell. "Pure and simple, I'm a junkie, Starsky, and I can't get rid of the feeling that I'm not whole without the stuff in my veins. Talking won't make the problem go away."

"I think it IS the problem, in fact I'm bettin' the reason you want the smack so goddamned bad has to do with Morrisey and what he did to you. You're going to tell me about it, Hutch," Starsky said, determined.

"Shut up," Hutch snarled, and walked on.

Starsky grabbed his arm again, stopping him. "Face it, you ain't gettin' better, not on your own. Spill."

Hutch stared at him, his eyes gone blank. Shutting Starsky out. "Fine. That asshole Morrisey grabbed me again, gave me another joy ride. I slammed a chair in his head and waited for the cavalry. That would be you. End of story."

"C'mon, Hutch!" Starsky yelled at whisper level, trying to keep the whole neighborhood from coming out to witness the argument. Hutch started walking again. Starsky watched him for a minute, struggling to regain his own cool, then followed.

"Stop following me, Starsk," Hutch flung over his shoulder.

"Goin' with you," Starsky said, stubbornly. Hutch flung up his hands in disgust.

Hutch's stride was so determined and sure that Starsky would have bet he had a destination in mind, yet mile after mile passed, and they didn't stop or slow down. Suddenly the level of sheer desperation in each step hit Starsky between the eyes…as if maybe Hutch had bartered with the devil for a magical number of steps to take, some impossibly high number that, if reached, would squash the temptation to get high once and for all.

The two of them walked for hours, all the passing houses just milestones on the road to Hutch's private hell. And while Starsky would walk straight through the gates and into the devil's parlor for his partner, he was afraid it wasn't enough. It was Hutch's monkey and Hutch's back, and there was only so much of the burden Starsky could shoulder. The desperation that Starsky sensed in his partner made him afraid, because it was something that gathered speed and strength and would not be averted if something didn't give.

"Can we go home now?" Starsky finally asked, gently.

Hutch stopped and looked at him, the shadowed light emphasizing exhausted rings beneath his eyes, sweat sparkling on his face. "Don't ask me what happened anymore. It's over. That's the end of it."

Starsky stepped closer, fixing his eyes on the bruised gaze of his partner. He didn't answer, just wrapped his arms around the taller man. Hutch made a surprised sound, then sagged into him. Starsky rubbed his back and flashed back to the room over Huggy's. It sent a chill down his spine.

"I mean it, Starsky," said Hutch, pulling back. "It's the end." He swiped at his eyes and looked at his partner, almost pleading.

Starsky shook his head slowly no. He couldn't give Hutch other than the truth. "I'm the one who saw what the bastard did to you the first time. It won't go away."

"I SAID IT'S THE END!" Hutch yelled, forgetting to lower his voice.

"If it were the end would you be walking out here God knows where in the middle of the night instead of sleeping?" Starsky asked, his voice soft as he could make it. Hutch made a noise, half-laughter, half-something else, and stood there in the dark, arms hanging heavily at his sides. Starsky waited.

"Got nothing better to do, I guess," Hutch muttered at last. He rubbed the bridge of his nose wearily.

"Yeah. Let's go home, partner," said Starsky. "Uh.. Hutch? Just where the hell is home, anyway?"

The hospital corridor was long, narrow and gray, the overhead fluorescent lights rippling over the waxed floor. "How long's he been awake, Starsky? Why didn't you tell me?" Hutch demanded as they strode down the hall together.

"Since yesterday. And we're here, aren't we?" Starsky replied, dodging a lunch cart.

Morrisey had finally come out of his coma. Starsky had had a little visit with the man hours after he'd awakened. The slimeball wouldn't deal unless Hutch was present, and no amount of threats made him change his mind. What worried Starsky was the possibility that Morrisey intended to use his partner in a bartering game, and have himself one more helluva good time before packing it up to prison.

"You ready?" Starsky asked, pulling himself out of his thoughts as they approached Morrisey's room. He placed his fingertips against the door and stood in front of it, almost barring Hutch's way. He really did not want this to go down.

"Let's go," Hutch said and pushed the door in ahead of Starsky. Morrisey lay on the bed, his skull wrapped in bandages, blond hair sticking up in tufts behind them. His pale eyes opened as Hutch walked in, closely followed by Starsky.

"Detective Hutchinson, it's a pleasure," said Morrisey. He smiled. It was jarring because it looked genuine, made bizarre by the bruised and swollen half of his face.

"The pleasure's all yours," Starsky snapped. He watched Morrisey and suddenly flashed back on a crazy memory. A former girlfriend's pet—a large gray parrot. Whenever he was in the same room, the damned thing tracked him with these piercing eyes, even turning on its perch to keep him always front and center. Irritating, and a little spooky. Morrisey looked at Hutch like that, going after him with his eyes, not letting go.

Hutch held out a restraining hand to his partner and moved next to the head of Morrisey's bed. "I'm here. What do you want?" His voice was clipped, impersonal.

Morrisey raised his brows. "I thought it was you that wanted something."

"The question is, what do you want in return?" Hutch's jaw clenched.

"Detective Hutchinson.. it is still Detective, isn't it? I mean, nobody heard of your fondness for the big H yet, have they? Because that would just be too bad."

"You got a point, Morrisey?" Starsky said, his eyelids at half-mast over his eyes.

"You in a hurry?" Morrisey asked, almost drawling. "Look at you, Hutch. You're almost back to normal. Like nothing ever happened, right?"

"Hutchinson to you."

"Do you still wake up in the middle of the night with your skin crawling?" Morrisey asked. His voice was low, a snake rustling over reeds.

Hutch gave in to anger, pulse beating loudly in his ears. "You think you're safe here in the hospital?" he asked, though his voice remained quiet, eyes pinned to Morrisey's.

"You threatening me, Detective?" Morrisey returned, mocking. He struggled to sit up in bed.

"Enough," Starsky's voice was low, with an edge to it. A warning.

"Up to you," Hutch said tightly.

"So, you want me to keep it quiet that you're a junkie. That right?" Neither detective bothered to answer. "Okay, here's what I want in return. Real easy. I'd like Hutch here to have a little pow-wow with me. Alone."

"Just a little talk, huh?" Starsky asked. He moved up opposite of Hutch to the other side of the bed. "Now what is that gonna get you?" he asked, and leaned a fist on Morrisey's pillow. His leather jacket creaked. Morrisey's eyes rolled up to consider Starsky's grim face for a moment, then crawled back to Hutch.

"That all?" Hutch asked.

"That's it. Pass a little time with me, Mr. Bigshot Detective, and we'll talk about it. Probably go better with me at the trial, anyway, to leave out some of the fun we had."

"No way. No damned way," said Starsky, eyes hot on Morrisey.

Hutch gave his partner a look. Back off. "Now?"

"Now or never, pal."

Hutch shrugged. "I'm up for it."

Starsky opened his mouth, started to say something on the order of what the fuck are you thinking, or are you? and then shut it. As much as this felt wrong, it wasn't his decision to make. He wanted to argue the point with Hutch, but sparring in front of the psycho would only make things worse.

"Starsky." Hutch said, looking pointedly at the door, telling him plainly to exit the room. But Starsky saw his partner standing there, thinner than he'd ever seen him, the anger in his eyes hiding the uncertainty of what he was getting into, and the last thing in the world Starsky wanted to do was go through that door.

He went through it. He stood in the hallway, chewing a fingernail and wishing he'd put Morrisey into hell when he'd had the chance.

"Sit down, Hutch, sit down. Get comfortable. Since this is my one and only reward, I'd like to take advantage of it," Morrisey said affably.

"So talk," said Hutch, still standing.

"You never answered my question. How do you feel?" Hutch didn't bother to answer. Morrisey sighed, an exaggerated sound, and tried a different question "What happened to Jeanie, where is she?"

Where's Jeanie? echoed in a long, dark corridor of his mind, and suddenly he was tied to a chair and blindfolded. Hutch blinked the memory back and shrugged again, maintaining an indifferent façade. "She left."

"She left you?" Morrisey asked, and reached up to scratch the back of his head in elaborate nonchalance. Feigned realization, dawning. He tapped his chin thoughtfully with a finger. "Ah. She knows you're hooked on the skag. Too bad. Can't blame her, now can you?" He cleared his throat. "Could you pour me some water? I'm parched," he asked, never missing a beat, and gestured at a plastic pitcher by the bed. His eyes were mild, expectant.

Hutch blinked, surprising himself when he poured a cup full of ice water and handed it off. Morrisey swallowed it down and thanked him as if they were at a tea party. Unreality, here I come, Hutch thought, and laughed a little. Morrisey cocked his head and studied Hutch. He smiled. It was unpleasant, almost a leer.

"So you're feeling just fine and dandy."

"This is getting old, Morrisey, but whatever makes you happy," Hutch replied, trying to regain his equilibrium. "I'll try not to fall asleep."

"Tough guy, huh? Weren't so tough when I put that gun to your head," Morrisey said. His eyes were pale chips of ice.

"Funny, I was thinking the same thing when I bashed your head in," Hutch said, his voice rushed, angry. He reached up and forced himself to touch the bandages on Morrisey's head. Morrisey jerked back, surprised. "Still hurt?" Hutch asked. It sounded like a threat.

Morrisey took a deep breath, settling himself. "Yeah, it hurts." He reached up and brushed his fingertips against Hutch's. Hutch willed himself not to shrink away. "How about you, cop? What do you think about at night, when the house is quiet?—When you're all alone?" Slowly, carefully, Hutch pulled his hand away from the bandages. Unthinking, he wiped it on his pants. "Do you remember how it felt to be so loose.. so relaxed? Your veins just tighten, draw up, wanting the juice, don't they? You'll never feel that good again in your life. Unless… well, it's never too late, is it?" Morrisey wallowed in the words. His pores, his pupils, his nostrils, all of him opened up, waiting for the response.

"Getting off on someone else's pain. Don't you see how sick that is?" The words were angry, but Hutch was oddly distanced from them. He remembered being high, and like Morrisey, he opened up to the memories, though for him it was a nightmare, playing against his will, if not against his desires.

"Not just someone else's pain. Yours." Morrisey said, his voice a soft obscenity. Hutch swallowed against the urge to throw up. He took a deep breath, nose filling with the antiseptic smell of the hospital, and made himself grow very still. He didn't want to betray his emotions, Morrisey fed from them like a fucking vampire.

Morrisey grew quiet as well, mirroring Hutch. Thinking. But it's not just your pain I'm dealing with, is it? Starsky shares it with you, shares his strength, sticks to you like glue. All the pieces clicked together. "You haven't spent a night alone yet, have you?" He smiled again, another glad, real smile. His eyes sparkled. "Curly's been baby-sitting you, isn't that right?" Hutch didn't speak, couldn't move. Morrisey listened to his own thoughts, staring at Hutch like a starling does a worm.

"Here's the deal," said Morrisey. "Tomorrow night I'll call the police station and leave a message. I'll ask you to come to the hospital— threaten to change my mind about our deal if you don't. I'd bet my bottom dollar that Curly won't like the idea of you coming up here again. No, he'll be the one to show up and keep me company, don't you think?"

"Your funeral," Hutch said, but Morrisey saw how pale his face had turned.

"Not him I'm interested in, haven't you figured that out yet? I'm betting your babysitter's kept you clean. I want you to have one night alone, a little time to figure out what you want without interference. A gift from me, Hutch."

Hutch pushed aside his fear and thought about it. He had to face down the nights by himself, sooner or later, didn't he? Apparently it was to be sooner.

And then he couldn't think about it anymore, he was insane to get out of the goddamned hospital room with its sharp and sterile artificial smell, a cover for the sickness and disease running rampant through the narrow corridors. It mirrored the mask he wore, hiding the rot of addiction inside.

"Fine, I'll go for it," Hutch said, forcing the words out. "But this is the end. If you blow your end of the deal, all the prison bars in the world won't keep you safe."

"I know that, pal. One day, one of us is gonna kill the other. I won't forget you."

Hutch shook his head. "You've built some kind of pathetic fixation about me in that—that freak brain of yours. Fine, you go ahead, but don't expect me to return the favor. You're a blip on the screen, you got that, pal? A year from now I won't know or give a damn if you're alive or dead."

Morrisey colored. He reached out and clutched Hutch's arm. "I won't be in prison forever. I'll be back for you."

"You do that," said Hutch, putting his other hand over Morrisey's, squeezing. He leaned over and thrust his face closer. "You do it."

Hutch just looked out at him from behind some mental wall when Starsky asked about Morrisey. It was a wall Starsky couldn't go through, over or under.

"Why can't you see what's happening? Morrisey is playing you!" Starsky said, jabbing his finger at his partner. It was early evening. Starsky had ordered a pizza, but he was too intent on his partner to eat just yet. Hutch didn't even look at it.

"He wanted another shot at me, tried to get to me, but it was pretty pathetic. No big deal. Why do you keep going over this?" Hutch finally asked.

"Because the more you keep saying it's over, it's the end, the more it sounds like a prayer instead of the truth," Starsky said. Hutch looked at Starsky impatiently, his eyes hard. The silence stretched out between the two. "You are lyin' to me, Hutch."

Hutch threw his hands up in the air and stood. "About what?" he yelled. "For God's sake, Starsky, you're not making any sense!"

Starsky kept his gaze locked to his partner's. "I'm the closest thing you got to a lifeline and you keep on throwing it back." Nothing. He didn't know how to get through his partner's damned thick skull—all he got was more of the stubborn Hutch look. Starsky went to the fridge and twisted the cap off a brew, handing another to Hutch. He sat down on the couch and looked up at his partner. "This thing is getting the best of you—you can't walk it down, you've given it everything you have. It hasn't worked."

"Maybe I just wanted to get you to exercise, ever think of that?" Hutch threw back a swig of beer. "By the way, nice euphemism: 'this thing'."

"I swear to God," Starsky muttered, and stood. "You want me to call you a junkie, does it make you feel better to beat yourself up? C'mon Hutch, talk to me." Hutch swallowed more beer and wiped his mouth, not answering. "Hey. You." Starsky snapped his fingers before Hutch's face. Hutch frowned and swatted at his hand. "Remember me—your partner? You think I'll just disappear if you don't answer? The only one I see disappearing is you, buddy."

"Starsk, what in hell are you talking about?" Hutch asked, his temper starting to rise.

"I'm talking about the fact that maybe, just maybe you could have fought this off all on your own exceptin' for the fact that Morrisey got you by the balls and squeezed so hard you're lucky to remember your name. He's still in your head, or the heroin is. Something. It's blind-sided you."

"What are you, my shrink? This Dr. Starsky role is pretty impressive. You oughta use it undercover sometime." Hutch tossed back the rest of the beer and slammed the glass bottle into the garbage so hard that it broke.

Starsky never even looked towards the sound of shattering glass. "I got a vested interest in this one. So, whatever it takes."

"Maybe there's nothing you can do, Starsk," Hutch said, eyebrows raised, gaze hard on his partner's. Starsky met it with a look equally stubborn. Hutch sighed and rubbed his forehead.

The phone rang, and Hutch froze. Starsky cursed and answered it. "Yeah." He listened. "Now? Why now?" More silence. "Listen, Captain—" and paused. "No way. I'm going." He hung up the phone and faced Hutch.

"Morrisey. I'm going over."

"What's up?" Hutch stood up.

"Morrisey wants to see you. He's trying to squirm off the hook." Starsky eyed Hutch, who grabbed his brown leather jacket. "Where do you think you're going?"

"Where does it look like?"

"Not this time," Starsky said, shrugging on his own jacket.

"This is my mine, Starsk," Hutch said, catching his partner's arm in his hand.

"Ours. He sees you, he's gettin' what he wants. I really don't get that, by the way," Starsky said, trying for a small joke.

Hutch's head was roaring. Don't leave me dontleavemedontleaveme— He managed to smile a little. His fingers fell from Starsky's arm.

"Grab some of that pizza. I'll see you soon," Starsky added, squeezing Hutch's shoulder on the way out.

Hutch watched the door slam. No. You won't.

Beer makes the world go round. At least for tonight. Hutch eyed the amber liquid in his bottle. He took another pull and watched the beer wash back down to the bottom. Bubbles frothed on top.

Slowly his gaze traveled to the pizza. Ugh. When was the last time food tasted good? Normally he didn't pay a lot of attention to food. Then he remembered. He and Starsky had gone to Huggy's for dinner after arresting a pimp with a nasty and regular habit of stocking his stable with underage girls. He'd just had a burger and fries, but it had tasted so good. When was that, a week, 10 days ago?

Starsky had told a shitload of awful jokes he'd heard from Millie's brother up at the station. Hutch had stopped listening after the second one. One more and Starsky had succeeded in driving Huggy away from the table. Hutch had considered clueing Starsky in, then decided it would keep until he finished eating. You'd think the moron could have figured out for himself why everyone kept walking away from him. Millie's brother was about the unfunniest guy on the planet. At least until Starsky had started repeating his jokes.

Hutch came back to the present. Quiet, too quiet. He tried the TV for awhile, but the empty chatter got on his nerves. He grabbed another beer and found himself pacing the floor with it. He swigged more beer, but it only dulled the wanting.

Goddammit, he was tired of this shit. Shouldn't this be getting easier by now? What was he gonna do to get his mind off the junk?

He could always whack off. He chuffed a small, grim laugh at the thought and slammed the beer bottle into the wall. The wall bled beer and broken glass as he grabbed his jacket and walked out the door.

Half an hour later and Hutch wondered what the hell he was doing. Starsky was right, all the walks in the world weren't going take away the desire to get high. But he'd keep walking. He was afraid of the alternative. He walked faster, not bothering to keep to residential areas this time. Fuck it. Maybe he'd get lucky and some punk would jump him in the darkness. Take his mind off things, if he didn't end up getting killed.

Oh, he felt it, all right, his veins drawing up in his arms like rubber bands, so tight it hurt, the singsong need, no, WANT. Calling out for him, begging him to listen. Or was it only a want? It never went away. If you wanted something long enough, hard enough, did it become a need?

He walked forever, scenes without end in his mind, accompanying him. Him and Jeanie at Huggy's, laughing, kissing. Vague nightmare memory of Forest slapping him around while he begged. God how he hated that he begged. The remorseless burn of a cigarette scorching his skin, pushing deeper. It hurt, and it hurt his mind, no matter how many cotton wool protected layers the heroin brought with it. Morrisey's voice, whispering in his ear, "You hurt in my dreams." Yeah, all just one big wet dream for Morrisey the nut job. But what was it that made him Morrisey's obsession, the one he picked to come after, dominate, annihilate?

It bothered him more than a little that he was the freak's hard-on come true. Was there some sign on his forehead, invisible to him, advertising something that only the likes of Morrisey looked for and could read? What did it say? He stumbled over the curb, cried out pain, but not because of his clumsiness, and then cursed Morrisey. Fucking freak. But all the anger in the world couldn't hide the fact that he was scared.

And just why was he sure he knew Morrisey so well? But he knew. He'd been completely under the thumb of Forest's goons for days, and Morrisey was the biggest threat of them all. Hutch sucked up the overt and covert information Morrisey broadcasted about himself like water in a desert. It was a survivor instinct, knowing your enemy. Hutch didn't even know how he came up with some of his ideas about Morrisey, but he trusted them.

He drifted, picturing the white powder in his mind, felt the tourniquet tight around his arm, his pulse thumping strongly against it, remembered the rush, the heat of his skin, the wide-open feel of smack insinuating itself into his veins. Seductive, as good as getting laid. He remembered long blond hair, tanned skin, slim, elegant body naked in his arms. Jeanie. The thought of her that way still made him horny, but it had nothing to do with love. He didn't miss her. He missed something else.

The thought shocked him out of his reverie. He'd thought he was in love, and he didn't miss her? Forest and his goons grabbing him and hooking him on the junk didn't make him angry at her. She couldn't help that. But the fact that she knew he was missing and hadn't told anyone about it, now that mattered, a helluva lot.

But then he was angry at everything lately.

More memories, submerging Hutch in their wake: being so wasted he couldn't remember or care where he was, how filthy he was; neverending darkness, neverending wanting. He sank further, the need or want or whatthefuckever threatening him. In his mind he put a face to the need. It was black-eyed, red-rimmed, sullen. And if he didn't feed it, it would feed from him. Was already.

Starsky, I'm going down, help me— The thought came from beneath all the other crap, blowing it away like a bomb-blast from somewhere deep, desperate, piercing the darkness. Made him wake from the nightmare and come to himself. He stopped and looked around for the first time in a long time, heard the traffic, saw the streetlights. Unbelievable. He'd walked to downtown Bay City.

He found himself in front of The Brig, a small sign flashing in the dark. A bar, one of many on this street, most still open. Some of them stayed open all night. He walked inside, the cooler air pleasant on his skin. He was exhausted. He sat down on a stool and looked around. It was nondescript but clean, with a wide maroon counter and small round stools.

"What can I get you?" the bartender asked, and Hutch turned, ordering a beer. He took a long drink and wet his parched mouth. It tasted wonderful. He tried not to think of anything but the tang of the beer on his tongue, and before he knew it, he'd had two. Then three.

"This seat taken?" a drawling, feminine voice asked. Hutch turned, at first noticing only the long leg inches away from his thigh. He followed the leg up to the face of a tall woman with long blonde hair. She wore a simple black sheath, form fitting. Sweet Alice, one of Belle's ladies of the night. He'd spoken to her a few times in passing on the job. Never busted her and never would. Had better things to do than make trouble for people like Alice.

"How're you doin, Sweet Alice?" he asked, and though he didn't want to be bothered, there was something in her face that made him smile. An innate kindness. Alice smiled too, her pretty face lighting up, big blue eyes shining. "Can I buy you a drink?" he offered. He waved at the bartender.

"Sure, if you like. I'll have a scotch." She sat down, the bartender setting her drink before her. She sipped it once, then again. "Say, what are you doin' here so late? Where's your partner?"

"I'm on my own time," Hutch said, but Alice's big eyes still stared at him. He smiled again. "What is it?"

"If you don't mind my bein' blunt, you don't…." she said, then trailed off and looked away. She ran a finger around the rim of her drink.

"I don't…?" Hutch asked, leaning forward, prompting, eyes tracing Alice's mobile features.

"You don't look yourself. I mean, well, somethin's wrong. Isn't it?" she asked, her eyes direct on his again. He could swim in those eyes, pale, earnest, shining. He didn't understand how a woman in her line of business could wear her feelings on her sleeve, but she did.

"Nothing for you to worry about," he said, startled at the feelings she'd invoked. She looked wistful, somehow. Impulsively he put his hand over hers, lying on the bar, and squeezed her fingers. She looked down, and he pulled his hand away.

"No, no," she protested, and grasped his hand, pulled it back up. He laughed a little, surprised. "You didn't bother me. Not with what I do for a living," and the wistful look returned.

Hutch's smile faded, replaced by something sad. "I know what you do, Alice," he said, and then it was his turn to look away.

"It's not so bad. Honest," she said, trying to reassure him. She tugged on his hand like a kid hoping for attention. He had to smile, but it faltered. Wishing better things for her. They were silent.

"So, you goin' to tell me what you're doin' out here, lookin' all lonesome and pitiful?" she asked at last.

"Pitiful, huh?" he asked, and this time his eyes smiled at her as well as his mouth. He shook his head, bemused. She pushed a strand of blond hair behind her shoulder and nodded sagely, taking another sip of her drink.

"Well, I.. it's just…" Hutch said, stuttering. This whole situation felt surreal and somewhat ridiculous. Alice covered his other hand with hers. Her hand, then his, then hers again lay on the counter before them.

"I heard you disappeared for awhile. That got anything to do with it?" she asked gently. He stared at her. Finally nodded. "You gonna be all right?"

"I will be," he said, not knowing if he believed it or not. Why in the hell am I telling her this?

"I'm sorry for whatever is botherin' you, but I'm glad you showed up here," Alice said, the knowledge and sympathy in her eyes far older than she was. It took his breath away. He put his other hand on top of hers, and now all four of their hands were stacked together perfectly on the counter. He grappled in the far corner of his mind with the instant connection they'd formed, trying to understand it and maybe back away from it. "Alice, I'm not here for, uh, company," he said, his voice soft and husky.

"Have another beer, Hutch," was all she said, taking a sip from her glass, and her eyes were as solemn as church on Sunday.

Down the road at Huggy Bear's Bar and Grill, Huggy was on hand for some interesting news from a customer who'd come from over at Brig's. Apparently Blondie the cop was being entranced by the woman of wiles, Sweet Alice herself. He shouldn't even be surprised. Hutch was one bleeding heart, and Sweet Alice was definitely one to bleed over. He didn't know whether to laugh or call Starsky, knowing that Hutch was still pretty vulnerable to all kinds of things bad for him. The laughter won first, Huggy snorting softly under his breath. He was of the personal opinion that Sweet Alice was bad for no man, though sadly the same could not be said of men for her.

Then he picked up the phone.

She was a heartbreaker. How could he have only just seen it tonight? He watched her lips move as she talked, the tiny lines in the corner of her eyes that grew deeper when she laughed. His fingers brushed the line of skin down the shoulder strap of her dress. By God he was infatuated with her. Or drunk.

Both. He was sure it was both. He was drunker than hell, he still wanted a fix, and he wanted this woman. Real bad. Since he was already drunk, that left getting on to the business of a fix or this woman. Either or? Neither? Eeeny meeny miney mo? Hutch tried to focus on his fingers and count.

"My my, Hutch, I think I may have let you drink too much. That wouldn't be at all good, sweetness," Alice said and laughed, leaning her head on his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around her, finally stopped looking at his fingers and looked down at her instead. She raised her head, her eyes solemn and wanting, asking him to want her, too. Brushing her hair back over her shoulder with gentle fingers, he lowered his lips, moving them against hers, a breeze against silk, slow and caressing. They held each other close.

"You care to come with me?" she asked, pulling back, all straight-forward simplicity.

"I'm a big bad cop, don't you know that?" Hutch protested, smiling. "You're trying to steal my heart, Alice."

"Am I goin' to, do you think?" she asked, those big eyes staying on his. Without warning, his memory took him to the nightmare that was Morrisey, eyes clinging to his in the hospital like a slimy parasite. He shuddered and bit back a sound deep in his throat. He let his head hang back, and Alice got up off her stool and moved to stand between his spread legs, fingers on his thighs, rubbing lightly. Hutch's eyes snapped open, his body reacting to her touch like a bullet to the brain. Her fingers moved to his shoulders, touching, soothing. The bartender watched closely, deciding he didn't have to throw them out yet.

"You just might, Alice," Hutch answered her finally, his voice low and sweet in her ears. He wrapped his arms around her. "You just might."

She nodded as if it were true. "C'mon now, my Handsome Hutch," she said and grasping his hand, led him out of the bar.

Starsky missed them by five minutes.

In the darkness of her apartment, they kissed, first sweet, languorous, shared heat, which progressed into trying to eat each other alive. He touched her, couldn't stop, fingers aching for her bare, hot skin, but not moving to take off her clothes. She could have screamed. Finally she forced herself from his arms and moved away. His arms fell limply at his sides. She waited, watching the blond head, the curling ends catching the dim light from the outside light over the pool.

He looked up, frustrated and pained and awkward. "It's just that, I, uh, never meant to do this," he said, trying to meet her eyes in the dusky apartment.

"Hutch?" she said his name firm, yet soft, and took a step back towards him. "I never said this was business. I just want to feel special. Normal. Just one night. If you want me."

"If I want you," he repeated, his voice raw, disbelieving. He was beside her in two strides.

It was past dawn and Hutch was still drunk off his gourd, though pleasantly so, as far as Starsky could see. Didn't help that after he'd called Starsky to pick him up at Sweet Alice's that he'd guzzled still more beer at home. What was it with these corn-fed boys from out west? They never knew when to stop.

One minute Hutch would feel fine, act fine, dealing the cards, and the next he'd be back in his head with Morrisey, alone in the hospital. Or Morrisey telling him what a beautiful junkie he was, how he begged for the juice. He could be in the middle of laughing helplessly at something Starsky said and then Morrisey would be there in between them and he couldn't hear Starsky anymore, Morrisey's voice overrode him. Why hadn't he just blown the son of a bitch away right there in the hospital? Why hadn't Starsky?

Of course, all this shooting was easier to contemplate when it was just in your head and you were lit like a Christmas tree.

"…you gotta promise me, no more running off. I'm gettin' old before my time." Starsky was chattering, and Hutch just caught part of it. "I can't believe I played right into that sicko's plan tonight. Although," Starsky added slyly, "There's no harm done, you having some fun tonight, huh. I gotta admit, I'd never expected you to find the, uh, fun that you found." His lips twitched, trying not to outright grin. He laid down some cards. "Gimme two."

"'Fun that I found'," Hutch repeated, sarcasm edging his voice. "What's that supposed to mean, exactly?"

"Calm down. Didn't mean nothin'." Starsky waggled his fingers, and Hutch fumbled two cards over.

Starsky couldn't play cards worth a shit. Okay, maybe it was Hutch who couldn't play worth a shit. Whatever.

"So, but you did okay while I was gone, huh? I mean, basically," said Starsky, looking at his cards.

"Yeah, Starsk. Okay. I asked Alice if she knew of a connection," Hutch said casually, discarding two cards of his own. He didn't look back up, just stared at the cards.

Starsky went rigid. "And?" he said, carefully.

"And she told me hell no in that pretty Southern voice of hers. No how, no way. Said she wasn't going to let me mess myself up."

"I'm starting to like her more and more," Starsky said, relaxing. "So.. what else did you talk about?"

"Nosey, aren't you?" Hutch asked, and threw his hand down in frustration. "I'm out. Screw it." He settled back on the couch and took a sip of beer. "We talked about everything. How she got here, what she's doing, why. It's a damned shame. She's a wonderful woman."

"What else?" Starsky asked, trying to sound casual.

Hutch made an irritated sound. "And I told her what happened to me." His throat tightened before the end of the sentence. He almost couldn't finish it.

"Hutch, you okay?" Starsky asked him, and leaning forward, put a hand on his partner's knee. He hiccupped. Whoa. Guess he'd had more beer since they'd been home than he realized. "Penny for your thoughts."

"Ya know what, Starsky, Hutch up and left the building. I can still see him, though," Hutch said, sprawling back on the couch cushion in the corner. He transferred his gaze to his beer and picked at the bottle label.

Starsky went very still. He squeezed Hutch's knee gently. "Yeah? Where is he?"

"Maybe back on that bed up at Huggy's, begging for a damned fix." said Hutch, with only a small slur betraying his inebriated state. He looked over at his partner blearily, which promptly ruined the impression.

"Hutch—Hutch," Starsky started, disturbed. He cleared his throat. "I didn't think you wanted to see that in your head anymore, and I know you didn't want me to remember it. Why?"

"Idiot. We've seen enough of him, that's why. He belongs in a dark hole somewhere, buried alive. Forget him."

"Can't do that, man."

"You're full of shit. We got any more beer?"

"This shit ain't gonna go away just because you want it to."

"Oh my God," said Hutch, and the words sounded like swearing.

"What? What?" Starsky said, leaning forward, dark eyes widening. His lips parted slightly.

"You've been reading psychology books, too. Haven't you?" Hutch accused. "God. Please don't let it be Freud. I don't think I could stand it." He started laughing and couldn't seem to stop, but when got to the point where it was more sad than funny, he did just that.

Starsky's mouth shut like a trap, and his brows lowered. "Okay, I've had enough of this," he said, erupting. He waved his arms about. "SHIT. You're a smart guy, why can't you use those smarts on yourself? You're givin' all the garbage that happened to you more power, trying to deny it. Tell me what the fuck Morrisey did to you, Hutch, because I ain't up to being your shrink."

"Looks like you're doing fine from here," Hutch answered, and Starsky couldn't decide if he were sincere or mocking. "Did you get us another beer yet?"

"I'd hate to go back to school for a license to practice shrinkism just to get you over this. And we've had enough beer. It's tomorrow already, dummy, see the light coming through the window?"

"Shrinkism," Hutch repeated, laughing, and Starsky grinned like a loon. Slowly the humor left Hutch's face. "You can't just force this stuff out of me, or is that what you're trying to do?" Starsky didn't answer, but his face looked stricken. Hutch nodded, satisfied. "Nah, I know you weren't. Even though it felt like it sometimes." He swallowed and cleared his throat, looking off in the distance. "Let's see, what did good old Morrisey do. Mmm, he smothered me," he said, looking thoughtful. "Pinched my nose and mouth a good long while. Just about passed out. Or how 'bout when he put a gun to my head and fired it? Buddy, let me tell you, I thought it was lights out for me. It was empty, but I didn't know. That was the second go-round, you know, after the cigarette burns, which I barely remember. He had a goddamned thing for me, you know? Loved to watch me get high so he could lord it over me. And I loved getting it. Me and Morrisey, melded in a true symbiotic relationship. End of story," said Hutch. His voice was perfectly mild, but his face was white as a sheet of paper, eyes staring at something not in the room.

All the blood rushed to Starsky's extremities and flushing face. The thought of Hutch with a gun to his head, waiting for that last pull on the trigger, threw a red mist in front of Starsky's eyes and nearly obscured his partner. "I can't believe you didn't tell me."

"You saw the cigarette burns. We both knew I wasn't on a picnic. Anyway, I told you before, it's over," said Hutch, still in that expressionless voice.

"Shut up with that!" Starsky bellowed. Leaning forward, he grabbed Hutch by the shirt and shook him. "Forest wanted Jeanie, he hurt you for it, tried to kill you, but first he tried to make you nothing. He lost, remember?"

Hutch laughed but there wasn't an ounce of humor in it. "Right."

"Yeah. Then why does it feel like he won?" Starsky's voice was low, intent. "Dammit, you got away from three of his men when you were stoned out of your mind, and later managed to knock Morrisey out and call the police station, for God's sake. You won out over them twice, even tied up, helpless and beaten. And you've been off the shit for over a week. I got nothing but admiration for you. Besides the fact that I'd like to pound some sense into what you laughingly call a brain, that is."

"You're on a roll, buddy. You want to help me, answer me this. Why me?" It was a real, desperate question, hidden beneath the sarcasm.

"Why you—?" Starsky repeated, bewildered.

"Yeah. Why did Morrisey go after me like that?" Hutch asked, voice rising at the end.

Starsky looked down at the couch for a long time. Then he raised his head and spoke quietly. "Maybe there's no answer. Least wise, not one that will help. Ya know? Like when survivors wonder why they make it and others don't. Just.. that's how it was. C'mon Hutch, we see it everyday. Have you ever found any reasons that really make sense?"

Hutch thought about it, face shadowed.

"One thing I do know," Starsky said. "It's not your fault. Nobody asks for that."

Hutch looked at him, finally nodding. "Maybe you oughta go for that shrinkism thing after all." He reached out, patting Starsky's hand. Starsky smiled.

A week later Hutch felt the strong call in his veins again. He walked that night, but it didn't settle him enough. He gritted his teeth and called his partner. Starsky was there in fifteen minutes. They sat in the darkness and silence.

"I feel like a idiot," Hutch grumbled.

"Nobody says that about my partner. Except me," Starsky added, slapping Hutch's shoulder. "Hey Hutch." Hutch looked at him. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

Hutch smiled. "I know, I know," he said, embarrassed, looking away, and went to get the Monopoly board.

Starsky yawned all through the game, but he stayed awake enough to insult Hutch's dubious playing skills more than once.

And two weeks later when the craving came down hard, Hutch didn't have to call his best friend, though he would have if needed. Instead he heard Starsky's voice in his head once again, same as he had for years now when under maximum stress, same as he had when Monk, Coney and Morrisey had him at their mercy. It was enough.

That's when Hutch finally knew he was going to make it.

~THE END~